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An Interview with Andrew Beck

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Tell us a little about yourself:

I emigrated to Canada with my wife (an Ottawa native) and young children from the UK just over three years ago. I still get confused when people talk about chips but I know what poutine is.

I've had quite a long career as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. I'm a self taught painter, however I've only been able to take it up full time since we moved to Canada.

I know that architecture strongly influences your work. Can you tell me about how Ottawa's changing landscape may have affected your paintings since moving here?

I've always been interested in architecture; when I was younger I considered a career in it but I was put off by an architect who told me you had to be very good at maths. I'm not sure if Ottawa's changing landscape has influenced my current body of work but it's interesting you asked that because I've been taking notes of buildings and places as I travel through the city, storing up reference material for future work. Living in Ottawa I see a lot of potential for making paintings incorporating local architecture, both old and new. Basing work on structures that I can either paint from directly or photograph myself would be a satisfying departure from using found images alone. I like the style of so many North American mid-century houses, often low and wide they're very different from what I was used to back in Europe – things are generally more spread out here.

Andrew Beck

So much of your work references mid-century architecture and style. It is as if your painted images are captured on film developed in that time frame. How is it that your work has developed to incorporate these themes, and how did your fascination begin?

I don't watch that many films these days but some of my favourites are from that era, so it's probably a form of escapism. When as a boy I would draw the things I liked or wanted to be but couldn't, as an adult I suppose I'd like to visit some of these places that we see in old films but it's not possible. The places still exist of course but not as they did then; everything has changed, or at least everything man made has. Similarly, I don't live in some epic modernist mansion, with glass walls and a tropical garden but I can paint one. Mid-century photographs and stills from Hitchcock films also appeal to me for their colour which has an interesting look, the lights tend to be a bit washed out and the darks are quite saturated.

I notice an intentional pattern of objects and people feeling out of place in your work. What process do you use when planning out your placements to get the composition that you desire?

My paintings usually begin with a rough idea. It could be something I've seen, a line from a book or on very rare occasions part of a dream. Whenever I have an idea I make a note of it on my phone; I should really carry a sketchbook with me but I'm not that committed. I also spend hours searching for imagery, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I'm hoping to find. Often it feels like I'm wasting time, not being productive, but of course it's a necessary part of my process. I come from a graphic design background, so I'm familiar with applications like Illustrator which I use to compose the majority of my paintings. Displacing figures from one era or setting and then transplanting them into a different one immediately creates a certain awkwardness and tension between the images.

Andrew Beck

How has your background in graphic design translated into your current work?

Fundamentally graphic design is about eliminating the unnecessary and focusing on the important; that principle applies equally well to painting. My design and illustration experience has probably given me quite a good feel for composition. Useful when I'm deciding upon the placement of elements, so that my composite scenes maintain a certain amount of believability.

I see stylistic similarities to Gerhard Richter and Peter Doig. Have these artists influenced your work at all? How?

Richter is certainly an influence. His earlier figurative work using highly realistic somewhat blurred imagery imparts a certain tension into the inherently static medium of painting. I'm also fond of his more recent abstract squeegee paintings for similar reasons. Doig tends to paint quite stark landscapes, sometimes with architecture and often populated with emotionally dark figures. He too often works from found imagery but in a much less obvious way than myself and he has a wonderful way of blurring the lines between figurative and abstract painting that I'd like to explore.

Andrew Beck

Who are your biggest influences and why?

René Magritte is one of my earliest influences, so I think that his way of looking at things is probably always there in the background. He was able to make the most thought provoking images with combinations of even the most mundane objects or situations.

The contemporary painter Michaël Borremans, another Belgian was also very influential to me. His work is ambiguous, it ranges from intricate drawings to large scale paintings. He paints with a beautiful style honed from much practice and close observation of works by masters such as Diego Velázquez (possibly the best painter of all time) and Edgar Degas (another favourite artist).

Who is a living artist who you admire?

The Norwegian painter Lars Elling. I'd urge anyone unfamiliar with his work to seek it out. The first thing you'll notice is his incredible sense of colour. There is something undefinable about his pallet choices yet they are always unmistakably his. Elling's paintings are full of mystery and enigmatic subject matter, the atmosphere in some of his work is reminiscent of Eric Fischl but it has a more cinematic or dreamlike quality.

Can you tell us about your biggest success or accomplishment in your art in the last year?

Ottawa has been my home now for over three years but I had no local gallery representation until quite recently. Having my first solo show here in Ottawa has probably been the most significant achievement in my artistic career this year. As a side note, being a bit of a newcomer I didn't know many other painters in Ottawa. Showing with a gallery here has given me an opportunity to meet more people within Ottawas' art community and make some good friends.

Andrew Beck

In what direction do you hope to take your work next?

Every so often while working on a painting I'll stumble upon something that I can explore further. This last year I've produced quite a lot of work that I feel is leading somewhere, a few ideas are swirling around but not yet fully formed. In some of my recent work I've borrowed sections from well known paintings. There are several artists I'm particularly interested in at the moment who were at their peak around a century ago. Gifted painters such as John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, Mary Cassatt and Anders Zorn. I'd like to study elements of their work to hopefully gain a better insight into how they painted so well. I'm just starting to plan for another show at Studio Sixty Six next year. I hope it will be a progression of the current work rather than just more of the same, something a little bit exciting. My daughter would like me to paint a monkey, and I have an idea for that which I hope she'll like.

We have several beginner artists who will read this blog. What is your best piece of advice that you can share about starting and maintaining a successful art career?

I can't remember where or by whom but I read an excellent quote a while back, it went something along the lines of 'only make paintings you'd hang on your own walls, chances are that's where they'll end up'. I know it sounds less than encouraging but I think the message behind it is very important. We should try to paint what interests us rather than what we think other people might like. Painting shouldn't be a compromise, if you enjoy the work you're making, chances are others will too.

What else would you like to add that might be interesting to our readers?

Nothing really springs to mind, did I already mention I like painting?


Check out Andrew Beck's exhibition The Onlookers at Studio 66 until November 17th.

Want to keep up with Andrew? Follow him on Instagram! @andrewbeckart

Check out his website, too!


All images in this interview are provided by Andrew Beck

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