"If a portrait “symbolizes the value and worth of the individual in society,” then what is that worth when we are inundated with ‘selfies'?"
Tell us about yourself and background. Growing up in a coal mining town in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, there really wasn’t much use for Art. Yet that is just what filled my 5 year old head as I sat watching pictures of Thumper from the Little Golden Books, emerge from my hand onto the paper. The sheer joy of making lines and seeing them turn into what I saw has remained with me to this day.
Tell us about your work. I would say my work is predominantly ‘Contemporary Realism’ with a focus on Portraiture. Strong composition through a balance of detail and calm pauses; rich in colour through judicious complimentary underpainting; confident line that understands its vital relationship with the canvas edge; and textural vibrations. From a facial focus to a broader interest in the narrative we act out in our daily lives.
What makes your work and approach unique? A willingness to go where the work suggests; no matter how ludicrous - Including plenty of finger painting, and covering myself with paint for the Body Presses. I often work from black and white photographs as this prevents any preconceptions about relevant or appropriate colour, allowing the work to dictate. I love the way colours sit beside each other, which led to Caravaggio, Rembrandt, the study of Chiaroscuro, and the transformative green under-painting of Verdaccio. My approach to portraiture is akin to rowing down a river. The character of the subject flows in and out, with me gently guiding.
Why is your work a good investment? It’s an investment in people. Our society. Us. Anthropologists and Historians have always looked to historical contemporary portraits for an understanding of society at the time. Technology brought us the camera and the subsequent decline in painted portraiture patronage. A camera sees in stark, naked light and dark, with no room for interpretation, but a portrait painting can tell us about ourselves. If a portrait “symbolizes the value and worth of the individual in society,” then what is that worth when we are inundated with ‘selfies?’
Tell us about some of your achievements. It may be a cliché but to watch my son grow into a healthy, loving and incredibly creative soul is the biggest achievement. Exhibitions? Awards? Recognition? Everything else pales. Aside from that, I would say that continuing to paint portraits in the face of society’s growing disinterest has been the hardest, yet most fulfilling achievement.
What are your sources of inspiration? An incredibly creative mother, two brilliant and open-hearted teachers who recognised and encouraged my passion for Art so very early on. The usual suspects - Matisse, Shiele, Caravaggio, Munch, Dali, Close and Giacometti. I like the idea that art can be mostly self perpetuating, with little need of external inspiration. Though it can sometimes feel like our search for perpetual motion machines. Early 70’s Australia had ‘Jolliffe’s Outback Cartoons’ magazines. Inside were rare gems; charcoal portraits of Australian Aboriginals, which I copied. This may also be where my fascination for portraiture stems from.
What you are passionate about? We seem to have lost the ability to feel true empathy. Is it a lack of curiosity? Perhaps technology has stunted our imaginations as well as attention spans? Has political correctness replaced empathy? Spiralling so far out of hand we have become afraid to feel, say or express anything in case it ‘hurts someone’s feelings’. Yet it is our duty as artists to face this repression/oppression down with truth/confrontation. Recent interest in Astrophysics is perhaps a natural extension from a life questioning just where does inspiration, and indeed the capacity to create come from, and by extension, our place in this universe. Tell us the back-story of some of your projects. A woman approached me who had just given birth to a still-born child and wanted to commission a drawing. My initial reaction was that it would be too emotionally taxing, uncomfortable; yet as soon as I felt this, I felt how brave it was for this grieving mother who would never get to raise this child to approach me, to ask for something tangible to remind her of this life that almost was. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done, and though I don’t think of it very often I like to think my drawing helps keeps her child alive for her.
Share with us your upcoming projects. I have been working on pen and inks for a few years now; though still fresh and fun, there is a tightness of line and space that has led me to look for a gentle diversion from the intensity of portraiture. This is where my fascination with textures has come to the fore. Combining traditional painting and drawing techniques with Trompe L’oeil effects combine to create these ‘Footpaths’. All those textures, patterns, and natural, random abstractions passed by unnoticed under our feet.
Tell us about where you are based. Australian light has an intensity that brings such richness to colours, particularly here in Victoria, hence why so many films are made in Melbourne. Warrnambool, where I live now, is just down the coast from The 12 Apostles, so being a tourist destination brings an influx of new faces to watch, capture and express. Warrnambool is also a University town; I studied here in the early 80’s, so there is the yearly intake of new students with their attitudes and ideas that spawns all sorts of creativity. Website: shanebishopart.com