Benjamin Murphy talks to Vanessa Gardiner

BM - For those that might not know, please explain who you are and what you do.

VG -  I was born in Oxford in 1960 and trained at the Central School of Art and Design in London.  I am a landscape painter captivated both by the beauty of the places on which my work is based and by the processes involved during the making of the pictures.
The wild Atlantic coastline of North Cornwall has been a long-standing inspiration for my paintings and it is the particularly beautiful area around Boscastle which continues to captivate me.  In fact it is this landscape for my print for Art on a Postcard “Pentargon” is based.
I usually paint in acrylic on plywood or hardboard as they are rigid and robust and give me the freedom to change the composition of a painting easily if necessary by cutting them down and the picture is then not restricted to a prescribed format.   During the painting process, Ioften redraw the image, scouring and sanding back the paint until the surface becomes significantly changed and enlivened.  The board responds well to my technique and takes on a beautiful patina, leaving traces and histories of paint in its grain and revealing qualities of its own.   

BM - Have you always been so creative?

VG - I can’t remember an exact time in my early life when I specifically thought that I was going to be a painter, but nor do I ever remember thinking that I would do anything else.  I was always drawing at the kitchen table as a child and that seemed to be part of my life.   Both my grandparents on my father’s side were professional painters and when I was still very young, my grandmother moved from London and came to live with us.   I would watch her painting and drawing in her studio and I’m sure that must have had an influence on me. 

BM – Your work often depicts the boundaries between land and sea, what is it about this dichotomy that interests you?

VG - I like the sharp edge where the cliff abuts against the sea and the white surf.  I am particularly drawn to coastlines for this reason.  It is often from high view-points that I like to draw, looking down onto the sea.  There is a grandeur and beauty articulated through the natural architecture of the monumental cliffs set against an unbounded sea.

BM – Your work also blurs the boundaries between abstraction and landscape, how important is it that they are read as landscapes?

VG - I hope that my paintings are readable as coastal landscapes. I try to be true to the specific coast I paint from and I hope that this transfers across.  I am always delighted if I hear that a painting of mine has reminded the viewer of Cornwall and recalled a walk they made on the coast path and has transported them back to that time and place -  in a sense, what more could I ask for!

BM - How much do you rely on spontaneity and happenstance when painting?

VG - I always take a sketchbook with me as I find it essential to get to know the area well before beginning to paint from it and I do this by making a number of drawings directly from the subject.  Some of these may be close observational drawings made over a period of time or quicker notes made purely to glean some specific information.   In my experience with drawing, what you actually see is invariably much more interesting than anything which could have been invented, so I use drawing as a tool for exploring new shapes and directions to use in my paintings knowing that these will be true to the landscape I am working from.   It is back in the studio that I start to compose the paintings using the information I’ve found in the drawings and notes I’ve made.   Pictorial memory does come into the equation too, partly because I know the landscape at Boscastle so well after so many years of working from it - there are shapes and patterns which are etched in my memory.

BM – Why do you choose to represent such an undulating landscape with angular geometric forms?

VG - The geometric angles and dynamic shapes come from the discoveries I’ve made via drawing - as are the very specific colours of the place - and are directed by what I have seen in the actual landscape.  The paintings are in a sense a translation of the drawings.  I prefer to depict an evocation of the landscape than a description of it.  I tend to be drawn to sharp-edged, dynamic coastlines which lend themselves to the geometric shapes I use. 

BM - What made you want to get involved with Art On A Postcard?

VG - Apart from wishing to participate in helping the charity for Hepatitis C, I also like the idea of trying to fit and compose a landscape - often a large expansive landscape - onto a very small postcard-sized format!   When I work outdoors, it is often quite blustery on top of the cliffs and I take small sketchbooks with me in order that I can more easily include all the information I need and fairly quickly in wild weather.

BM - What other exciting things are you working on at the moment?

VG – I have a solo exhibition starting on 23rd April called “Coastlines” at Sladers Yard, a beautiful gallery space in Dorset (23 April - 19 June 2016).   The paintings I am showing in this exhibition are all from Cornwall depicting views down to the harbour entrance or out over the headlands and beyond the promontory to where the vast sweep of the panoramic coastline looks out towards Pentargon.

I’m also delighted to be participating in another charity event: Art for Cure which is holding an exhibition at Glemham Hall Suffolk from 30 April - 2 May 2016.  A little later in July, I will be showing at my London gallery, the Thackeray Gallery in their Summer Exhibition 5 July - 31st July 2016

BM – Where can we find out more about your work?

VG - www.vanessagardiner.co.uk

       www.sladersyard.co.uk   

       www.thackeraygallery.com 

       www.artforcure.org.uk

You can buy a Pantargon Print at this link

About the writer

Benjamin Murphy is an artist who primarily creates delicate figurative works using black electrical tape. As well as this, he regularly writes about contemporary art. He lives and works in London.