Friday 23 February 2018

In the studio with George Irvine

Ahead of his debut exhibition at The Compton Gallery, SoGlos chats to Cotswold artist George Irvine about his artistic background, love of landscapes, and what visitors can expect from his latest contemporary fine art showcase.

Art fans will soon be able to see a collection of colourful landscapes by Cotswold artist, George Irvine, when he hosts his debut exhibition at The Compton Gallery, a boutique new arts space in Withington near Cheltenham.

Taking place on selected dates from Saturday 2 to Sunday 17 December 2017, the exhibition will showcase the latest pieces from the sought-after artist, who is known for fusing vibrant colours with glorious landscapes.

In this exclusive interview, SoGlos chats to George about his artistic background, where he finds inspiration, his style of art, and what visitors can expect from the exciting new Cotswold exhibition.

Are you excited to be showing your work at the new arts venue?

Extremely excited about the gallery. I love the way Jane has painted the space this neutral grey. I walked into The Compton Gallery’s first show last summer and work by Tom Hammick, one of Britain’s most original artists working today, was showing his work on the end wall and it blew me away. So I was thrilled to be asked to show there.

How did the partnership between you and The Compton Gallery come about?

When I was at the Slade School of Fine Art I was involved in a mural commissioned by Jane Slemeck. So, yes, there was a connection that went back a long way. And I came to see the opening exhibition last summer at The Compton Gallery where we discussed a show.

What can visitors to The Compton Gallery expect from your exhibition?

Some realistically priced work that will be available to buy, to live with for a very long time. They will, I hope, see a positive and vibrant view of the world and we all need that at the moment!

Can you tell our readers a bit about your artistic background?

I was lucky enough to go to Stowe School, Buckingham where, from the first year, I became totally in awe of the landscaped gardens. They seemed huge and endless and I drew and drew in my sketchbook the various vistas and temples.

Back in the 1980s, the gardens had a secret garden feel where nature was winning against the man-made follies and temples. I learnt to etch in the print room and the print process remains an interest.

After a one-year foundation course at The Oxford Poly (now Brookes) I was selected for the BA Fine Art course at the Slade. It was thrilling to get in as I think there were 28 places given after 800 applicants.

But the Slade was a reality check and I began to realise there was more to painting pretty pictures. I had to think deeper and confront purpose and reason. And this was bloody difficult for someone who had not looked at, historically, much art beyond Picasso.

And having seen little or understood little of contemporary art it was a bumpy ride. In fact I was nearly thrown out of art school because I was afraid of why I just could not fathom the theory. I re-took my first year and was at The Slade for five years!

It wasn’t until my PGCE teaching course that everything began to click. And so after having lived through so much fear at art school about talking about one’s own work, I was particularly careful to teach my students about what art is and how in the end the contemporary artist is in fact confronting the same ideas that artists have for centuries, just using different means.

Were you creative as a child?

My parents loved art and collecting paintings, apart from my mother being a painter. So paint and colour, as well as being taken to exhibitions from an early age, surrounded me. So I have always wondered whether I am an artist through blood or I was in the right place at the right time.

I remember painting a still life and being left to it while my parents went to exercise horses. I was five or six at the time. But I do remember the enthusiastic response when they got back and perhaps that was another key moment in consolidating a direction towards making paintings.

How would you describe your style of art? Do you use a particular medium?

My art is painterly expressionist if there is such a thing. I don’t use a particular medium in preference of any other although for this exhibition oil paint seems to be at the fore.

I love acrylic and the way it dries so quickly meaning that the painting process is forced to be so different to oil. Then watercolour, inks and gouache are another exciting group of mediums. Photography and printmaking and the links between painting and drawing are also used in my work.

I am driven by the excitement and endless surprises that colour offers. One thing that keeps me working is when the unknown or unseen becomes a reality. Suddenly combinations of colours side by side create their own feeling. But style is something I am keen to fight against now and mustn’t be something fixed. And that, for me, is an exciting struggle.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I have to work hard for inspiration. It is not a matter of picking up a brush and pow wow I am inspired. It might be eight hours into some work when suddenly something clicks and the work becomes thrilling. Is that inspiration? Really as long as there is a combination of weather, light, form, space, earth then I am interested.

Although my recent trip to Cornwall, post the summer season, down on the rocks below the Gurnard’s Head has to be described as inspiring. The place was empty and the nature was huge and almost overwhelming. I made several trips down a cliff path onto rocks that was all part of the fun, getting to such an inaccessible place with oils and canvas.

Inspiration or ideas also comes from art itself and walking through a gallery or museum looking at art has been such an important source of energy for me, both as a teacher and an artist.

Can you explain the process of producing a piece of art?

I have various approaches and it is not a matter of starting and finishing. I come back to works that have been forgotten and see them differently so work on them again.

But mostly it involves a trip out into the landscape with a lot of kit, to cover all scenarios, and then paint and come back to the studio, sometimes with a finished work or something to resolve in the studio. Or, occasionally I work from what I come back with and make a big canvas in the studio drawing on memory and sketches.

Do you have a favourite landscape in the Cotswolds that you like to capture on canvas?

I was brought up around Hook Norton and am still struck by the landscape around Chipping Norton, the Evenlode valley, views towards Brailes and Shipston-on-Stour and Stow-on-the-Wold. But I love remote landscapes where the impact of us is at a minimum.

Is there anywhere that you’d love to paint?

Yes, America, Utah and the Zion National Park, and India.

Do you have a favourite piece in your exhibition? Or is it impossible to choose?

Yes, the painting Cobalt at Gurnard’s Head excites me. It must be something about the experience of painting it. Just getting the canvas down to such a remote location was a satisfactory achievement. And although of course one is never completely happy, I feel this is an energizing painting that has captured the spirit of place.

How important do you think colour is in works of art?

Experiencing colour is an extraordinary ability we have. The psychological impact of colour effects us all and in different ways.

I have a Johannes Itten’s book that I keep going back to and in the past have taught a colour course based on his theory on the seven colour contrasts. I learnt that a more objective knowledge of how colour works can enhance the students’ way of seeing, thus avoiding a narrow subjective view.

Do you ever get the artist’s equivalent of writer’s block?

Yes, but I have learnt it is better to crack on and work rather than sit and worry that you are stuck. If I stop there is a danger of getting stuck in a depressing trough.

For more information about George’s work, see, while for further details about The Compton Gallery, call (01242) 890733 or visit directly.

© SoGlos
Monday 30 October 2017

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