Reinventing Realism

I am a Scottish artist known for my portraits of the actor Peter Capaldi, exhibited in The National Portrait Gallery. 

I recently produced a series of pencil portraits of Billy Bragg, Raymond Briggs, Jonathan Meades, Kenneth Cranham, David Morrissey, Mark Cousins, Michael Palin and Olivia Coleman. In response to my portraits of him Jonathan Meades wrote: "You get my sort of astonishment at the thrilling ghastliness of the world". He went on to say "I fear I'm beginning to look like this monstrous creature. There's some weird alchemy at work here. And a brilliant candour."

My current project is closer to home. My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and I documented his chemotherapy treatment with a series of drawings called "Not Dark Yet", named after the Bob Dylan song we were listening to at the time. Unfortunately my father's cancer returned in the summer of 2016 and he was only given a few months to live. During this period he gave me permission to draw and photograph him on his death bed when the time came for him to die. He joked that I should stick and apple in his mouth and call the drawings "Still life in the old man!". My father, Chris Fooks died 4th November 2016.  

The Sunday Herald recently interviewed me about the project. Check it out on the link below:

To learn about how I was brought up in a circus check out this link! : 

 Over the years I have developed my own distinctive way of working. One that is informed not only by my time spent in the foothills of Mont Sainte-Victoire, but by my love of the old masters. I am very much in step with the realist tradition of Northern European art going back to Durer. My aim is to convey, with as much detail as possible, the unique characteristics of a face or a tree, warts and all. In my work the boundary between portraiture and landscape is blurred: my 'portraits' of trees and rocks seem to contain the fleshy writhing forms of the figure, while my portraits of people are an intense exploration of the 'landscape' of the face.

I believe that for drawing and painting to flourish, attention must be paid to the achievements of Cezanne and Picasso (among others). Although many artists working today may consign those guys to the history books and think they have no relevance to contemporary art practice, I strongly disagree. The great breakthrough of early modernism was to recognise the 'flatness' of the canvas or paper, and to explore the notion that surface transformation can only take place if this flatness is reaffirmed. This was one of the most exciting and liberating realisations in the history of drawing and painting, but one that has been waylaid in subsequent 'isms', movements and manifestos.

I do not buy into the prevailing post-modern end-game narrative about painting and drawing: the view that it has all been done before and that the only option now is to quote other styles and question notions of authenticity. I believe pastiche is an irrelevance and that feeling cannot be expressed by the mere demonstration of a style or technique. For me the story of drawing and painting has only just got going and there is still so much that remains to be explored.

My work is the antithesis of the photo-realism that dominates a lot of figurative painting today. The photo-realists seem set on reinventing photography, but this time with a very small brush! They have no respect for, or understanding of, the true purpose and function of drawing and instead settle for copying light and shade as recorded in another medium. My work is about reinventing realism itself: a realism that is not copied but is fragmented and then reconstructed in the eye of the viewer. It is an approach I like to call 'Organic Cubism' as it builds on the hard lessons learned from Picasso, but without the need for straight lines or multiple viewpoints. Instead it celebrates the free-flowing rhythms found in nature while transforming the flat surface of the drawing into interconnected layers of big, middle and small forms.

Ultimately my aim as an artist is to synthesise what I see with what I feel. We are born with two eyes: one for looking out and the other for looking in. The challenge is to use both at the same time. Regardless of what my work depicts, whether a head or a tree stump, the real subject is feeling itself.


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