The subject chooses you

Why after developing a successful career as a classical painter I just had to throw it over and start again

Buttermere by Martin Kinnear 2004
Buttermere by Martin Kinnear 2004

I guess that I just fall in love very hard. Take my first ever visit as a young art student to London for instance - my first out of the industrial valleys of East Lancs as a matter of fact - I was corralled along with all the other kids into the National Gallery and of course I fell in love.


I generally blame myself and 'fess up to most things, but this one wasn't on me. I had never been to a gallery you see, had never seen great art or grappled in the slightest way with any of its amazing, beguiling and often puzzling ideas.


I often wonder if had I been brought up in some great sprawling Bohemian household, with prints of avant garde artists on the wall, whether it might have been different. But I wasn't - there were to my certain knowledge no art galleries in Pendle. except a small place which sold prints of the local moors painted in painstaking photographic detail, and plastic witches as souvenirs for tourists. What might I have seen if my local gallery was the Whitworth, the Hepworth or one of the Tates?


My point is that Art seeps in, it accretes, slowly forming understanding with the drip drip drip of exposure to it. This is why the good folk of the industrial towns which surround me hoot with derision when some well meaning Arts Council bod parachutes in a cutting edge space like The Baltic - one has to seed the ground, lay foundations, and at the age of 17 I had none.


The past as they say is a foreign country, and my future certainly isn't as certain as it used to be. We only have now - and if I've learned anything in the last 53 years its to play the hand you're dealt. I don't blame myself for wanting to become a self representing painter, for painting what people wanted to buy, or for grasping the nestle of commerciality. If you're working class and white with a comprehensive school education and no financial support and no means to work in London, then it was always going to be that way


Going into the National in a state of supreme artistic and aesthetic ignorance is like going to bed as usual and then waking up, naked and not a little shocked in the middle of Trafalgar square. It starts with shock, very quickly becomes an embarrassing self realisation that you are utterly exposed, and ends as you grab the nearest thing to cover yourself up with.


Surrounded by a sea of truly wonderful world class paintings I clung on to the ones I could understand, and as any member of the public will generally confirm - those are the ones that 'look like what they are.'


Perhaps I go to far? I wasn't blind to flair or indifferent to risk taking creativity - but I knew what I liked, and I liked what I knew. All of that Impressionist stuff for instance, which now haunts my dreams and asks me pointed questions about the use of colour, was to my uncomprehending eyes just badly drawn.


I looked, but I did not see.


They say education matters because it jolts people into new ways of thinking, and while I can attest to that I would also say that while my appreciation of great art went from zero to an all consuming passion that day, a well meaning grown up who has seen it all before would not have gone amiss.


So that's how I became a classical painter, and spent until 2010 perfecting the dark arts of scumbling, glazing and value management. I won't say it didn't serve me well of course, it paid the bills and honed my technical abilities, gave me a deep appreciation of art, the facility to see paintings as a technician and most of all something not to be. Because at the end of the day and no matter where you are, we all want to on a journey to somewhere exciting.


My journey to becoming a contemporary artist - and yes I know were all that by default - OK admitting I'm a contemporary artist, only started around 2012 - but that's the subject of another blog.


The artist Martin Kinnear with the Lethe Triptych from Regeneration at The Bowes Museum. 2022
Lethe Triptych from Regeneration at The Bowes Museum. 2022


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