16 Stoddart Street

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE2 1AN

Mon-Sun, 10am - 5pm

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In the Studio / Simon M Smith

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Simon M Smith was born in Burnley, Lancashire, in 1957. He studied Fine Art at Manchester Polytechnic and the University of Reading and trained in life drawing at the Slade school of Art.

After working for many years as an art teacher at schools and colleges throughout East Anglia, Simon is now a full time artist working from his garden studio in Norfolk.

He has been a successful exhibitor at The Biscuit Factory for over six years where he has received much admiration for his colourful and decorative paintings.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your practice.

My whole life I’ve been thinking about painting – the what, the how and the why of it. I studied Fine Art at Manchester Polytechnic and the University of Reading.

I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to be “an artist”, but I have always felt an overwhelming compulsion to paint and draw. I don’t think you choose to be an artist – art chooses you.

I want to make paintings as well as I can. Not so long ago painters were regarded simply as craftsmen. They took pride in what they made. I too want to craft beautiful, sensitive things. I have a simple, workman-like approach to painting: every day I go into the studio and do what I can see needs doing. A painting is finished when it seems there is nothing else to do: the painting has found its reason for being. At that point I stop and wonder.

"Making art is still a mystery to me. I like to take myself by surprise. I like to find out what else I can do."

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What inspires your work?

During the last few years I’ve been working with floral motifs and patterns, but I wouldn’t say that was I was inspired by flowers; they’re simply a vehicle for my explorations. What I am really interested in is painting - I’m interested in making paintings, lots of paintings, different kinds of paintings. Flowers are convenient things to use as subject matter: there’s a history of flower painting one can refer to; they have form, colour, interesting shapes; and they lend themselves well to colourful, decorative painting. Flowers are generally considered to be cheerful and optimistic – a condition I aspire to.

What informs the style you use in your work?

Making art is still a mystery to me. I like to take myself by surprise. I like to find out what else I can do. I’ve learnt that I make art because I have to. I turn up and work; things do get done. I make progress.

Painting allows me the opportunity to think about and give form to my experiences in a way that’s very difficult to put into words. It’s a way of discovering what I really think and feel about things.

"The most important thing I find in my studio is the time and space to paint."

Tell us about your workspace.

I work in a studio at the end of a long, productive garden. Just walking down the garden path to the studio can be informative and inspiring.

My studio’s a little world on its own. I listen to a lot of music when I’m working – anything from Benjamin Britten to Captain Beefheart. I like music that’s difficult to describe and impossible to categorise. The sort of music that reminds you there are no rules: everything is possible, everything is waiting to be done all over again, but differently this time, because whilst you weren’t looking the world changed and you changed too.

The most important thing I find in my studio is the time and space to paint.

Describe your creative process. Do you work with a particular routine?

During the last few years I regularly made lots of drawings of flowers and leaves on tissue paper from unwanted dress patterns using a fine-nibbed permanent marker. Once I had primed the surface I was working on, I would start pasting tissue paper onto the surface, often using the printed lines found on the dress patterns to give structure to my work: to make shapes, and build some sort of framework to play off other elements. Sometimes I would leave words and numbers from the dress patterns as part of the composition.

More recently, however, I have bypassed the tissue paper stage and drawn directly onto the surface I intend to paint on. I use acrylic paint, primarily because it dries quickly. I make changes rapidly when I am working, particularly in the early stages of a painting, and build my pictures in layers of tissue and paint. It’s important, therefore, that I use materials that PVA glue will adhere to well.

As the painting progresses, I draw and redraw shapes on the canvas, add new drawn images on tissue paper and make continual adjustments. My workman-like approach to painting leads me on to the next thing, and that’s how I progress. I often have five or six painting simultaneously in progress.

I don’t have a predetermined goal when I start work. I only know that a painting is finished when it seems there is nothing else to do: the painting has found its own reason for existing, and makes sense according to its own internal logic. At that point it stops being interesting for me. Luckily I’ll have others on the go demanding my attention.

Which artist’s work do you admire?

I paint because I feel compelled to paint, and because making paintings is endlessly fascinating. The amount and variety of painting that already exists is overwhelming. I’m influenced by all sorts of painters and paintings.

I love cave painting, I love the Flemish primitives. I love the German Romantics, and I love Cubism. I love Rococo nymphs and shepherds. I love the tortured souls of the Expressionists. I love Ladybird books, Maurice Sendak illustrations, floral fabric patterns, and mid-century Modernism. When I’m painting, everything I’ve ever seen is filtered through my experience and sensibility, and somehow mysteriously emerges looking like my own work.

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork?

Die Hülsenbeckschen Kinder, by Philipp Otto Runge, in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Do you have a favourite piece in your summer collection?

I’ve loved and loathed all my paintings in equal measure. I’m most interested in the ones I’m going to start tomorrow.

Simon's headline collection will be on display in the gallery until 25 August 2019.

All of Simon's work is available to purchase online and in the gallery.

Spread the cost of your favourite artwork with Own Art.

Buy 'Amaranth Rose' an original painting by British painter Simon M Smith at The Biscuit Factory.

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Buy 'Ash Tree, October Afternoon' an original painting by British painter Simon M Smith at The Biscuit Factory.

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Buy 'Autumn Evening' an original painting by British painter Simon M Smith at The Biscuit Factory.

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