Interview with Brian Sherwin: My Artspace Blog
Brian Sherwin: Belinda, you studied at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. Can you discuss your academic years? Did you have any influential art instructors?
Belinda Eaton: I was very lucky to be at Art school in England at a time when all the colleges were Government funded. There were unlimited supplies of free art materials and fantastic courses. I was even luckier to have been selected by St Martins School of Art for both its amazing Foundation Course and then the Degree course, 4 years in total. The foundation course covered everything from sculpture, photography, fashion, painting and printmaking etc. You were given the opportunity to try everything and then you were able to make your choice as to which direction you would like to go. It was an absolutely great experience. Two of my contemporaries were John Galliano and Peter Doig.
This interaction between all the departments carried on into the degree course. The famous fashion department was influenced by the painting department, etc. it allowed a freedom of exploration and creativity to constantly grow and be explored rather than a narrowing down of discipline.
I decided to take my degree in Film making, which was a passion of mine, but found the course was focused on the minimalism of film, the abstraction and deconstruction of the medium rather than the content and imagery. So I transferred over to Fine Art and was drawn to the Printmaking department.
I did no painting at all at college, instead I immersed myself in acids and inks and metal plates, the world of etching. It absolutely fascinated me. Starting with a blackened metal plate covered in ground. Creating lines or areas that would be bitten into by acid, so many factors affecting the quality of line, so many serendipities and unpredictabilities.
To this day I prepare all my canvases with a blackened gesso.
For me it’s the experience of allowing the light and form to emerge from the dark. I actually cannot paint on a white ground. It freaks me out.
As for remembering my art instructors, St. Martins was very well known for the fact that all the tutors were well known artists. But at the time as a female, I found it a very sexist environment to be in and also very boozy and as I can’t remember any of the tutors names l don’t think they had a lasting impact on me. But that was my experience, not necessarily that of others.
Brian Sherwin: You have stated that your paintings are your world, your fascination for people, plants, animals and colour. You went on to say that they are how you perceive the energy of things. Can you go into further detail about this? Tell us more about the philosophy behind your art.
Belinda Eaton: Oh!… To try and identify my philosophy about my art would be like trying to contain energy. I try not to be too mind-full or intellectual about what I do. I have practiced mediation for over 20 years and feel the influences of that more and more in my work. Not so much in the content but more in the approach, especially recently. I start with a black canvas and I stand and start to paint. Always a face comes first and this informs the rest of the painting. The story unfolds. But more recently each brush stroke has got its own life. I am beginning to paint just looking at the colour rather than the form. It is being in the moment with the paint rather than projecting the finished painting. Very much like meditation.
The artist’s block always come when one begins to think about what one is projecting, where is it going? Is it any good? What on earth am I doing? etc etc. To just be in the paint forgetting everything and really, the old cliché, letting the painting take over, it’s so very true.
Brian Sherwin: I understand that you have traveled often. How have those travels shaped your artistic direction?
Belinda Eaton: This is a really interesting question. I think by constantly moving you can never really attach yourself (on a subconscious level) to anything. By being secure in one place it’s very easy and comfortable to begin to identify with a group or culture and find your comfort zone within that. As a sort of nomad you take something from here and there, an impression, a sound, a smell. You collect references that become jumbled and mixed and lose their original context, to emerge in a new context.
Its just been a circumstance of my life that I have moved from country to country never staying longer than seven years and occasionally only a few years. I am currently on my longest stay which is here in Spain, nearly 9 years. Moving around, arriving finally in Barcelona with its sophistication and amazing architecture and then Almeria. In the middle of the desert where all the Spaghetti westerns were made with Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone along with many other films. It’s a scarred landscape almost like a blank canvas, exposed and raw. And its here that I have built my studio and hopefully will end up staying a while. But how has all this traveling shaped my work. It’s the richness and newness of each culture. Always having to look with a new uninformed eye. From Pakistan , the amazing painted lorries, where every surface even the engines are painted and decorated. Old men with their flaming hennaed red hair and beards. India with all its colours with no restrictions. Africa where as a child everything was larger than life and colour again and amazing creatures and improbabilities like an elephant eating the roof where you were sleeping. Spain and its magic and superstitions, Easter processions of religious statues being walked through the village at night with thousands of candles and masked bearers in their sinister pointed hoods. Terrifying until they reach beneath their robes and throw out handfuls of sweets. The tomato throwing festival. New York with its thousands of different faces from every background.
Its all layers and layers of colour, pattern, no rules, surprises and light. And I think this is how I paint. Also, I think quite importantly, realizing each country has its own relationship with art. What Art is for them? What is good? etc. How the trends in art are so strong, especially in the West. Personally as a painter this period in time when up until recently painting has had very little value. That successful art has come from a very mindful intellectual space. To go to countries and have ones work received from a heart place has been quite amazing.
Brian Sherwin: Can you discuss any symbolism in your paintings that reflect those experiences?
Belinda Eaton: No, I can’t really. There is no conscious symbolism, but I am aware that I do use symbolism, I just haven’t worked out how its symbolic to me. In my drawings and etchings there are always fishes in the sky. Certain patterns emerge again and again especially pomegranates, tattoos, eggs. I don’t want to think about it really. And in 10 years I might have a deeper understanding of why l have used them, but it is not important now, as they are not conscious but subconscious.
Brian Sherwin: Can you discuss some of your methods as far as your painting is concerned?
Belinda Eaton: As I have already mentioned, I prepare the canvas with a black ground and just begin to paint. If it’s a more narrative painting, the face comes first and the story after. I paint in acrylics, which really suit me as I like to work fast and need to repaint an area over and over. I sometimes think if some one x-rayed one of my paintings they would be amazed at the layers and layers of colour and change of figure, composition etc. These layers are fantastic because an element of the lower colour always comes through somewhere and adds so much dimension. If the painting were planned out you would lose all this. Also by painting in acrylic and liking to work wet on wet, you really have to work fast and then the painting becomes purely instinctive. I can spend weeks painting and then an hour painting over the whole painting and reworking it with completely fresh paint and it’s finished. You lose all the agony and caution of those weeks and what’s there is dynamic and fresh. This approach is really happening in my new large Faces. I add a dimension to this of turning the painting on its side or upside down whilst I am working. So I lose the image and really just focus on colour. I use a large painter & decorators brush and just get very physical and dynamic. There is so much energy with each brush stroke, it’s magic. It’s also quite abstract and liberating.
But then my obsession with layers and patterns comes in, and these begin to play with each other. So in a way there is an element of total freedom and then complete control. Hmm, interesting.
Brian Sherwin: What about other influences? Do you adhere to any specific art tradition, so to speak? Are you inspired directly by any specific artist from the past?
Belinda Eaton: No, not really. If anything I think I am quite traditional and probably most influenced by the early Renaissance. I don’t think I am inspired by any artists, but I find some artists truly inspiring. For example, I went to see Ron Mueck’s exhibition at the National Gallery, London where he was the artist in residence. He creates these people who are so realistic but their proportions are different to real life. Take his ‘Man in a Boat ‘, a roughly metre high naked old man sitting in a rowing boat. You could see every pore on his skin. The hair on his arms, the pink of the skin of his elbows, his small penis etc. etc. is quite amazing. They are alive. You expect them to breath, you are waiting to see their chests rise and fall, a pulse.
I find Rothko’s work for me borders on the religious. They are possessed and quite spiritual and leave me in wonder. Paula Rego is an artist I really identify with. She paints her world, which has that magic realism and dreamlike quality, and at times a harsh brutality. She is so true to her self.
Originally I went to live in New York in the early eighties because of Rap, Graffiti and Jean- Michel Basquiat. At the time his language was so new and refreshing as was rap and graffiti.
I went to see Peter Doig’s exhibition at the Tate Britain and found it magical. You stand in front of his large snowscapes and the texture and colour are so charged and move into the realm of possessing their own life.
There is a common theme through out the artists above, of work, which breathes a creative force of its own. I am really inspired by life around, people, nature, the layers and layers that make up life.
Brian Sherwin: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your most current work?
Belinda Eaton: I am currently working on much larger canvases and am really involved in the larger faces with the focus on colour, paint and the brush stroke. This is what’s consuming me right now. Tomorrow I could be lead somewhere else. Again as I mentioned before, my work is purely instinctive and l try not to intellectualize too much about it which in turn would inhibit the freedom I search for within painting. We all have our own relationships and motivations of why we create Art. I guess mine is to try and experience liberation with in the medium. I can get totally agonized by thinking of what to paint, where is it going etc, and months can pass by in this self-inflicted questioning and also criticism. A lot of artists I speak to all have this horrendous inner critic.
Brian Sherwin: Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?
Belinda Eaton: Yes, I have a solo exhibition coming up in two weeks in Karachi, at the V.M. Gallery which is a great space. I had quite a few shows in Pakistan over 10 years ago and have wanted to go back. It is very, very, rewarding to show in the East. I think l have already mentioned how ones work is really received from the heart. I am also about to start a whole new body of work for a show I am hoping will come off in Paris.
Brian Sherwin: Speaking of exhibiting… what do enjoy about displaying your art in public view? Do you see it as part of the process, so to speak?
Belinda Eaton: Yes it is apart of the process. As a painter you spend so much time on your own, isolated in your own little world, or lost in your own world. The process of showing is your emergence. somewhat terrifying and very vulnerable. I don’t let any one in my studio whilst I work. But hanging for a show is the first time you see all the work together, hanging and breathing. Then you can let go of it, really let go of it. The paintings are no longer a part of me and can start their own journeys. I have had paintings in shows that are then taken on exhibition all around a country with out my knowing. They have their own lives.
When I appeared on television on BBC 1, the response was amazing from all over the world. From the isolation of the studio to a conversation with the world via the internet.
In the same way I love to see what happen to my images on the Internet, what people do and say about them, it’s brilliant.
Brian Sherwin: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?
Belinda Eaton: About my Art? I actually think I have said too much, but thank you for giving me the opportunity. A dream would be to be involved in a project that would have some beneficial impact on the planet. Some project that would enable artists to use their creativity to help solve some of the environmental and social problems that exist.