16 Stoddart Street

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE2 1AN

Mon-Sun, 10am - 5pm

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In the Studio / Spring headline artist John Brenton

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Cornish artist John Brenton has dedicated his painting career to capturing the beauty and drama of coastline and countryside. Often to be found painting outdoors, whether it be on a Cornish cliff edge or in a tranquil river valley, his paintings possess a vibrant energy.

This Spring John Brenton joins us as our headline artist with a new collection of original paintings, featuring scenes from the North East landscape and beyond. We spoke to John about his new collection, his painting process and his love of the outdoors. 

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Please tell us about yourself? Where are you currently based?

I have been a professional artist for over 20 years and spend a lot of my time in Cornwall, where I love to paint en plein air. My studio space is near Worcester and I have been based there for one year. Before I began to paint I spent time building my own house – which took four years! I also like to surf (not in the winter months!) and have played classical guitar since I was six years old.

John Brenton's studio space

John Brenton's studio space, 2018

Did you study art or are you self-taught?

I studied for a combined degree in Fine Art & Music at Manchester Metropolitan University. When I attended by campus was located at Alsager in Cheshire. Even though I originally studied fine art a big part of my self-development as an artist has been the creation of my own style of painting, so in this respect I would say I am also self-taught.

Tell us about your painting process and technique. Do you work from sketches or photographs?

I typically produce a painting in two stages. I like to apply oil paint on to a textured surface which I prepare using discarded paint from previous paintings. I will usually paint on top of this layer in one session in a loose way, using palette knife and brush simultaneously. When this stage is fairly dry I add all the necessary detail to complete the image.

I work from both sketches and photographs. I tend to use photographs for reference only as they can distort the scale of the actual view I’m studying.

Paintings by John Brenton

(Right) - 'Snowfall', 2017 and (left) - 'Secluded Beach', 2017

Tell us about painting outdoors. How does it differ to studio work? What do you think painting en plein air brings to your work?

When I paint outdoors I am much more conscious of capturing the moment. Cloud patterns and tidal ranges often change so quickly so I try to respond with speed which often results in a more vibrant and dramatic image. When working indoors it is often the same process in reverse, when I try to add dramatic elements to my painting I am not constrained by time.

What inspires you? Which artists inspire you?

The sea! I love surfing in it and spend a lot of time observing it.

I’m inspired by many different artists, but to name a few – I find inspiration in Constable’s sketches, especially his sky studies. I am also inspired by Turner’s more abstract work, the skill of marine artist John Chancellor, sculptor Tony Cragg, Peter Bruegel’s use of figures in landscape and Peter Doig’s dreamlike paintings from memories.

(Left) Tony Cragg, 'Caught Dreaming', 2016, (right) John Constable, 'Study of Cirrus Clouds', 1822.

We’re delighted to be hosting your new collection this Spring. Do you have a favourite piece in this show?

I am very excited to be at The Biscuit Factory once again! I would say that there is a diverse mix of locations in this show, but the Holy Island paintings are particular favourites. I have great memories of cycling there from Wooler and crossing the causeway to this magical Northumbrian island.

Some of your recent work focuses on the North East of England. Is painting the North East coast different to your work in the Cornwall landscape? Was it challenging?

I found it different in some ways and very similar in others. There is a similarity in the coastal colours of both locations, however Cornwall tends to have a more rugged and varied coastline. The North East coastline is equally as dramatic with its sense of scale. Some of the beaches are enormous! I also love to paint the Cheviot Hills, especially as there is no equivalent in Cornwall.

John Brenton's studio space

Finished works in John Brenton's studio, 2018

What’s coming up for you this year? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I have a very busy year! I have three upcoming solo exhibitions later in the year, which I will start to prepare for soon. I have also been asked by Cornish professional cycling team St. Piran to be their artist in residence.

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This Spring we host John Brenton's headline collection in our Spring Exhibition - launching on Friday 2 March and running until Sunday 20 May. View and buy from the collection in gallery or online.