If you’re looking for something a bit different to do one day, you can pop down to Hounslow and watch through the large street windows of figurative painter Darren MacPherson’s workshop as he creates is latest pieces. He will most likely be absorbed in the beat of his loud music and probably covered in splotches of brightly (some even say jarring) coloured spray paint or acrylics that he so loves.
His work is built with layers of content, negative space in the background making the figures pop. It may seem a chaotic method of working, erratic even, but it all comes together with some eye-catching, stunning results.
Darren’s been featured at some pretty prestigious events like FLAGSTOP in Los Angeles, the inaugural Other Art Fair in London and the 2011 National Open Art Exhibition. And now, of course, he’s gracing the pages of Little London Observationist.
Read on for the details of his upcoming London show with a ceramicist, the reasons why he’s glad he never went through art school and a little secret about a particular object from 1969 that he’d like to paint in the near future.
LLO: In which ways does living in London inspire your creativity?
DM: I love the differences around us in London, the people, the architecture, art – there is just something for everyone and it’s always evolving. I’m always interested to see how areas change and develop and whether that change is organic or more synthetic. Although I’m inspired by street art and graffiti, it’s the way it builds up over time that really motivates me, the different layers of posters, spray paint, adverts etc; I try to recreate this layering process in the backgrounds of my paintings.
LLO: The first thing that hits me when I look at your work is your incredible use of bold colours. Why is colour so important to you? How has your style developed and changed over the years?
DM: There are such amazing colours available these days it seems so natural to use them. I often hear that an artist should reflect the time they live in and I try to use the most up-to-date materials that I can. I’m keen to see how colours interact both with each other and with the surface they lay upon. Many people say the colours I use shouldn’t work and they are surprised that they do. I’m also reflecting nature; you don’t look at an amazing array of flowers in a garden or at a florist and say that the colours don’t work together. Of course there are colour palettes that work better and are safer to use than others and thought should always go into the use of colour, but I try to stretch those perceptions.
LLO: Is your figurative work based on real life models, photographs, imagination…? How does your background in social studies play into your work if at all?
DM: I prefer to use real life models but will work from photographs. I never paint a figure from my imagination; the final piece must always be of a real person. I’ll paint imaginative figures into the backgrounds however, but these often become obscured or covered up completely. In my previous role as a social worker I was obviously interested in people and the human condition. I view the layers that make up the backgrounds in my work as the strata and complexity that makes up an individual.
LLO: To what extent do titles play a role in giving meaning to your paintings? Do you have a title in mind when you paint or is this something that develops when a piece is finished?
DM: A title anchors the picture. I’ve never understood why pieces have ‘untitled’ as a title as that still constitutes a title so at least give it some thought. I rarely formulate titles until a piece is finished and I’ll think about the completed composition, inspirations or feelings I had when painting it or maybe the title will be something that I wish to convey. A title gives an insight into the artist and what they were thinking at that given moment.
As We Go Hand in Hand
LLO: As a self-taught artist, what have been your biggest challenges so far and how have you moved beyond them?
DM: I used to have a lot of insecurity about not having a fine art degree or not going to art school but now I’m actually quite relieved. I realise that I can embrace my creativity without having been told that what I’m doing is incorrect or not relevant. I’ve come across many artists who have commented that their creativity was taught out of them at art school and I’ve seen examples of this on courses I’ve attended. I’m not saying that what is taught is wrong just that it should be balanced with natural flair. I guess established artists have managed to find that balance and maybe that’s why they’ve become successful.
LLO: You’ve painted on denim, sunglasses and other found objects. What’s the most interesting object you’ve painted on, in your opinion? Anything in particular you’d like to use as a canvas in the future?
DM: The sunglasses were definitely a challenge, mainly because they were for a specific purpose whereas other objects I’ve painted have been experimental and of my own choosing. Seven of us were commissioned to create a customised pair of glasses Debut Contemporary and TOMS Eyewear for their pop up shop in Covent garden. I tried to think about my painting style coupled with TOMS philosophy; I was happy with the results.
I recently sent out 88 hand embellished postcards that I’d picked up in a second hand bookshop. They were all individual photographs of Japanese kids wearing outlandish fashion, so I embellished them and put a shoutout on Facebook to anyone that wanted one mailed to them to send me their address and share the photo album of the cards on their profile. They were all gone in 48 hours. I liked the idea of the artwork sending itself through the post and the notion of making art available to those who wouldn’t or couldn’t ordinarily acquire an artwork.
Anything I’d like to use as a canvas…? I would really like to paint a full size car in my style. I also had an idea to paint a 1969 Vespa scooter and ride it around an exhibition…Watch this space!
LLO: You said in another interview I read that you really want to push your artistic boundaries this year. How so?
DM: I wanted to challenge myself in ways I haven’t previously, in my painting and in exhibiting. Artists must develop, and in order to do so one mustn’t become complacent and stay within one’s comfort zone. So this year I’ve gone large with canvas size, the biggest being almost 3m in length; I also reversed my painting style to incorporate some detail into the figures and surround them with abstraction instead of presenting the abstract background upon the figure. This has allowed me to develop new techniques of pouring and pushing very wet paint around the canvas (or denim), which, I have to say, is really difficult to control but the results have been stunning.
Another step for me this year is that on 7th June, I open a show with one other artist – ceramicist Patrick Colhoun – at a new gallery space in North Greenwich. This will be the first time I have all of the wall space in a gallery to myself. Details below.
LLO: Describe your studio in Hounslow for us.
DM: One word…mess! It’s a total workshop, but it’s also got these huge windows onto the street so passersby can stop and watch me work. Many people will knock on the door and show their appreciation as there aren’t, to my knowledge, any other artists in the immediate area, particularly ones that are so visible. I like that people can stand and watch and pass comment; it has some immediacy to it. I always listen to loud music to get my expressionism going. Favourites are Outkast and Rage Against The Machine but I’ll listen to classical and more mellow music to try and get in touch with different feelings.
LLO: What do you hope to communicate through your work?
DM: I want people to look at my work and feel positive and uplifted. I don’t want people to look too deeply for meaning or hidden significance. Although meaning is always present in everybody’s work, I just don’t like it when people begin to intellectualise the work. I had an experience recently where someone was almost questioning every brush stroke and trying to apply why I did things in a certain way, and they were so far off the mark. I paint because I enjoy it and I want others to enjoy it too. I also want to leave a legacy, an imprint of my existence in the world long after I’m gone.
LLO: Tell us about your life outside of art in a few sentences
DM: I have three daughters so most of my time is taken up with being a father. They are a true inspiration to me and I’m blessed to have three such wonderful people in my life. Dislikes? Negative people and negative attitude. I’m a ‘can do’ person, so I try not to waste too much time on those that want to bring you down.
For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.