Stephen Lovatt interview

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Where did you study and did you find getting your work exhibited an easy or challenging process?

I studied Fine Art Painting at Norwich School of Art. I never had a problem impressing people with my drawing skills, so when I graduated I found work as an illustrator. I think something worth having is worth working for. So honing my craft as a painter, by being dissatisfied and figuring out why, felt more important than getting exhibited on the basis of 4 years at college. I’ve always had the patience to take the long view on things, which is how I can paint the way I do.

Can you explain a little about your subject matter?

Right from my early childhood I was a collector of curios, and conscious that the reason for their potency is that these ‘inanimate’ objects possess an immaterial secret life. Such things, whether they be natural or manufactured, interact and tell a story in the theatre of one’s mind’s-eye.

Do colours and objects that you use in your work remind you of your own life?

Immersed in my own world of very carefully selected objects I am constantly aware of their associations, the meanings and memories they evoke in me. But it’s worth noting that this private mythology won’t necessarily impose itself on the onlooker. Everyone brings their own interpretation, depending on their own history. Artifice becomes art in the grey areas of perception: we each make our own meaning.

For me, colour, and also ‘mark making’, serve a purpose, they are not ends in themselves. They are just two of the battery of skills that I have at my disposal to render the image that I have in mind as a convincing and unified whole. I am just as interested in composition and the practical demands of my painting technique.

How has your practice changed over time?

I have gradually become more exacting in my descriptions of things. I came to realise that the stronger the inner vision, the more particular the depiction needs to be. The most mysterious of enigmas are somehow disturbingly plausible, in the same way that nightmares are shockingly ‘real’. So vagueness just won’t do.

What artists have inspired you?

Any painter who works from observation, deliberately, meticulously, with small brushes and sharp outlines, gets my vote. They mostly seem to be sixteenth and seventeenth century northern artists, with a few Victorians thrown in.  The unique bit is within you, and the trick is to find it.

Tell us a bit about your studio and your working environment?

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of the seventeenth century Low Countries loner in his domestic dwelling, working long into the night on meticulous cabinet paintings. As a child I liked the idea of having an electricity substation all to myself, as a secret den, and this persisted through art school. I found the bohemian clutter of a communal studio a bit hard going.

Later I worked in various rooms of our 1930s semi, but eventually we had a brick built workshop constructed at the bottom of the garden. As well as household tools and equipment and cycles suspended from the ceiling, I have my easel and table. For me the most creative space on the planet is in some quiet corner of the leafy suburbs, right in the middle of my day-to-day existence, away from the distractions of either the city or the country; in the domestic equivalent of an electricity substation.

Do you have a new body of work in mind for the remainder of the year?

I work slowly, so rather than months, my plans tend to stretch to years ahead, but yes, I’m toying with the idea of more depth of space in my tableaux – in my head there are little stage-hands shifting props, but the chalk-marks aren’t down yet.

Thank you.

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