“…the challenge of capturing the movement and energy of the sea has remained with me.” - the artist
Q: Andrea, we were impressed by your style of painting onto wood sculpture. What led you to develop this technique?
A: To answer this question I have to go back to the amazing classical training I had as a student at Edinburgh College of Art. Our training in visual grammar and visual language in order to be able to communicate what we had to say was extraordinary. We were given a foundation in observational drawing, colour and form which were based on a long tradition of aesthetic understanding particular to the Scots. I specialised in sculpture and painting. Several decades later I have found a way to combine the two.
I got my first sculpture commission for Princes Street, Edinburgh from my final year exhibition and shortly after was taken on by a Cork Street Gallery in London. My career as a fine artist had got off to a great start and I continued to paint and sculpt for many years before being invited to devise original concepts for children's books. I went on to write and illustrate over 100 children's books, games and jigsaw puzzles. 23 international awards later I longed to get back to my roots in fine art.
The challenge of how to begin was daunting. You can't go back and produce another painting in the last series you had made a couple of decades earlier and so faced with the question how do you start from nowhere haunted me for some time. Then I began to visualise three dimensional paintings hanging in space. The more I mused the clearer the concept became. This was my new spring board. I started by making a small hanging piece 'Hommage to a Swimming Pool' which was constructed of two pieces of MDF slotted together. From this I developed the free-standing paintings - a double-sided painting on a base. I was fascinated by the effect of seeing the painting in perspective from different view points in space. I don't regard them as sculpture as the forms are deliberately designed as a shaped painting. Having developed the free-standing paintings, then exhibited them. The only work I had to go on the walls were traditional rectangular drawings and paintings. I realised there was an argument between the two forms so then went on to develop the 2 dimensional shaped wall paintings.
Q: Can you describe the materials you use and your creative process?
A: On leaving college I was fortunate to go to a lecture by Ansel Adams who was visiting Edinburgh. It was an evening which changed my whole approach to drawing. This I had not anticipated! Adams' explanation of the tonal scale from deep rich darks, through mysterious greys arriving at paler than pale whites which he developed in the dark room was inspirational. I left the lecture thinking 'dam it' he is doing with a camera what I want to do with a pencil! At the same time Gwen John, a British painter who worked with Rodin was another painter who fascinated me. She developed a numbered tonal scale and planned her ever so subtle tonal paintings, mathematically, in accordance with her numbered scale. I realised then that I needed to explore how to get the maximum tonal scale and riches from the basic material of graphite implements available at the time.
As students we had a few different pencils with a reasonable range of tones. At this point I bought the complete range of pencils available from 2H to 6B. I also discovered graphite powder, cardboard smudging tools and importantly the role erasers have as drawing implements as opposed to eradicators. Erasers come in many forms and materials. Each have their own distinct qualities in mark making. The other consideration is the material and surface you draw on. As students we were encourage to try out different papers to draw on; smooth, rough, thin, thick, newspaper, tissue paper, tracing paper, parcel paper, wall paper and so on.
I then went on to win a solo exhibition in London. Having always been passionate about drawing I realised I had a problem to solve. How could I produce drawings which fitted in with the family of shapes I had developed for my painting. I had at this point already made shaped drawings but within the white rectangular piece of paper. I had to get rid of the rectangle as I already knew right angles were out of place. It was then I decided to experiment with drawing on primed MDF. I had not anticipated how exciting this would be as the textures you could make on the primed surface were so very different to textures you can make on paper. The first drawing was made on a smoothly primed surface. The next one was done on thickly primed wood. I had found my answer!
Q: What inspires your subject matter?
Both the art colleges I trained at were located by the sea so my passion for working from nature dates back to the days when we were sent out every week to draw the coast. It was one thing drawing something static like the cliffs and rocks but the challenge of capturing the movement and energy of the sea has remained with me. A couple of years ago I spotted an opportunity to apply for a solo exhibition for which you required to put a detailed proposal forward based on your chosen theme. I asked myself why was I so passionate about water. It dated much further back than student days. From the age of around ten, when the words like global disasters and environmental humanities and pollution were not in common use or in the news, I worried that man did not appreciate the value of clean water. My father did medical research in India and Africa and returned telling me about the relationship of health and dirty water and the reality that people in these countries would never have clean water as we in the West have so would continue to die from water based diseases. He instilled in my an appreciation of the importance of water to the survival of life on earth. I was also a keen underwater swimmer so had a strong physical bond with water as well. These together with my visual fascination with the wide range of forms water can take have given me a deep connection with water, No! I am not born under Aquarius!
Q: We were impressed with your Best in Show piece, titled Falling Water Triptych, 2018, as well as the rest of the collection you submitted obviously. Tell us more about this piece/series.
A: Although my work is detailed I am not simply a representational artist. My mission explores the emotional symbolism of my subject matter. My focus is on interpreting nature, not simply rendering it photographically but trying to embody symbolic and spiritual meaning of my chosen subject. Jung saw the sea as the seat of the unconscious. Working from a specific location provides me with a framework to link me to my inner world. Without this the artistic journey would be a superficial dance with a brush.
I devoted a section of my H2O exhibition to Falling Water. My husband and I have a studio in Bergerac in the Dordogne. There are amazing waterfalls up in the French mountains were we spend hours simply trying to capture the energy, the movement and also the noise of water interacting with rocks. As students we were taught to observe and respond but I now sit, watch and listen a long while before making any marks. This gets me in tune with the essence of my subject matter. The visual language of simplified forms has come from my attempts to eliminate the superfluous detail. My process is now meditative rather than responsive.
Q: What do you hope for viewers to take away from your art?
A: As an artist we cannot control what people get from our creations but art is a language of communication so I hope that people can tune into my passion and wonder for nature and in doing so be inspired to look at it for themselves with new eyes. If I can inspire them to treasure our environment and value our planet that would be wonderful. I also hope it will give them a bridge to get in touch with their own inner spirit. If your work has roots within your own psyche then people can tune into this, not to understand you but hopefully to understand themselves a little better.
Q: How do you view your art career in five years?
A: This is certainly the hardest question of all! It is also the most important one to answer as having clear targets drives one forward in a positive way.
There are three aspects to being a professional artist. The first is the creative journey you are on, the second is having the opportunity to communicate with one's audience and lastly commercial success.
'It is important as an artist to allow space for the unexpected and the accidental.' These are the words of the best tutor, Jimmy Cummings, who taught me in my first year at Edinburgh. My discovery of drawing on primed MDF is a good example. At the same time it is important to embrace making images in a fresh way and have a vision of where the path you are on might be heading. Many artists when their work becomes ' commercially successful' then stay focused on producing more of the same having found an audience willing to purchase their work. Jimmy warned against the rut of repetition. I know there is much more to explore in making images work in space. There is opportunity to introduce the element of illusion which I suspect will take my work in a more abstract style. It takes courage to really explore our inner worlds which is the engine to artistic development. I would like to write a book on colour as this is one of the most magical ingredients to painting. The first homework Jimmy Cummings set us was to paint an image without having blue in your palette but which convinced him there was blue in the painting. Working out how to induce the colour blue sparked an exploration in colour which I have never lost. I am now exploring making paintings with multiple palettes and working out how to orchestrate a relationship between them so they work as a whole. In terms of subject matter I want to focus on the relationship of water and land. My aim is to get another solo exhibition as producing a body of work with a defined theme to explore is the most rewarding way of working.
Considering my position on the professional stage, I am currently preparing to join more online galleries. By their nature they reach a much broader and wider audience than a non-virtual gallery can. I have also been taken on by a couple of hotel art agents and want to pursue this as I want to produce more large scale pieces. To produce a piece for a hospital foyer would be more meaning full for me than displaying a piece in a major public art gallery. I would also like to generate enough income to have my pieces made in metal and enamel so they can be displayed outside and maintain their vibrant colour.
Commercial success is not my priority but I am a good business woman so have a drive for financial gain but what I really want is for my work to have meaning for my audience be it in a domestic or public setting. It is an added bonus to selling a piece for it to have a 'good home'. I recently sold a couple of paintings to a London barrister whose daughter is seriously ill. She bought paintings 'Deep Pool' and 'Blue Cave' hoping they will bring her daughter a sense of calm. That the meditative quality I had tried to imbue the 'Deep Pool with might help heal a child has to be the best home a painting can find. Another piece has been purchased by a gentleman to inspire him at work. I hope in five years time to have produced more pieces that have this level of appreciation.
About the artist:
Andrea Shearing creates 2d and 3D free standing shaped drawings. They are made of MDF which is primed with acrylic paint and made with a wide range of graphite implements as well as graphite powder. She uses a variety of rubbers to lift and draws into graphite and also card board implements to smooth and rubs soft tones together. The work is based on real locations with a focus on nature.
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