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May 2002
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  Talking art
  Neil Robertson interviews Welshpaintings artist John Bourne  
House, watercolour, 1946


Braedons by John Bourne
oil, 1987
View paintings by John Bourne

Lloyds, acrylic, 1987


Supermarket aisle, oil, 1995


Bidston, oil, 1990



Neil Robertson: When did you first feel the creative impulse?
John Bourne:
The earliest painting I remember doing was of Father Christmas in 1946 when I was three and a half. I also did the painting of the house at the same time. But the first time I consciously attempted to produce art was in 1955 when I was twelve, when I did a series of about six watercolours. I particularly remember being inspired by the reeds and waves on the water in Van Gogh's "The Langlois Bridge at Arles" when I painted a picture of ducks on a pond. Another picture in the series was of a winter's evening.

NR: Your paintings are based on your experiences in life. Does each painting represent a specific event, or a distillation of several events?
Many, like "Aeroplane", represent a specific event. An event involves both a time and a place. Carel Weight told me that the place was very important for him and I realised it was for me also. One of my pictures is entitled "Arrival at John Jones", and represents an imagined arrival at the John Jones gallery which had rejected my work. It is only the place as I imagined it, but was important to me all the same. A few represent a distillation of several events. "The Amateur" is an extreme case, in which I merely collected all the events which mattered most to me at the time, into one picture. Quite a lot of my paintings represent a single event which is often repeated - a visit to the supermarket, for example. There is often a distillation of different people rather than events. A figure may be two different people at once.

NR: It is interesting what you say about a figure sometimes being two different people at once, and surely very hard for the viewer to know this. When you make a painting are you concerned about how the viewer will interpret it, or are you intent on satisfying yourself alone?
I should have been careful to say that the figure is two people at once for me only. As you say, it would be very difficult to enable the viewer to see it as such, short of giving it two heads. It is simply that when I paint a figure, I may draw on memories of more than one person in order to construct the figure. I sometimes start a figure with one particular person in mind and later feel uncomfortable with it's being wholly that person and I find I am able to resolve the problem by allowing the figure to be like someone else as well. Sometimes I start with one person and later realise that it is also reminding me of someone else. I think this kind of ambiguity often occurs in dreams. First and foremost, it is important to me that I am satisfied with the picture but I am also concerned as to how it will be viewed. If I have put more than one person into a figure, I am aware that it will be viewed as a single figure and hope that the visible narrative of the picture makes sense. I think art is a distillation of many experiences (of different people etc) and that the viewer's enjoyment of the picture may be enhanced by this process.

NR: Who influences you and how do you avoid becoming your influences?
The major influence has been Stanley Spencer (also Gilbert Spencer) who I discovered in Penguin Modern Painters when I was about fifteen. Also in that series and big influences were Edward Burra and Paul Nash. Other early influences were Augustus John, Holman Hunt, Surrealism and Manet. Further influeces after starting to paint seriously in 1985 include Leger, Picasso, Titian, Steven Campbell, John Martin and Rosetti. More recent influences are Caravaggio, Godfried Schalcken, John Souch, Cezanne, Matisse, Ancient Egypt, Lowry, Lowndes, Bacon, Schmidt Rotluff, Klee and the later work of Derain. There are others I could have mentioned and probably still others I'm unaware of. I don't feel that the possibility of becoming one's influences is a problem. You have to follow your star, I believe, and if that takes you to a point where you are very similar to another artist or more than one other artist, then so be it!

NR: In a painting such as Bidston, an image I greatly admire, you seem to be exploring beyond normal boundaries in that the triptych is telling a story almost in the manner of an animation i.e. the images represent different viewpoints and times. Is this a device you planned or did it just happen that way?
I have to change at Bidston on the way to the Walker and Liverpool Tate and am always fascinated by the way the approaching train grows from a tiny dot of light to a huge structure which disgorges people. The picture was planned, to try to reproduce this experience.

NR: Are you a member of any art groups or societies?
I am a founder member of the Wrexham Stuckists, which has close connections to Welshpaintings and was formed in order to promote painting (as opposed to conceptual art) in the North Wales area.

NR: What paintings are you presently working on and what future direction do you see your art taking?
At present I am working on a painting of a female figure leaning on one arm, with a view through the window of people playing outside. I think it has reached the point where I know it is going to make a picture. Still at an uncertain stage are a painting of people in the London Underground and a childhood memory of playing in the woods. In my recent work I have been sacrificing detail in the effort to achieve an interesting and balanced composition. What really matters in art is the subject and I must be careful that I don't get too interested in formal matters. I saw a late picture by Derain in Liverpool, depicting his life by making use of realism and Renaissance-style symbolism. I would quite like to try something like that.

welshpaintings 2002 | all paintings copyright of the artist