Meet our artist of the month, Grade One, who served with the Welsh Guards in Northern Ireland and in London and was diagnosed with PTSD. Circumstances have seen him living on the streets of London for 18 months and stays in rehabs battling addictions. Things changed during a residential visit to Combat Stress and a visit to the Tate Modern. He talks about his subsequent journey as an artist, being invited to the studio of his favourite artist John Hoyland and presenting on his work at the Royal Academy..
Why and when did you start making art? I started making art after a residential stay at Combat Stress for treatment for my PTSD about 10 years ago. We went for a day out to the Tate Modern and I’d never really gone to an art gallery before and the Tate had somebody taking us around and talking about particular paintings by Picasso and Gerhard Richter’s cage paintings were there. Before then I’d not really thought about making art in that medium as I was massively into music, producing and Djing. I never thought about doing any drawing and especially painting.
Once I got back to Combat Stress I went straight to the occupational therapy department where I got a canvas, some paint and started on my first painting. I really didn’t know what I was doing but just had a feeling I needed to do it.
Where do you work? I paint from my home on the floor in my living room. I did start out using an easel but then quickly found working on the floor was a lot better for me, especially the different techniques I use. Working from home suits me a lot, I can just paint when I want, any time of the day or night. If I’m having a bad time with my mental health it really helps me painting and I can be creative straight away. I think I’d struggle if I had to travel to a studio because of my mental health issues and I wouldn’t be painting as much as I do. So I’m really happy the way it is.
How would you describe your work? I would say my work is from an abstract expressionism background and a lot of it is based around colour. One piece from another could be totally different but it has lots of influence from that American 50’s abstract expressionism period with artists like Pollock, Rothko, Barnett Newman, Hans Hoffman and Ellsworth Kelly. Also modern day influences like Peter Halley and Sol LeWitt.
Do you follow a set process or does it vary? I don’t really have a set process to be honest. I don’t really like painting the same pieces over and over again. So I’m always going between different techniques I’ve learnt, so one day it could be more an action painting and the next something a bit more technical. I think it all depends on my mental health really as I suffer a lot with insomnia so I could be starting a new piece at 3am or finishing one.
What inspires your work? I love being out walking and discovering new places so nature has a lot to do with my creative process. Also travelling is so inspiring and my girlfriend is Catalonian so before Covid I’ve visited her family quite a few times and I’ve been to Salvador Dali’s museum/studio and the Miro/Picasso/Antoni Tapies foundations.
Do you have any creative role models? When I went to the Tate I was lucky to see a piece by John Hoyland which just blew my mind…He’s been a massive influence on me and my work especially my earlier pieces I really love a lot of his work. I did a painting at Combat Stress for an exhibition called After Hoyland and I didn’t know at the time but Combat Stress got in touch with him and invited him to the exhibition but at the time he wasn’t very well so he couldn’t come but he wrote a lovely letter back, wishing me all the best and to keep painting. Some years later I was lucky to be invited to go to his studio in London which was such an amazing experience for me and kind of made sense of why I paint because I think if I’d not been inspired by John Hoyland I maybe of not have started painting. So he’s a massive role model and hero of mine and in my opinion one of the greatest British painters we’ve ever had.
I do have some others like Joan Miro who is a big influence and I’m really into British painters like Albert Irvin, Terry Frost, Howard Hodgkin and Patrick Heron. That whole St Ives scene from years ago fascinates me.
Are there particular themes that run through your work? If so, what are they? Circles and Blocks of colour are obviously a main theme in my work. Nature is a big theme.
What do you hope a viewer/ audience gets from your work? Everybody is so different in what or how they view things. I guess some kind of emotional response would be great even if they didn’t like it.
What is your favourite work of art (by another artist)? It’s such a tough one to choose as there’s so many great pieces and It’s what’s great about the internet your seeing great art on a daily basis, but saying that, anything by John Hoyland is definitely at the top of favourite work.
Is there an artwork you are most proud of/ favourite piece? I’ve painted a lot of pieces over the years and I couldn’t really tell you which one is a particular favourite. I’m proud of them all as they represent this journey I’ve been on since I started painting. When I’m in the process of painting I think this is the one, my new favourite then when it’s finished ,it’s like ok that’s it, then it’s onto the next one without much thought afterwards, to be honest.
What has been the standout moment for you as an artist so far? I think the standout moment has been being invited to the Royal Academy of Arts to do a talk on being an artist and my paintings. I’ve pretty much been self taught so to get that invitation and have the opportunity to do it from such a prestigious place was just the highlight of everything I’ve been doing.
What are your hopes for the future? To carry on painting and travel some more, but with everything that’s going on in the world at present I want to just carry on painting. It’s something I’m grateful of and everything is like on hold. So, who knows what the future may bring!
If you would like to be featured as Artist of the Month or to nominate a fellow artist, please contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07903 028452
Thank you for sharing your work. I have really enjoyed reading about it, alongside the journey that started off your creativity. I am especially inspired by your use of colour.
I have had severe PTSD, (although in a better place now), can really relate to some of your very personal experiences.
I wish you every success with your amazing paintings.
Although I am a textile artist I love all the artists you mention in your interview. And not that long ago saw an exhibition of John Hoyland work.
Love the use of strong colours and shapes.