As we approach the opening of his solo exhibition, North Landing, in October, artist Andrew Farmer talks to Mag North‘s editor, Colin Petch about his work, his inspiration and why he loves to paint en plein air.
There is something immediately likeable about this accomplished painter, as we talk in his studio, anonymously situated at the bottom of the garden at the family’s South Yorkshire home.
Anxious to convey the philosophy behind his practice, the artist, who still appears genuinely baffled by the ever-growing appetite for his painting, explains: “I’m all about anti-commercialism. If something’s selling – I get suspicious.”
“At the moment, there’s a real thing about plein-airism. I don’t care what anyone else is doing. It’s not tunnel vision – I am aware of what’s going on, but I don’t let things kind of sway me – and if I know that the in-thing is green as a colour, I don’t go and make loads of green paintings. I just stay on my own track and watch everything else pass me by.”
Although currently gravitating to working more in the studio, Andrew Farmer is a key member of ‘The Northern Boys’ painting group, whose members are the recipients of three national British plein air awards and for which ‘en plein air’ is in their very DNA, so one imagines it won’t be too long before the artist is back in the fresh air.
Like his philosophy, Farmer’s style too is definitely his own: “A lot of my paintings are very loose. When I started out, I did the groundwork, so underpinning my looseness – this kind of fresh approach – is this underpinning of structure. It’s been a real progression to get to this looseness.” His language of painting and explanation of his practice is an education.
“There’s a big thing about ‘finding a style and then sticking with it’ – but I feel as an artist I should be free as a bird.” You can only agree. His latest exhibition is a case in point.
Farmer is captivated by ‘light’: “A lot of artists – when starting a drawing, they’re thinking about how dark is the dark – how light is the light? I’m thinking how much light is there in the dark? People have commented on my work – that they’re quite light. There’s no real black. Just a suggestion of darkness. For me: that’s how I see life – there’s light in the dark always – and the impressionists knew that. Their shadows weren’t grey or black – they’re colours.”
Did art click for him when still at school? “We have key memories from childhood. One when I was age 7 or 8, at home drawing my name in 3D letters – and found I could do it. A relative said: “That’s good. What do you want to be when you’re older?” “I’m going to be an artist!” That was the first time I said it – and always said it from that point.”
After school, Farmer headed to Doncaster College of Art, which he describes as incredible, before attending Canterbury – and the Art School established by David Schutt. At both College and University, sculpture, print making, life drawing, still life and landscape painting featured constantly. Farmer is clear the artist learns so much from doing.
And when did it became clear to Farmer he could excel with oils? “Foundation year at college – during a landscape project. “I was entranced by the material. The buttery quality. The smell. It’s delicious.” Farmer believes there’s something about oils that acrylic just doesn’t have.
More by accident than design, Andrew Farmer is certainly a pleaser of crowds. His wonderful new paintings and drawings of the Yorkshire coast and Cleveland Way for his forthcoming solo exhibition North Landing (at Watermark Gallery from 14th Oct to 12th Nov) are being eagerly anticipated far beyond his Yorkshire home.
By Colin Petch
Editor of Mag North