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artist spotlight: brian henderson

Welcome to the first in a series of artist spotlight features. We asked artists featuring in our Spring Fling exhibition to tell us a little bit about the work they have on display, and their creative approach. This week it's the turn of Brian Henderson, an Edinburgh-based artist whose carefully constructed yet playful still life paintings stop viewers in their tracks

Can you tell us a little about the most recent works that you have on display here at the gallery? Was there any particular inspiration behind these pieces?

It’s hard to pin down exactly where ideas for paintings come from. I often have ideas in the early hours of the morning. I spend a lot of time in second-hand shops and charity shops (or at least I did pre-Coronavirus), and have shelves overflowing with things that I might use one day. I’ve been planning the “Strings” painting for a long time, trying to come up with a composition that I liked. The postcard is of a painting by Sir Henry Raeburn of Niel Gow (1727 - 1807), one of the most celebrated Scottish fiddlers of the 18th century.

Can you tell us a little bit about your process?
My paintings recently seem to be falling into two types. In some, which tend to be smaller, I concentrate on one, two or three related objects and study them very closely, usually under intense, directional light. I was painting “Three Russet Apples” at around the time Britain was (in my opinion) disastrously leaving the EU, so I added a little map of Europe to the textural variations in one of the apples. 

The other, slightly larger pictures tend to be more evenly lit, often from two sources, and are compositions of several objects. With these more complex compositions, like “ Strings” or “Water”, I’ll spend a lot of time arranging and rearranging elements before spending a day or two on a detailed line drawing on paper, which I then transfer onto the board or canvas.

Once I’ve started the actual painting, I work from dark to light, allowing some of the dark underpainting to show through. I feel that this helps to give the picture depth. I used to start paintings with acrylic paint and finish them with oils, but I found that I was doing more and more in the acrylic stages, until the oils got phased out altogether. Acrylics have their disadvantages, not least the fact that mid tones darken as they dry, and very dark tones lighten, making colour matching tricky, but on the whole I prefer them.

No matter how many paintings I do, part of me is always afraid that I won’t be able to do the next one, and it’s not until I’m well into a picture that I convince myself that I’ll probably manage to get somewhere close to what I originally had in mind.

Where do you prefer to work and why?  
I have a very small, very untidy studio, but I know where everything is, and after several rearrangements of the furniture I think it works well now.

What are you working on at the moment, or what will you be working on next? 

I’m currently working on a painting of a plastic Tintin figure walking past some columns. I’m using a roll of paper to stand in for two of the columns, to give me an idea of how shadows should fall. I’m not sure why or when I started painting the Tintin figures, but they’re fun to do, and I like putting them in slightly improbable settings. “Diva on Blocks” in the current exhibition would be a typical example. I never try to give the impression that the figures are ‘real’, and I don’t try to disguise details like stands, labels etc. The tension between the real and the artificial are part of what I hope makes the picture interesting.

See more of Brian Henderson's work here.

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