I ran across the work of Guy Denning early this year and was blown away. To me, Guy’s work displays master draftsmanship, and seems to be rooted in tradition, but he certainly has his own style when it comes to applying paint. His brush strokes, drips, and pallet knife work convey a sort of energy and vitality in his heavily contrasted moody paintings. Guy’s work has greatly inspired me to move more in the direction of traditional figurative art. Anytime I get stuck or need a bit of the ol’ inspirational kick in the ass, I cruise over to youtube and I watch Guy paint.
Who are some of the artists who inspire you?
Michael Borremans, Jenny Saville, R.B. Kitaj, Paula Rego, Gregory Crewdson, Mathew Barney, John Currin, Lucien Freud. Dead artists? The painter whose work I love the most is Franz Kline but also I admire the work of William Orpen, Jack Levine, Kathe Kollwitz, Caravaggio, Bernini, Degas, Bacon, Whistler, Courbet, Delacroix, Gericault, Turner’s atmospheric later work – god the list is endless! I used to take the mickey out of a friend at a college (donkeys years ago) because he was a huge fan of Caravaggio. I considered it old fartish. But I know what he was on about now!
Do you try to produce pieces when you have time, or do you make time paint?
I’m thinking of ideas all the time and I generally paint in the daytime now. I throw a huge amount of stuff away and can get quite frustrated and stroppy if nothing’s working. I’m painting most days.
What equipment/materials do you use? What medium is your favorite?
I think my strength is drawing – but painting in oils is my preferred drug – it’s a beautiful, sensual medium to work in. The feel of it, the smell of it… it feels like some kind of alchemical process sometimes.
Sat down indoors, with red wine, tobacco, coffee, and miserable music.
Would you be able to give me a rough guide on how you apply your paint?
All canvases start with a dark ground, usually brown (or recently grey) thinned paint. I draw the piece onto the canvas with compressed charcoal or conté pastel and then generally work in sessions, dark to light. The key colours I use are black, naples yellow, cadmium red, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, yellow ochre, lemon yellow and white. I add further drawing, inscribe text and add collage elements as I paint. Don’t ask how I make the flesh tones (and I don’t understand people’s fixation with constructing skin tones), it’s not measured or remembered! When this basic painting is done and it has dried I will add other layers of glaze (oil paint mixed with linseed oil, varnish or turpentine, depending on the effect I’m after – the oil takes longer to dry and holds the pigment more rigidly). Eventually I will get to a point when I can do no more with the piece, I’ll leave it for some time and keep visiting it (occasionally something needed will jump out). The last paint to go on is usually a very near pure white highlight. I rarely use pure white through the main of the painting – once you’ve used it, you’ve used it; and it’s usually your last chance of applying an accent highlight to a painting. Once dry I will varnish.
When you are painting, is it difficult to switch over to the left side of your brain to handle everyday tasks?
I don’t know. I don’t think in those analytical fashions. All I know is that other work is an impediment to me painting full-time.
Do you believe your work is giving people something that they can’t acquire anywhere else?
I’d like to hope so – but that’s probably wishful thinking and arrogance – anyway, the main reason for doing the work is for my own personal satisfaction. If I wanted to milk the market (in either YBA style or Vetrianno style) the formulae are fairly obvious and easy to play. I’d like to achieve the stature of the Regos and Kitajs of the world – any artist that denies this is a bloody liar! I’m not lucky in the sense that someone like Jenny Saville has achieved it so young (and good luck to her) but I keep trying to push out honest work. That’s all I can do!
You speak of creativity and individuality being difficult, do you express frustration towards this in your work?
Generally if the work isn’t up to scratch I’ll destroy it. Admittedly there’s 90% of the stuff that is online that I’d happily burn if I could get my hands back on it! A lot of people do consider me fairly prodigious in output but when you actually divide the number of finished pieces into the time period they were produced in I don’t consider it a great number. Bear in mind that I don’t do much else!
Any rejection from a gallery, public or private, is hard – but more so when they won’t even take the time to see the work. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t care about not selling my work – provided that I had the opportunity to at least show it. There was a period (about 1997) when I was struggling (and failing) to get through the hoops put in your way to obtain public arts funding for a show in disused shop space. This tied up with the usual patronizing rejections from commercial galleries led me to destroy a huge amount of work in a bonfire one night. Another pointless gesture!
What trends do you see in the art world?
I don’t think the trend for endless novelty regardless whatever in terms of content, will ever go away. Certainly not in the short-term, there’s too much serious money tied up in too many corporate collections for that to happen. I’ve always maintained that there would be no ‘death of painting’ – something that was briefly and ludicrously touted around in the early to mid nineties. There will always be room for the traditional media in the minds of the general public and mainstream collector, a fact borne out by Saatchi’s recent ‘Triumph of Painting’ show. I’d like to think that there would be a move back to issues of craft, whether the medium is paint or video. If you could at least argue for a credible ability within the creator to actually ‘create’ competently it would remove a lot of the criticism that contemporary art attracts. I would also like to see a reduction in the amount of artists who contract out the actual labour of their work – particularly those that contract out tasks like painting and sculpture. It seems to defeat the point of calling yourself an artist if you’re going to employ someone to actually do the work; I know what the ‘intellectual’ arguments are behind this and I don’t agree with them. I couldn’t hire a top class racing driver to win grand prix events for me – and then claim the prize as my own because I came up with the concept of ‘winning’ the races.
Do you think as a painter, your views are taken seriously?
On the subject of art I hope so – on anything else, I hope not. I’m only expressing opinions and I’m no expert in the other fields that I have an interest in. It’s a shame that in the wider world, non-experts (generally creatures from that strange breed known as ‘celebrity’) get given air time to view half-baked opinion at the expense of the knowledgeable in all arenas from culture to psychology, war to moral philosophy. If I had a motorbike that needed fixing I would take it to the appropriately experienced mechanic – not the local pub singer.
What advice would you give anyone wishing to become an artist?
Follow your own heart – that’s advice I got from R B Kitaj just before he died – and I can’t say any finer than that. It might not sound very useful at the age when you’re still at college – but if you’re still painting when you’re 40 you’ll get the drift!
To see more work by Guy Denning visit his website http://www.guydenning.org/
To inquire about purchasing work by Guy Denning visit: http://www.redpropeller.co.uk/
I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did.
Until next time,