Modern Abstract Landscape Painter Robert Ford was born in 1974, studied at Felsted School and followed a Fine Art course at Colchester Institute. At his studio in East Anglia, he works part of the time producing murals and artwork for commercial clients. Still, increasingly he is creating paintings, portraits and drawings for commissions and private sales, as well as for exhibitions and galleries. Rob Ford was one of only two UK painters chosen to join a group of European artists in Swidnica, Poland, for a week of Plain Air painting in May 2000.
This trip to southern Poland inspired many works in an exhibition by selected European artists in Swidnica. These paintings are part of a large body of study which reflects Ford’s interest in the work of artists such as Paul Cezanne, Ivan Hitchens, John Constable and Salvador Dali, amongst others. They also show us his fascination with places where the passive yet relentless passing of time has allowed nature to re-stake her claim – places where there is no apparent divide between the earth and air. Rob says, “this interest comes from spending much of my childhood in the mountains and valleys of Snowdonia, North Wales”.
More recent work is a development of these ideas, and his work ranges from traditional, still-life landscapes and portraits to emotionally charged abstract canvasses. He works in various media: oils, acrylic, watercolours, pastels and airbrush! Rob Ford’s earlier exhibitions have been well received, and demand for his work is growing.
When people ask me, “When did you start painting?” or, “What got you interested in art?” I have to reply that I don’t know! It’s something that I have always done and always felt passionate about. When I look back at my childhood, I can remember wanting to stay late at nursery and primary school to finish my painting, and if I remember correctly, I took the specialised art of ‘drawing on walls’ to a new level.
Nothing was safe, rugs, carpets, loo rolls and, much to my parent’s dismay, a fantastic collage of fruit peels on a warm radiator. Despite this, my family have always encouraged and supported me, which was possibly the most crucial factor in my becoming an artist.
My main interest was always in the art room during my years at Felsted in Essex. Although I was by no means the best painter or draughtsman of the year, it was something that I felt confident with and had great enthusiasm for. After leaving school, I continued to paint and draw and developed an interest in the history of painting. This interest led me to apply to my local college to study an art course. Rembrandt, Van-Gogh and Delacroix were particular favourites of mine.
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Although I had the opportunity at college to spend each day drawing and painting, I found it frustrating and felt pressured into finding the appeal in modern art. Pop art, abstract expressionism and the like were the expected food for thought, and words such as ‘Neo-Classicism’ and ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ were as good as banned. This experience is something that I have shared with other artists, and perhaps it is not a bad thing as, by refusal, my interest in the history of painting was spurred onwards. I would place Mark Rothko and other abstract expressionists high on my list of favourites! Upon completing my college course, I wanted to find employment that would use my skills.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to take my education any further, so whilst still drawing and painting at every given opportunity, I had a go at many jobs, including removals, parcel delivery, waiting, gardening, office work etc. This continued until one day, whilst holding some art classes at a local primary school. I came across a small local business that specialises in Theme restaurants. My sights were set, and I continually pestered the manager until he allowed me to design a mural for them. Before long, I had secured a job doing what I had always wanted – painting.
I stayed with the company for the next few years, after which I found the confidence to start painting for private sales. I set up a studio and began working from home whilst still producing commercial work, murals and large-scale commissions for many different businesses. I could happily spend every spare minute devoted to my fascination with art.
When I am asked if it’s hard to make a living from a hobby? I reply, “Painting has never been a hobby; it’s just what I do!” Ideas and inspirations come from just about anywhere, from the ring left by the morning ‘cuppa’ to the light of a sunset. With my most recent landscape paintings, the idea is a simple one. The inspiration comes from my local landscape. When I first moved to the east coast, I found the landscapes frustrating.
Where are the landmarks? Where are the mountains that I loved as a child in Wales? Where are the rushing streams and the wooded glens? There are none of these where I live now. The landscape has been almost entirely claimed by agriculture, and modern housing developments dot the skyline, but now I have learned to love the land surrounding me.
The changes in the colours throughout the year from partly flooded fields of flint and mud in winter to seas of billowing wheat fields in the summer. I have realised that it is not what you see but how you see it. A line of trees preceded by an open field can be the most haunting of landscapes when for just a moment, maybe from the corner of your eye, the light throws deep shadows. There is possibly a tiny spark of something eternal and ultimately peaceful, and then almost as quickly as you noticed it, the sky moved, and the memory of that is all you have.
My affinity for the effect that sunlight can have was sparked while doing a commission for a local charity. I was sitting on the bank of a river, desperately trying to paint and draw a lock which the charity hoped to restore (being an admirer of John Constables’ paintings, I had leapt at the opportunity, as it was from this very spot that he had painted ‘the young Waltonians’) but the weather was against me, it rained. It snowed, hailed and rained again and above all, it was bitterly cold.
Suddenly though, without any prior warning, the sunlight burst through the clouds and lit the landscape in deep gold. Where I had previously been looking at cold greys and blues, pinks and oranges had suddenly replaced them. Greens became vivid, and there seemed to be a sense behind what I couldn’t see before. Then just as I reached for a new palette, it was gone, and the rain returned. I have been trying to paint that moment ever since!
I like to keep things as simple as possible when at work in the studio. I chose a basic palette of primary colours, burnt sienna and white, the last two I seem to use in vast quantities. I prefer to work in oil paint for its well-stood tradition and ease of use. I rarely have the patience required for watercolours and have developed a love-hate relationship with acrylics. I greatly admire people who work with these mediums on a day-to-day basis.
I prepare the ground upon which I work and finish it in sienna, sanguine or an ochre shade. This serves two purposes. Firstly, I find starting work much easier; there’s nothing worse than the feeling of being confronted by a large pure white surface. Secondly, I like to use these ground colours to shine through the layers I place over them.
In landscape paintings, I use very little red in my palette and lay thin glazes of grey and blue over a coloured ground creating the ‘purple-pink effect. Again, the foreground has to be underpainted, but I may lay a thicker ground using a dry-brushing technique in ultramarines and sienna or simply apply the paint in thick lashes by brush. This helps to build the texture.
I build the foreground to hopefully give the impression of a breeze blowing over a field of light dancing on an evening scene. I use various techniques to create moods and light in my paintings. The only problem is, I keep running out of paint! I find that starting the day with a few drawings and exercises can help, and a few moments of quiet contemplation are vital, along with several cuppas.
Then when the palette is ready (it can take some time to mix the colours I want to use and several more cups of tea!). I begin work, accompanied by music or the radio and a hot tea. On occasion, there are a few obstacles to overcome, “artists block”, which can be overcome with tea and a few drawings, and a mess. No matter how tidy I try to make the studio, I always end up with the same limited amount of working space. Where do all those empty cups come from?
But above all, time is the biggest obstacle, as there never seems to be enough of it. The danger point arrives at about 7 pm. Dinner, at this point, typically calls an end to the day’s work, but if I allow myself to start work again in the evenings, I find it almost impossible to stop.
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