Recently we at Artfinder were lucky enough to meet the wonderful artist Edward Sutcliffe who specialises in photo realistic portraiture. Ed’s focus on portraiture comes from his self-confessed fascination with the ”individuality of the human face [...] and by the fact that, although we all share the same features our faces are utterly individual and unique.”
For more information on Ed Sutcliffe’s work check out his Artfinder page.
We sat down with Ed to talk a little bit about his work, his painting style and how he got into creating art.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, where you are from and how you began painting?
My dad was an art teacher so I guess that influenced how it all started, as from a very young age I’ve always been exposed to art. I always drew and painted when I was quite young, so it’s safe to say that I’ve always been quite interested in art. Then at around 14 or 15 I began to take art more seriously and that’s around the time I decided I was going to do it at a degree level.
When I was in sixth form the artists that I tended to like and were influenced by were primarily figurative painters; people like Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach among others. Those were the guys that really sort of impressed me and were the main inspirations for me at that stage in my life, so I’ve always found it quite hard to shake off that influence and move on into other styles, that’s why today I’m a figurative painter really.
Could you tell us about your work?
What I’m trying to do with the paint is to try and capture something that you would struggle to find with the naked eye. My works also attempt to question ideas of mortality. I’m trying to go beyond what the naked eye sees and in doing that I’m trying to strip away everything else. They’re quite minimal in many respects; I’m not someone that’s going to go into too much detail with background, clothes, poses, and composition.
It is primarily the face that I am interested in. I’m very inspired by art critic Clement Greenberg’s idea of flatness and “the essence of a painting”, one of the things I’m trying to do is get to the essence and strip away the things that I don’t want. Hence, the backgrounds of my pieces being quite puerile, simple and straightforward as I try to bring the focus in toward the flesh. It’s not an illustrative narrative but it many respects my works do try to tell a story, using the face as a landscape.
Your style could be described as ‘photo-realism’, can you tell us more about why or how you developed this approach? What is it about this style that appeals to you?
“Photo-realism”, in many respects, is a bit of a dirty word in the art scene. A lot of people will attach a negative connotation to that style but it is a style like any other so there will always be good examples and bad examples. I personally have seen a lot of work from photographs that is quite lazily done by people that aren’t really on top of their technique.
Even though I, too, am working primarily from photographs what I’m trying to get from my work is more than what than what the photograph itself has to offer. I’m trying to “squeeze out the juice” from the image by focusing on things like skin tones and a person’s small imperfections and such. Even though I work primarily from photos, I’m personally trying to get out more than what’s in the photograph.
Your work to date has been focused on portraits. Did you gravitate towards this naturally, or was it a conscious decision?
I actually originally graduated from my undergraduate degree about ten years ago, and there was about a five year gap in between my my graduation and my masters where I was trying to do lots of different things. Then when I came back to studying to get my post-graduate diploma at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, I learned that the way that I needed to create art is that I needed to be true to myself.
After that I began focusing on following academic portraiture and figurative painting, rather than trying to do conceptual and contemporary art style pieces because it just didn’t work for me. That in a way was very liberating because since then I’ve been in things like the BP Portrait Award five times, so it’s really started to take of since then. I realised that portraiture is really what I could do well in and enjoy doing, and that if I was doing other things then I would be struggling.
Do each of the characters in your portraits have a personal story attached to them? How important is that to you in creating a work?
I try and have a story behind each piece, obviously some do more so than others. There were a couple that I did of guys who are homeless (Cold Last Night and Only For a Fiver) and I quite liked the idea of doing a painting of a guy that I never knew, that I’d never know and that I’d never have a relationship with and trying to suck out as much character out of his face as I could.
A lot of people in the past have said ‘I’ve got to know my sitters, it allows me to get the personality from that painting’ and I don’t think that’s really true, to be honest. One example that comes to mind is the portrait On Assi Ghat, who is a guy I met when I traveled several years ago to India and Nepal for a few weeks. The hotel I was staying at had a guy that was doing miniature paintings in the lobby, and our relationship was quite similar in many respects to the guys from Only For a Fiver and Cold Last Night. We literally communicated through body language as he didn’t really speak a word of English. He let me do some sketches, take some photos and watch him work, which was great. Although he looked quite old I would be surprised if he was in his fifties, I think he’d just had a hard life really. He had an amazing face, there was no two ways about it. As soon as I saw him I thought he was great.
How have you used the internet to take more control of and curate your own art?
I’ve set up a Facebook Page, which is really to keep people informed of upcoming shows and pieces I’m working on. I have yet to set up a web page, and haven’t made the moves to have one established as I’d want to make sure that if I did create a website it would be a true reflection of myself and my work.
My work is also available to see on a few online galleries, and last week I started tweeting. I am quite a big fan of Twitter, more so than Facebook. I see Twitter as a better medium for networking and keeping in touch with the art world. I am going to start giving more of my time to Twitter, so absolutely keep an eye out for me on it.
You can follow Ed Sutcliffe on Twitter HERE.
Which artists do you most admire? Which artists would you say have had the greatest impact on your work creatively?
From a young age I’ve always admired the work of Lucian Freud, he has been a major influence on my work. I also really enjoy the work of other photo-realist painters, such as American artist Chuck Close and German artist Gerhard Richter. I also really enjoy minimalist and abstract art; which even though is not hugely evident in my work, I am always trying to harness that idea of purity in art as it was attempted by artists like Ad Reinhardt. Also another current British artist quite similar to Chuck Close and also a photo-realist is Jason Brooks, I really enjoy his work. I keep in touch with some of the other regular BP Portrait Award nominees who also focus on figurative styles and I definitely do admire a lot of their work as well.
Is there anyone that you would love to paint?
Alex Ferguson has got a great face, he’s got to retire soon so he definitely needs a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery and I would love to paint him. I’d love to paint him in a style similar to [Diego Rodriguez de Silva y] Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X, to try and communicate some of his personality and power. Vivienne Westwood would be great to paint, too. I’d love to paint well known people who haven’t got that gloss to them that a lot of modern celebrities do, a lot of celebrities these days look as though someone has grabbed them by the feet and dipped them in some wax, I prefer people that aren’t wearing a lot of makeup and are more genuine looking.
What are you working on at the moment? What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I’m working on a painting of a Nepalese ex-Gurkha, that’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’m trying to develop my style a little bit more, so that the paint is almost softer and appears almost like tissue or flesh and with more use of layering. Currently I’m painting with lots and lots of different layers, trying to create the idea of an intangible portrait where the edges are not visible. I’m also experimenting with using wax in my portraits, to give the pieces a more hazy skin like quality. Recently, I’ve just finished off a run of five or six commissions that I’ve been working on for about a year. About three or four months ago I was commissioned to paint businessman Omer Koc in Istanbul, Turkey which was a great experience. Lately I’ve been working on some pieces made from life, as well, which are based on one or two sittings as opposed to working from a photograph. I’ve also been selected for the upcoming BP Portrait Award exhibition which runs from the 16th of June to the 18th of September at the National Portrait Gallery with free admission.
We are also pleased to announce that prints of Ed Sutcliffe’s work are now available to buy. There is a ‘Buy Button’ on the bottom right of each of his paintings and you can browse them from his Artfinder page.