Keen to explore, Angela Findlay has a versatile approach. She alternates between painting canvases, working on mixed-media projects and conducting informed talks on her experience of teaching art in prisons. Being adventurous she has been known to use unconventional materials like sand, cake and her signature River Seven mud. Her latest artwork involves capturing portraits of contemporary life using a collaboration of photography, collage and oil paint. She conjures up a narrative using a familiar domestic setting and creates a mood using texture, light and subtle colour combinations. ‘Much of my art reflects the idea that places, buildings and objects bear witness to, reveal and hold the memory of human stories.’
Posted on Fri 24 May 2013
Thoughts Can Fly
, mixed media with oil, (100x100cm)
Angela’s initial success can be put down to taking part in Stroud Valleys Open Studios. ‘Hundreds of people came. I sold many paintings, some for over £1,000, and received very positive feedback.’ Since then she has thrived on finding different forms of expression, different materials and techniques. Angela is thrilled that people have enjoyed following her development as an artist and have engaged with her new work with genuine interest and enthusiasm.
After starting out as a set painter for theatre and film, Angela spent 20 years working closely with offenders and the prison system, teaching art and running large-scale mural and multi-media art projects. She used art as a catalyst to instigate change and develop a positive sense of self and empathy for others. Interestingly she taught prisoners simple colour exercises to overcome inhibitions.
They became aware of the inherent relationship between colour and their emotional and personal responses. It was a great stimulus for encouraging learning. Angela's mural work has led to a passion for large-scale work – her preferred canvas size is (100x100cm).
Fractured Relics of Time
, mixed media with oil, (30.5x30.5cm)
Collage – initial stages
Two years ago Angela began working in collage. She was particularly enthused by the colour combinations found in magazine shots of interiors and this developed into a collaborative project with photographer John Heseltine. Her current work begins with an idea about a familiar scenario in everyday life, which usually goes unnoticed. Once the idea has materialised and Angela has envisaged a narrative in her head she photographs a scene with a number of variations, close-ups and different angles.
‘Either I stage a still life or tweak an already existing one, looking at composition but often also adding incongruous or unexpected elements. I tend to select objects I find beautiful in some way. Often they embody a sense of history. Their form, colour, texture and size all play a role in the composition. The colour scheme is largely planned in the setting up of the still life or scenario and in the choice of objects. I might then add colours through additional collaged images.’
Her compositions use strong vertical and diagonal lines of doors, windows and shafts of sunlight or a degree of architectural symmetry to draw the viewer in.
‘After photographing, I enlarge, print out, assemble and fix a collaged ground on to my canvas – preparing the ground is a fairly long process.’ Images from magazines, text or bits of patterned paper are added to create layers and extra dimensions. The paper ground is sealed with coats of a transparent medium or good-quality PVA. The photos are printed on to a suitable photo paper, which doesn't bobble or disintegrate when painted over with the PVA mixture.
His Side of the Bed
, mixed media with oil, (76x76cm)
Colours that sing
Once totally dry, Angela applies oil paint, initially mixing colours to match existing ones within the printed images. ‘I build up layers with a variety of palette knives, sometimes allowing the layers to partially dry so the colours don’t merge with each other. The paint then takes its own course, either by being built up or scraped back to hide or reveal the collages below. Much of the collage disappears under the oil paint. The practical execution generally takes two days to a week depending on the size.’
Initially, Angela restricts the palette to two or three colours to set the desired mood; other colours gradually come into play as enhancements, contrasts or lifters. ‘I tend to go for colours that have depth and complexity rather than the fresh, clean ones. I think breaking the colours with mud or a raw umber gives them a richer and more mature appearance. I prefer to use broken colours rather than pure ones – subtle mixtures that are difficult to name, such as shades of taupe, old rose pink, faded greys, etc. I get very disturbed if the colours don’t sing. Tiny variations in tone or shade can either kill a colour harmony or enhance it.
‘Sometimes I expect myself to just get straight into a painting but I find it much more constructive to allow time to drift and dream before starting on a painting.’
Once in the creative mode Angela finds her paintings flow more easily.
Salle de Bain
, mixed media with oil, (100x100cm)
‘I generally paint in the afternoons and on into the evenings, setting myself a fairly strict goal of being in my studio at 2pm. It’s a discipline and I treat it like showing up at an office on time.’ She works on one painting until it feels finished, otherwise it gets difficult to re-mix the exact colours.
As she gets emotionally involved with each painting, she finds it best to remain within the mood before starting the next one, which may have a totally different feel to it. Having said that, some of her paintings do not resolve themselves for months and she has to return to them several times. ‘The painting goes in phases. I usually find that I have a whole series of ideas for paintings that build on each other over a number of months. And then there may be a time where I haven't painted for weeks because I am focusing on other tasks. During that time, however, new ideas and thoughts begin to build up inside until I feel ready for another art-focused period.
Angela thinks that some artists are in danger of becoming formulaic and, rather than producing popular paintings to please the public, she feels the need to be authentic and paint from her heart, which is the reason for her detachment from current trends and sales figures and her willingness to pursue new phases in her artwork. ‘I recognise myself as a traveller in my art rather than a settler, however painful the journey gets. Things change, we change, life changes, so why would I expect my style not to?’
Gardening in a Red Dress
, mixed media with oil, (100x100cm)
Words of advice
Angela admires the refreshingly originality of contemporary artist Peter Doig, who depicts slightly unsettling scenes whilst remaining relatively figurative. She is mesmerised by the seemingly infinite spaces of Anselm Kiefer. He has a textural and sculptural element to his work and uses a restricted palette and unusual materials like dried peas, straw, shellac and ash. The work of Hughie O’Donoghue is also an inspiration because of the subject matter and reference to World War II, a subject that fascinates Angela, and he too includes photographic images within his paintings.
Her advice to budding artists is not to hold back from selling work because you feel it is hot off the press and you have an attachment to it. ‘Some works lose their shine and worth if you hold on to them while you develop further – you’ll become stuck because people want your newer, more mature stuff.’ However, she claims it is good to keep some special works from each phase.
Angela suggests it is wise to avoid titles that are too specific. ‘It is vital to me that the viewer can connect some experience of their own with the scene they see. I sometimes use lines from poetry written by people close to me. I am amused by very banal titles that reflect everyday experiences. Learning to let go is possibly the main thing that has helped my confidence – trusting in my own way of externalising what I feel inside and being open to suggestions, tips, and new processes along the way. Ask somebody you trust and whose opinion you respect to give you honest advice on a piece of work. You don’t have to take it but it can help you see your work more objectively.’
Angela will be conducting a workshop on the Greek Island of Skyros from July 6 to 19, 2013.
Her work is currently being exhibited at Josie Eastwood Fine Art, email@example.com, London and Hampshire. She takes commissions and examples of her work can be viewed by appointment or on her website: www.angelafindlay.com.
Angela Findlay was a set painter for theatre and film before becoming a mural painter. She studied artistic therapy and taught art in prisons, mostly in Germany. In 2010 she obtained a fine art degree from the University of West of England, Bristol. Her paintings have been shown extensively in exhibitions across the UK.
Angela runs a variety of art workshops and is also a specialist speaker on the subject of the role of the arts in prisons, visiting many schools, lecture groups, conferences and other venues. To learn more about these aspects of Angela's work please visit www.angelafindlaytalks.com
This interview with Angela Findlay is taken from the July 2013 issue of The Artist