Now an unkind soul might say that the main motivating reason in having last month’s colour-drenched feature (Martin Machado) was to revel in some proper monochrome from this month’s artist. They would probably be right. Colour is all well and good, but line and form are where my heart lies. I’ve followed Alison’s work for […]

Now an unkind soul might say that the main motivating reason in having last month’s colour-drenched feature (Martin Machado) was to revel in some proper monochrome from this month’s artist. They would probably be right. Colour is all well and good, but line and form are where my heart lies.

I’ve followed Alison’s work for the best part of a decade. Emotion and Expression – one of her amazing portfolio editions – sits on my desk, and as a result I’m utterly proud to be able to showcase her work here. Her images are steeped in expression, from the eyes of her characters to the methods the faces are hewed from the paper, and the obsessive technicality of how her images are constructed is a pleasure to appreciate and decipher.

Constantly innovating her technique and method whilst keeping a massively original style and flow to her work, she serves as a great inspiration for how to get work done. Be aware of what’s gone before you, as a reference and guide. Styles come and go.

Stick to your guns.

BASICS , PLEASE. WHAT STARTED YOU DRAWING?

During my three years at the Lanchester Polytechnic, Coventry, 1981-84, I made paintings using the horse within an imaginary landscape space. But my depictions of these wonderful animals were fairly fragmented and indeterminate. After visiting the Prado museum in Madrid and seeing the works of some of the artists that I admired such as Velasquez and Goya, I realised that in order to paint the kind of images I had in mind it was necessary for me to learn to draw, so that my horse and human forms within a landscape space could be more descriptive and bold. The revelation that came to me was that you can’t really paint figuratively without knowing how to draw.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF STARTING A NEW PIECE?

I start each piece slightly differently but it is always on a plain sheet of paper. Usually I sprinkle charcoal on to the paper then, using my hands and a brush, I begin to describe a form. I then continue with a piece of charcoal and an eraser until the form becomes more evident. I continue to draw, rub out areas and change things around. If an area needs fresh white again due to too much rubbing out or the need to introduce light, I attach fresh pieces of white paper and continue to draw over the top and so on. Sometimes certain areas of a drawing can be many layers thick.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION FROM?

My inspiration usually comes from the drawings I am working on at the time. They seem to ‘feedback’ into new work. I usually have several pieces on the go at the same time. I don’t wait for inspiration, although visiting galleries and looking at the work of other artists can be very inspiring, even though I don’t use other artists’ work directly for ideas. I also gather masses of source material, usually photos of human heads and portraits from books, newspapers, magazines etc.

TOOLS – WHAT DO YOU USE REGULARLY AND WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE?

I use thick willow charcoal, black pastel, tablet erasers from the Tate shop, soft brushes and a cobblers knife which has been adapted for me.

WHAT OTHER ARTISTIC MEDIA HAVE HAD AN EFFECT ON YOUR ART?

I find listening to music while I work very important. I have a tendency to prefer slow, melancholy work. I feel sure it has an effect in some way on my imagery. I suppose any art form – like theatre, dance, film – has an effect on me, as it would any artist. These things enter the psyche and become a part of the sum of who you are.

HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR DAYS?

I generally work every day. After breakfast at home, I walk with my husband in the park. We drive to the Warehouse Studios and I catch up with emails and general warehouse things that need doing. I then begin drawing or making monotypes in my print studio around mid-morning. I work through to about 5pm when I go for a walk in the local countryside or visit the gym. After eating at around 7pm at the studios I continue to work until about 9pm or longer (depending on deadlines). We go home at about 10.30pm and start again the next day.

WHICH OF YOUR RECENT PIECES HAVE YOU ENJOYED MAKING THE MOST?

There isn’t a particular drawing, but generally the ones which work without too much struggle are the ones I enjoy the most. Also, I particularly value the drawings that throw up ideas for new work. Despite the inevitable struggle of most of them, I get an immense feeling of pleasure and satisfaction from finishing every drawing. Pleasure and despair come with the act of creating a piece of work, so I will have these feelings many times during a day.

HOW HAS YOUR ART EVOLVED OVER TIME?

Very slowly. My imagery began with horses. I became interested in Greek and Roman sculpture so I could introduce the human figure and head into my work. I wasn’t interested in portraits of specific people – I wanted them to be more universal and timeless, so these idealised statues were very useful. My use of Classical Greek and Roman imagery led me to start introducing mythical creatures into my work. Gradually, the human image, in particular the human head, began to dominate and I concentrated on trying to make them more naturalistic without them becoming portraits of particular people. The subject became ‘the human condition’ and it is this and the feelings behind the eyes and inside the heads of my human beings that is the most important aspect of my work now.

HOW HAS ART IN GENERAL CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED?

When I was a student in the early 80s there had been a return to figurative art. The exhibition ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ at the Royal Academy in 1981 and the 1982 Zeitgeist exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin had been very influential in highlighting artists who were producing powerful and expressive figurative work – sometimes referred to as New Imagism or New Expressionism. I found this movement very encouraging as it related to what I was producing at the time.

Since then a wider range of work and media types has come to the fore – photography, video, installation – lately characterised by the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 featuring young British artists. I suppose the underlying values of this work are very different from my own, but I have continued to use a traditional medium and to pursue what I believe to be fundamental or archetypal human characteristics – that is, what does it mean to be human? What is subjectivity? I expect this kind of work is less fashionable now, but I still believe I am working with universal themes that are not subject to periodic changes in style and fashion.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?

I have just begun a new set of drawings for my main dealer, the Jill George Gallery in London. She has sold the work I recently finished for her so I need to replenish her stocks. I will need to start building up enough work for my next solo exhibition with the gallery, which usually takes a couple of years. In between times, Jill takes work to art fairs in London, Toronto and Madrid during the year, so I need to make sure she has new work for these too.

I also have a dealer in Toronto, the Nicholas Metivier Gallery, where I had my last solo exhibition in October 2010. He takes my work to art fairs too so the same applies.

Recently I have been experimenting with small monotypes and have produced some which are being sold through my print dealers, Pratt Contemporary Art in Kent. Jill George also took some to the Chicago Art Fair recently. I am therefore working on monotypes of human heads at the same time as drawing. I am thoroughly enjoying working on a much smaller scale in such a different medium.

ANY TIPS ON HOW TO SURVIVE MAKING MONEY FROM YOUR ART? DO YOU FIND IT IMPORTANT?

It has been important since my work started selling 24 years ago. It is my main source of income and I am therefore dependent on it. But selling is not the main driving force and I certainly did not set out with it in mind when I was a student. The main reason for being an artist is always that I enjoy it and love the daily challenge. I also have to admit to really liking the fact that it gets seen outside my studio.

Initially, it was very hard to survive. You need somewhere to work and some part-time paid work. Artist group studios are a good idea as it is good for morale to know you are working in the same building as other artists.

You need a gallery to represent you, preferably in London or another capital city which will help to build your reputation, market and sell your work for you. It is possible to do the selling yourself by hiring gallery spaces, but it would be a lot of hard work without specialist knowledge. If you were to rely on a website only, you would not be getting your work seen in the flesh.

You therefore need to send very high-quality photographs and CVs on a CD to targeted galleries and see if they are interested in your work. Galleries have hundreds of artists contacting them all the time so the competition is very high. It is not a good idea to just turn up at a gallery with your work or photos of it.

If you do begin to sell regularly you will need an accountant. An accountant will know what things you can legitimately claim against tax, like materials, photography, office costs and transportation. Always keep a good photographic record of all the work you ever do and keep all relevant receipts, even before you begin to sell, so you can claim for them retrospectively.

WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE IN ART?

Careless or bad craftsmanship and banality.

WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE IN ART?

Funny or quirky images found in some Outsider art, Naïve art and Children’s art and some of Picasso’s more light hearted pieces. Every now and again something amusing appears in contemporary art. It was great fun seeing Anish Kapoor’s wax blasting cannon at the National Gallery recently.

GOOD ADVICE YOU WISH YOU’D BEEN TOLD EARLIER?

As a student I had been told that working with the human figure and particularly with horse images was dated and clichéd. This didn’t put me off, but I wish in those early days when I was trying to find a personal ‘vision’ as an artist I had been told not to worry about what was ‘contemporary’ or ‘fashionable’, to simply be confident in pursuing my own chosen medium and imagery. Having said that, I did have some excellent tutors and, after I left college, I worked with a community of practicing artists who gave me a lot of moral support. This kind of support and encouragement is important. Without it, young artists can easily lose confidence and give up.

More work, information on purchasing prints and originals and on upcoming exhibitions all available at jillgeorgegallery.co.uk.

Interview by Matt Jones.