Last year I was lucky enough to interview abstract painter Liz Cleves as she was preparing work for her upcoming exhibition at the Penwith Gallery, St Ives, from 5th March to 8th April 2019.
THE BIG POND: an interview with abstract painter Liz Cleves.
Liz is an abstract painter living and working in Budleigh Salterton. Originally from Cornwall, she retired from teaching and resumed painting—which had always been a passion—concentrating initially on landscape. More recently, though, Liz found a new creative direction and turned, successfully to abstract painting. She has had work shown in several exhibitions including a successful one-woman show at the Woodhayes Gallery. I caught up with Liz as she was preparing work for a forthcoming exhibition in the Penwith Gallery, St Ives.
What do you think makes an artist?
Everyone can be take up the invitation to be an artist of some sort. By that I mean that…. everyone can essentially be an artist - an entirely new and unique artist indeed. I believe that it is an essential aspect of being a ‘creative being’ that we find the ‘creative centre’ of our lives and explore that in its uniqueness.
I don’t think that being creative is at all easy. Because being true to one’s self and exploring the contents of one’s own life - one’s own experience; one’s particular way of looking; one’s motivation and feeling - requires resolution and dedication. And because of that one has, at times, to neglect the opinions and persuasions of others.
You showed me your painting The Big Pond and you told me it signaled a move from your earlier style as a successful landscape and representational painter to an abstract one. What was behind this?
I find it hard to respond to being asked about why I do what I do, without sounding strangely out of kilter with life as others seem to see it. I am often asked by people why I don’t paint the world as they see it. When I can paint perfectly ‘normal’ scenes from the visual world, why would I paint something that is difficult for others to relate to; to give purpose and reason to? Why on earth do I put myself in the strange and ‘unaccompanied’ position on a quest for recording some new, and previously undiscovered ways of expressing colour and form? I do know though, that I paint what is important in my mind.
What are the important elements in abstract art, given that you’re not trying to represent things in the ‘real’ world? I mean, where does colour fit in, for example?
Colour gives such a sense of jubilation: to stroke it on to canvas and watch what it does to the rest of the canvas; laying on a colour and another colour and maybe another, too. It is an adventure into the unknown. The uncharted surfaces of the brain are as unimagined as planets in other solar systems. So why not go there? Why not? Go, and see what can be conjured up!
Is form secondary, then?
I paint form and I think, importantly, about the relationship of each of those forms—in itself and in relationship to the whole composition. However, colour affects form and form colour. Only by trying the two together does one get a sense of what might then occur. For sure there will be a dynamic created. It is safe to try this and try I must.
So colour and form are equally important.
Colour in my work comes from a huge kaleidoscope of colour memories and ideas that have been stored in some unfathomed part of my brain over a lifetime of looking. (I remember colours from when I was little and I treasure them like others do jewels).
Shapes come into my work as a result of shapes I have seen somewhere, at some time. The references tend to be plants seascapes and built environments. But also forms come from a sense of ‘feeling’ of how things are; from moving, and listening, and looking—and being still.
What about the process of painting?
It is easy to paint away at a work and neglect to stand back and get ‘the bigger picture’. Often time away from the work is well spent as thoughts regarding form develop in one’s head. It is after such times that a return to work may offer fresh inspiration.
I believe it was the French poet Valéry who said something like “A poem is never finished, merely abandoned.” So, when to stop? When is the picture ‘done’?
Here is a tantalizing issue that crops up regularly in conversations between artists. Often artists have ‘an idea’ of when to stop work, but they may, at a later time, review progress and begin work again, having seen things that might be added or modified.
Do you ever feel you are overdoing it? Spending too much time on a particular work?
One gets a sinking feeling at times when it is evident that too much work or too much thinking has been done on a picture. The result perhaps of applying too much paint; having a seemingly unresolvable problem with composition; or loss of inspiration for the piece. One might admit that nothing can be done, though on occasions the situation can be turned around.
Is this, perhaps, only difficult with an abstract painting?
The solution for finishing a piece of 2 Dimensional ‘figurative’ work is usually more obvious than with more abstract pieces. Probably (though not exclusively) because it is easier to see when a figurative piece matches the material it is intended to represent).
Liz has accumulated a substantial body of impressive work now and submitted some paintings to the Penwith Gallery, St Ives. During her earlier life in Cornwall, Liz had visited the gallery many times. She had always hoped that one day that she could exhibit there, in the gallery where many of the artists important to her had shown: Hepworth, Frost, Barns-Graham among them. She was delighted to learn that her work had been accepted and Liz is now preparing some new work for the exhibition scheduled for 2019.
©2018 Don Oldham
In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an improvement in her health. They took tenancy of Albion Cottage in what was to be the first of their summer migrations...