“Painting is older than civilisation; it is truly international. When you pick up a brush or a stick with pigment and lay it on a surface, you are doing something our prehistoric ancestors did - no different!”. Richard is happy to be a very small step in this continuing tradition.
Unfortunately, the blessed computer destroys 'gesture'. Richard believes that surface quality and texture are vital to a painting and that, however good, digital reproduction can never compensate for ‘feel’. So images here, as on any art website, are mere introductions though we have tried through the application of high resolution details to compensate for this.
Successful paintings are stepping stones towards an understanding of life. They breathe or die and, like music, don’t rely on superficial or vicarious similarity to something else. “Paintings are best understood intuitively”.
He believes making an Object which sustains interest demands intimate knowledge of the Subject. It's not possible to define Quality (as Robert M. Persig explained) but we know it when we see it.
If you care to read some of Richard's personal reflections on art and philosophy please click on ‘Some art’.
My training in art was, I guess, a strange one for at school I was told I couldn’t draw; not wasn't allowed to just that I couldn't! My elder brother, John Martin (classically trained) unwittingly stepped into that role and the die was cast. The other artist to whom I owe a huge debt is Henry Israel, who taught me life drawing and, above all, the importance of "objects interrupting light" something I’ve never forgotten. When I paint now, I have Henry and John balanced on one shoulder and Paul Cezanne on the other; it ain't always that comfortable, but Vincent and Pissarro sustain me.
So, due to an abysmal education I was technically self-taught in art (as in most other things), it was never suggested that I might attend any type of college, and to be honest I never thought about it. As the great self-taught guitarist Segovia said, “I was my own teacher and pupil, and thanks to the efforts of both, they were not discontented with each other".
This speaks to me so much for I believe I was a diligent pupil and had great teachers with the master painters of the past. I asked endless questions of John and he took me to great galleries and major exhibitions in London, Manchester and Liverpool. I will never forget seeing van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” in London, it must have been in the early 1960s; and the fact that I can vividly recall it now shows that it was a seminal moment.
Later, studying and learning about science gave me the ability to know where to go, how to find out stuff, and sort wheat from chaff (and there’s an awful lot out there). More than anything else, I’ve always been drawn (excuse the pun) to good honest rawness - neither pretty nor polite. Sickert said something like "When good taste enters the drawing room, art goes out through the window". Well, you can't work with animals and smell sweetly all the time. As Frances Fyfield, the crime writer who has collected my paintings, said “Richard can muck out the stables of an elephant!” Yes, that is true, I can and have, also Rhinos, Camels and Zebra and many other things including small children.
Illustration: As explained in the Writing section, I also taught myself to illustrate articles and books. I knew what I wanted to show and was cheap.
So, during and after my time with Peter Scott (see Bibliography) I met other fine wildlife artists such as Philip Rickman and Keith Shackleton and admired the work of illustrators such as Eric Ennion (my favourite), Chlöe Talbot Kelly (particularly her line drawings), Eilean Soper and Charles Tunniclliffe. I was not in their league of course but again studied the masters of earlier generations, like Gould, Thorburn and Lodge.
I must mention here my very dear friend and fine bird illustrator, Malcolm Ellis, who died tragically and unexpectedly a few years ago, and with whom I collaborated on several books.
Maturing emotional responses fuelled a passion which overtook illustration.
The intimate bond between animal and environment with its myriad of inter-connections fed a love of landscape. I soon learned that man corrupted Nature, wrestling Her to his own ends, be it farm, garden, nature reserve, dog or horse.
Then I noticed he also did this to the human body: imposing his will, moulding, adapting, shaping. To illustrate this, while living in the Lake District and working as a cinema projectionist in Kendal (one of many jobs to help finance freelance work and support the two young children I’d inherited when marrying Mij, the drive to work took me past a landscape that on repeated viewings seemed very ‘sexy’. This spawned a continuing fascination with 'personalised landscapes'.
These Figurescapes, conceived in the natural world, among rocks and living things, grow in the margins where Civilisation meets Nature, where Nature meets Man, and where Man meets Woman. Here is the sexual energy of landscape and its coexistence with, and sometimes equivalence to, the human form.
Resulting paintings are the ‘Forbidden Mental Landscapes’ (see Methods): articulations of Nature and ourselves. Jackson Pollock observed "One is landscape", and so we are a part of it. The human figure, just like a rock or tree is elemental: a jumble of contrasts, contours, tensions, boundaries, patterns, colours, balances and harmonies. As a heterosexual male, I make no excuse for concentrating on the female form. For me, she becomes Landscape: a metaphysical position astride the world.
Good artists reconstruct the world to a different shape; they visualise ideas and create a dialogue between Object and Subject. One of my greatest heroes is Chaim Soutine. Christopher Neve writing many years ago described his work as "Pigment and idea stirred up together”. This is so true and, pictorially, a union happens when it works on infinite levels. “Infinite” because each viewer carries his or her own personal baggage of psychological responses, yet intellectually I feel my job is to challenge, upset and question; emotionally, to inspire, engage and ultimately uplift through the medium of oil paint and marks.
Whatever ambition or arrogance drives humans we are as much a natural creation as anything else. It is at our peril we pretend otherwise. The world is very much now configured by ‘man’ - there is little he cannot shape or devastate. We also shape ourselves or allow ourselves to be shaped. I now look at the visual phenomenon of a human being in the same way as a tree or rock – an “object interrupting light" while being as intrigued by psychological responses – The Dynamics of Creation, as Anthony Storr called one of his influential books.
No artist ignores the human body. Seldom nude, it is covered or constrained by layers of clothing either for reasons of warmth (survival) or pinned, underpinned, modified and enhanced for aesthetic reasons. Beneath these outer layers are the underclothes which of course were once called 'foundation garments’). In art, a sea of hypocrisy still surrounds the 'Classic Nude', once a response to male desire or disguised pornography. I wanted to confront this head-on and the whole debate about nude versus naked. Just like any landscape or garden, we all find some humans more interesting and attractive than others.
Why and how and this should be is endlessly instructive. We may go to Hogarth’s ‘Line of Beauty’ to help find an answer while our own evolutionary route has taught us to seek out patterns and faces. Eyes are only the visible evidence of our brains, and Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape taught us to read attraction psychologically and understand why things evolve the way they do.
A footnote on influences and Vincent van Gogh because by far the most common comment I hear from people looking at my paintings is, “Oh, very van Gogh”. Understandable but it has become quite irritating. I veer between responding “Thank you” to “What? You must be joking!” depending on my mood at the time. But in a way these people, in their ignorance, have touched a truth but for all the wrong reasons. The most recent encounter of this kind was when a friend well-versed in pictorial art saw this painting - an almond grove in Spain - and said “Come on, it's van Gogh, be honest!”
Sorry my friend, I have no choice but to paint as I do. It's instinctive and natural; anything else would be false and artificial. Moreover, unlike Vincent, I seldom use brushes, only painting knives and sticks. This gives a completely different ‘feel’ to the work.
At the top I mentioned the early startling effect of seeing The Potato Eaters. Well, anyone who knows Vincent’s work, knows that his early style in this ground-breaking painting is nothing like his more mature work – that which most people think of as his typical ‘style’ (a word I loathe incidentally!).
Being untutored, as I’m happy to admit, and believe it or not as you wish, I was unaware of his mature work until after I'd begun to practice my own work. My study of Vincent grew later, and so if people now remind me of this, I can feel both flattered and irritated in equal measure! I am my own person and Vincent didn’t copyright anything; we are all products of numerous influences throughout life. And please remember the lesson of Segovia elsewhere. Apart from Soutine, as influences go, I could cite Rembrandt (at the very top of any list), Leonardo (for his ability to marry art and science), Cezanne, Sickert, Degas, Constable, Pissarro, Georges Rouault, Modigliani, Matthew Smith, Oswaldo Guayasamin and bringing us more up to date Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Kyffin Williams.