Andy Waite is an Arundel based artist whose expressionist landscape pieces are “a poetic celebration of the English sky and weather in all their elemental power”. He has exhibited extensively both from his home and a selection of galleries and has also published three books. We were fortunate enough to steal a few moments of his time (over the phone, due to COVID-19 restrictions).
Are you formally trained in art? Has it always been your career and was it something you’d always wanted to do?
I wasn’t trained, no. I had always had leanings towards it but I suppose I never thought I’d find myself becoming a full time artist and my training was in graphic design. It was somewhat related and of course there are elements of drawing and creating which can go into design projects. I became a freelance graphic designer after leaving college and was sometimes able to incorporate more of an artistic flair as opposed to purely being about typography or advertising. That was the closest I felt I could get to being an artist while still keeping up some sort of working life.
So how did you then transition into art as a career?
A group of artists started an open house event called The Gallery Trail in Arundel in 1989. These events happen in towns up and down the country these days but I think we were one of the earlier ones. It was brought to my attention, as somebody who was quite arty, that they were looking for artists to take part. At that point I hadn’t done a great deal of my own work and suddenly I had to organise a show in my own home!
I played around with watercolours and had the idea of producing still life with watercolours. So that became the subject of my first ever exhibition as part of the Gallery Trail and to my amazement, I sold a couple of paintings! I carried on with my design work as well as some signwriting around the town which I got into almost by accident. Twelve months later with the Gallery Trail in its second year, I managed to sell a few more paintings and over the next few years I found myself doing pretty well, not just through the open house events but getting involved with galleries further afield. I was able to give up the graphic design work in I think around 1995 because I’d begun to earn a living from my art.
Fast forward to around the turn of the century and while it was still going well in terms of selling I found something wasn’t really gelling; it wasn’t satisfying the soul. It was enjoyable but nothing deeper than that, so I made a conscious decision to change my medium to oils and chose other subjects which turned out to be largely landscapes, which continues to this day.
There was definitely a period of a year or so where I was struggling with this new medium. Oils are so different to watercolour and there was a great deal of experimentation until I found a way of working which suited me. The paintings were still recognisable as landscapes but I’d become more interested in working with abstraction and expressionism. I felt it was important for me to not just continue doing something because it was successful, but to try and challenge myself; not just sitting in my comfort zone.
What about the technical side of things? Do you have a set colour palette you use and how would you describe your technique?The technique is essentially plastering oil paint onto a canvas and hoping for the best! In terms of colours there is a lot of interpretation going on – I don’t look at nature and think green immediately although it largely is of course, especially in this country, our green and pleasant land. I prefer to work towards expressing feelings through colour, this year there has been a great deal of orange coming through in my work, for whatever reason. Green is quite a difficult colour for me, so I like to use morning or evening light when the shadows are longer and the contrasts stronger. I don’t have a set palette, it’s more of an intuitive thing, discovering what works along the way and just continuous experimentation and evolution. I find that if I’m stopping and thinking too much it’s time to put a piece aside to sit for a while. I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m not a graphic designer anymore and that it’s not all about clean lines and I can actually do whatever I want, which is a wonderful luxury. It’s all about keeping the freedom of movement.
Are you someone who has a very strict process when it comes to creating?
I’m strict with myself in that I am dedicated to what I do, to the point of distraction. It’s a sort of necessary obsession, something I feel compelled to do as often as I can. In terms of the actual work I have fairly loose ideas. With the art being largely landscape based I may have a starting point of going out and taking some photographs or making some quick on the spot sketches but it really comes down to absorbing that feeling of being out there in nature, whether it’s up in the hills or by the sea. I bring a lot of that back and then in the studio I may end up with something completely different to the idea I had in my head but I am fine with that. I treat everything as an ongoing experiment and sometimes it works, sometimes not, which is something I’ve learned to accept.
I’m continually interpreting my notes, whether they’re in the form of memories, sketches, or photographs, but with not too firm an idea of what I’m going to end up with. That’s what keeps it fresh and exciting for me; if I knew how a painting was going to end up when I started there would almost be no point. With oil paint you can go back and change things but there are also instances where work has to be abandoned completely and started again from scratch. So I go in with no real expectations and enjoy the ride, as it were. The journey.
What is your setup like? Can you describe your studio to us?
I’m fortunate enough to live in a good sized Georgian house in Arundel and my studio is in an upstairs room that would have been the sitting room or, fittingly, the drawing room. It’s quite a large room with good light, I know conventional wisdom says that north facing light is best for artists but this is south facing and has always served me well simply because there’s a lot of it, coming from a large bay window. In a room opposite I do all my preparatory work like priming canvases. The studio is quite chaotic with many half-finished paintings in progress.
I like to work on many paintings at a time; the nature of them being that it can take around a week for a layer to dry and each painting has five or six layers so I can have around ten paintings on the go at any one time to allow them to dry while I’m still working on others. While a layer is drying I’ll often move a piece into another room so that I don’t see it for a few days, meaning I can come back to it with a fresh eye. Being an artist is necessarily a messy business, so we tidy up for the Gallery Trail open house and the Christmas show. The splattered paint all over the walls is painted out and exhibitions are set up. Having done doing this since 1989 we’ve become quite adept at the process and it ends up looking somewhere between a home and a gallery. The Gallery Trail takes place over 10 days at the end of August and takes us a couple of weeks to set up on two floors, although unfortunately not this year of course with the COVID-19 situation.
There was a period at the beginning of the year when I didn’t really want to do a great deal. Everything seemed to grind to a halt and I did the same to a degree. I ended up spending quite a lot of time in the garden looking at and enjoying small things. A couple of paintings came out of it, and unusually for me I painted these wonderful roses we had at the time. I also did a fair amount of writing as well, so the creative mindset didn’t leave me entirely. Usually I think I’m so full on with the painting that nothing really gets in the way but taking some time to relax helped me to focus on other things. With none of the usual events on, there was a point after lockdown when I decided I couldn’t bear to not put on the Gallery Trail exhibition and so set up the show as we normally would, only independently and inviting just the people on my mailing list. All the usual precautions of distancing and sanitising were followed, of course. There was a small response but it was nothing like the festival crowd we would usually expect of around two to three thousand people. A real shame that it didn’t happen this year. I know it’s kind of a strange thing to invite thousands of people into your home for ten days on the trot but it’s something we’ve become so used to doing; it’s quite nice to be able to show the public what I’ve been working on and while I’m not hugely outgoing, and so concentrated on my work, the Trail allows me to come out of my shell for a while.
My work sometimes gets compared to Turner. I think once you start painting any kind of big skies in any freer, looser way that comparison inevitably comes up which is flattering because of course he was a fantastic artist. Others which have different subject matter but whose work inspires me would be the likes of Matisse and Gauguin. Of course they painted figures but maybe the connection I feel is something to do with the freedom and the colours. Howard Hodgkin was fantastic. I very much admire the colours he used and how he painted feelings through abstraction; he would probably be my number one in terms of more contemporary artists. I try not to look at too much other art because it can be a distraction and it’s best to follow one’s own path and process.
You have a book out, can you tell us about it?
I do – I’ve produced three of them over the years, all self-published. They’re partly a record for myself but also to be able to offer something affordable at exhibitions. It’s not a record of everything but I include paintings that I particularly like. I’m an occasional writer of poetry too, so some of these are included. While the poems are not strictly about landscape they are about my feelings so it’s quite fitting that they are in there. I find myself using very much the same process in my writing as I do with painting, there’s a lot of adding and subtracting, taking things away, seeing what works and watching it evolve in front of me.
The books are available at my shows and occasionally in galleries, and will soon be available on my new website along with my paintings.
Obviously some of your work will be displayed along with this interview, but where else can our readers get a good look?
There’s always the website, www.andywaite.net. There’s @andywaitepaintings on Instagram, and I work with several galleries, predominantly in the South, which are listed on my website and which people will hopefully be able to visit again soon.
I feel in a hugely privileged position to have been able to make art my living although it’s an inconsistent source of income; some years are great and some not so good but over the years we have survived. To this day the fact that people are willing to pay not insubstantial amounts of money for something I’ve produced really moves me. I’m incredibly grateful to the people who have put me in this position.
Considering where this will be published it would be a waste not to ask you what impression you have of LaserMark from your dealings with them?
With the pieces I’ve been producing recently there hasn’t been a need for framing but I have used LaserMark previously; I know that they do great work, and certainly have for myself.
Andy, thank you so much for your time.
All photographs were beautifully taken by Jonathan Wilson