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Richard Combes: From Everyday to Extraordinary

Richard Combes is a renowned oil painter, born in Manchester but now based in New York. He trained as an architect before moving to the US to complete his master’s degree in painting at the New York Academy of Art. In 2004, he was elected a full member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, an honour that only a handful of international artists have had bestowed on them, and now splits his time between the US and the UK. We first saw Richard’s work in the flesh at an exhibition at Snig Hill Gallery in Sheffield and were immediately blown away by the composition and sheer detail. Though many of his subjects are commonplace, the way they are brought to life really is extraordinary. Can you describe the process of starting a new painting? My work is based on things I see in daily life – people, places, objects. Everything has a story behind it, especially older things. I like to imagine what’s happened in a space or to an object and somehow preserve it in my paintings. Once I’ve chosen my subject, I do a charcoal sketch and then build up the paintings over a series of stages. The details become more refined with each layer of paint. Where do you get your inspiration from? My surroundings, especially architecture. I originally trained as an architect and I’m drawn to old buildings that tell a story. In New York, where my studio is, I like to explore the city’s nooks and crannies. I like to see cities in close-up rather than expansive views. As a child, my parents took me to stately homes in the UK and that was the first time I saw oil paintings. I was subsequently inspired by 18th century portraiture, the Impressionists and Surrealism. Tools. What do you use regularly and what is your favourite? I like to use a palette knife to give my work texture and various flathead brushes to give it detail. My favourite colours are the earth yellows – ochre and raw sienna. What other artistic media have had an effect on your art? Photography mainly. It has enabled me to capture fleeting moments and then I give them permanency in my painting. How do you spend your days? If I’m not thinking about or doing my artwork, I enjoy talking to friends and watching classic old films. I also keep up with Premier League football and wish there were more places in New York to watch cricket! Which of your recent pieces have you enjoyed making the most? The series I’m working on now – reflections of buildings in pools of water, which I discovered one day while walking around New York after some snow had melted. I’ve been able to incorporate brighter colours into this series. How has your art evolved over time? I have a better sense of the themes and subjects that resonate with me and my work has become more ambitious in scale. How has art in general changed since you started? I think there’s been a resurgence of realist and figurative painting. In the US, several schools have been founded to encourage this type of work. I find this very promising. Any tips on how to survive and make money from your art? Do you find it important? One of the most difficult things is to know and find your place in the art world. Paint the subjects that interest you the most and you will do a good job. If you paint something that matters to you, it will be genuine and that integrity will show through. What do you dislike in art? Art that appears to be half-hearted. What makes you smile in art? Critics. Good advice you wish you’d been told earlier? The importance of networking. If you are in Manchester this month, stop by and see some of his new work at 2022NQ in the Northern Quarter from 7th to 15th June, with a private viewing on 7th at 6pm. More info Exhibition curated by Heather Gilberthorpe in association with Dukeries Art Gallery. [imagebrowser id=33] )

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