What is your practice?
Painting, drawing and printmaking (etching, engraving and monoprint).
What is your training and back ground?
I was drawing before I could talk (due to my severe deafness) and I did my first oil painting commission at 16, which came back to me many years later and rekindled my enthusiasm for art.
After studying at Maidstone College of Art and Croydon College of Art and Design, I went onto work in traditional interior architecture and furniture design, working in the Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler Ltd design studio for 26 years and was an Associate Director there for 19 years. I rediscovered my passion for art in 2003 and after completing my life changing 2-year contemporary fine art course at CityLit in 2007, left my secure job to pursue fine art more seriously. I did some short etching courses at Camberwell Art College and continued to develop it at Seal Chart etchers until 2010, where I was introduced to copperplate engraving. I am still learning all of the time, which keeps me motivated and continually takes my work in new directions. Art keeps me sane and I cannot live without it. It is very addictive and something that I have an emotional need to do, as is the case for most serious artists. It is something that makes us breathe and is not a hobby.
How long have you been participating in Open Studios?
What has your experience of SEOS been?
I first participated in SEOS in June 2010 with Tim Constable at Seal Chart, across the yard from the etching studio. It is so well run and very established there. We had about 400 visitors as a group and although I didn’t sell any pictures, it was a very positive experience, with a lot of very good feedback and card sales from the visitors. I learned a lot from the event. Exhibition and commission enquiries came from it.
My 2nd year of SEOS was a very different experience, in my Northiam studio (having moved here only a few months earlier). It is a less established area than Seal Chart. I shared my studio with my friend Ruth Willis, a talented ceramics and glass artist, which complimented my work and helped to attract people interested in a broader range of work, although mine is quite varied. I met up with other local artists and we agreed distribution of guides, fliers and adverts. We had to work harder to attract visitors and we sent visitors to each other. Firm friendships resulted and I got together with Terry Ayling to organize a Christmas show in the village pub (The Muddy Duck), to make people aware of the art talent in the area and to raise our profile here. The majority of participating artists were from SEOS and we all worked so well together and everyone was very pro-active. It was a very successful and highly enjoyable event, attracting 320 visitors and sales were good. Some came to our 2012 open studios that remembered us from our group exhibition.
I did this year’s SEOS on my own in my studio here in Northiam. I tried a slightly different approach, taking the chairman’s advice on the SEOS website about treating the space more as a working studio rather than as a gallery and it worked, with lots of interest in the engraving tools, etc.. I had some printmaking scrims randomly hanging up to dry on a panel on the wall and visitors either thought they were a work of installation art or scarves for sale, despite being covered in ink! They were a good conversation piece and broke the ice.
The number of visitors was slightly more than last year and with an excellent art trail and co-operation with other local participating artists, it worked very well. We pulled together with guide, trail and flier distribution and adverts. The interaction with visitors and feedback was really very positive and is so important. They were particularly enthusiastic about the variety of my work. Despite the jubilee celebrations over the first weekend we still had a good turn out in Northiam.
What were your expectations for participating in this year’s event? How do you feel about it?
Did you achieve what you wanted?
I am quite an optimistic and enthusiastic person. I kept an open mind and was hoping to get my work seen by as many people as possible and to build on last year, as it takes time to get established as a fine artist in a new area. It is a slow burn. Sales are a bonus but it really is about meeting your audience and the dialogue and what you learn from it. Yes, I mostly achieved what I wanted. The discussions and feedback were very informative.
What advice would you give a new SEOS member thinking of what they can do to maximize their participation?
The same advice that I was given by SEOS artists that they need to get involved and not sit on their laurels. As one only gets what one puts in. The excellent guides, fliers and general publicity are all really helpful but you also need to do your bit to get potential visitors to your studio. Do not expect lots of picture sales in your first event, especially in a recession, and not to scare off potential visitors, who would feel intimidated to see your studio for fear of feeling obliged to buy. Have some very affordable cards or items to sell, as most will not carry much cash and like to purchase something they can take with them. Remember that a card with one of your images on is likely to get sent to another person that doesn’t know your artwork, so furthering the exposure of it.
Interact with your visitors, without being over-bearing and you’ll get a lot from the experience. It is largely about educating visitors about your work and approach and it is vital to attend the area co-ordinator meetings and to meet other local participating artists. It takes a few years to get established and to build up your reputation, so it is important to not change your location often and to keep at it every year. Not just doing it one year and giving up. That does not work. Be patient.
What are the best bits of getting involved in SEOS?
Meeting the visitors and the dialogue with them, meeting the other participating artists, forming friendships, the opportunities that come from it afterwards and the real buzz of doing the event. Advice: GET INVOLVED!
What has been your highlight of being involved in SEOS?
The friendships that I have made through doing open studios.
Tell us what it means to you to have been accepted by the Society of Graphic Fine Art?
It is the only drawing society in the country and the standard of work is so high. The very professional artists are really nice people too. For me, it feels like the right place to be with so much disrespect for drawing in the modern education system and in the contemporary art world. It is an organization that promotes and encourages drawing in a broad range of mediums and subject matters. It is very well being able to draw but it is what you do with it that matters, using one’s imagination as well as skills.
I am very proud to be a member, as I am also proud to belong to SEOS. It is great to have one’s drawing background recognized. It was because of the SEOS guide that various suitable participating artists were invited to submit for the annual open exhibition last year and is how I got introduced, as well as meeting Will Taylor through the Battle Art Fair. To be elected to be an associate member, I had to submit a portfolio and sketchbooks to the committee. The taxi driver, who drove me there was Tracy Emmin’s neighbour! Interesting conversation.
What are you currently working on?
I have been working on a big Rye aquatint etching from my sketchbooks, going much bigger than usual, which was quite a challenge and learning curve! Thankfully, it came out ok. I have also been doing a series of very detailed mark making pencil abstract drawings, which made me go cross eyed!
What inspires you?
Variety. I particularly love Rye and its surrounding landscape, river, boats, history and old buildings. I just find myself drawn there, sketching there often whatever the weather in the mud. I get a huge buzz from sketching outdoors in pencil and then using the material for my artwork. I also occasionally sketch people on trains, so be warned!
How do you keep yourself fresh and your skills updated?
Contrary to current advice to stick to one thing, for me, it is the variety of mediums and subject matters that keeps me fresh and they all influence each other and stretch me by taking my work in different directions. If I find something I am really interested in, I will often do a series and fully explore it as much as possible. I firmly respect that each medium has it’s own character, that is the key to my work. Although a lot of dealers and galleries like an artist to stick to one trick because it is easier to market it like a brand, this approach is rather boring, limiting and doesn’t allow the artist to grow, in my opinion.
The best advice I can give for people to learn new skills is to attend short courses, workshops, reading, to experiment with techniques and in to join other like minded artists in events and groups/ societies. You learn a lot from being with other artists. My involvement with Pure Arts (Battle Art Fair) in the last 2 years, SEOS and SGFA have been very good for me, as I have learned from artists that I have met through these organisations.
Favourite historical artist?
Tough one, I have so many favourites, such as Turner, Rembrandt, D¸rer, Monet, Cezanne, El Greco, Goya, Caravagio, Gauguin, Rothco, Augustus John, etcÖ Huge mix! A big influence on my portraiture and life painting is Lucien Freud. I love the painterly effect and the use of many mixed colours and that his portraits took as long as they did. I met him, only very briefly, when measuring a restaurant, the design of which I was involved.
Favourite living artist? Least favourite?
I like Hockney’s work and some of Chuck Close’s potraits (very clever), Sol de Wit, Veja Celmins, etc.. but also like a broad range of artists. I believe that there is room for most art in our world. Although it is important to learn from them, I try not to be too influenced by other artists, as it is important to be true to one’s self and to have one’s own style.
Do you work best on your own or in collaboration?
I tend to work best on my own doing my artwork, although collaboration is good and I often learn a lot from being with other artists from time to time, especially as I spend so much time on my own in my studio with my lovely dog Smokey for company. I have learned a lot from Brenda Hartill and I have had some invaluable tips from watching professional artists at work.
When and where can we see more of your work?
I have been in 9 art events in the last 9 months. I currently have a picture in the new Art Shack gallery in New Romney and due to the popularity of the show, it was extended by a week to the end of July. I will be submitting work for the forthcoming SGFA show in October and we are planning another exhibition at The Muddy Duck in Northiam for the end of the year. You can see examples of my work on my website www.vincentmatthewsart.co.uk