IN THE CHAIR
Mark Laurence talks to Stephen in his studio over a coffee
I really like your new work related to the distinctive colours used on the Ford GT40 at Le Mans. Can you tell me what inspired you to do this?
Well, I've always been drawn to fast cars as I had these cars in Matchbox form when I was a kid. I'd spend hours in my own world laying face down on the front room carpet playing with Lamborghini's and Porsche's in the sixties.
The colours represent the Gulf livery that contain 3 colours, a white circle and a black number. Having had a long career as a brand consultant, I created many global engineering brands and I suppose it just spoke to me and to see how far I could push the imagery.
This resulted in an exciting journey for me to really break-out from the graphical lines using paint and try to capture the energy and roar of those racing days. I'm now an avid Formula One fan but the 60s era was something that's not around anymore and that's why my clients loved that era. It's great for me to have conversations with engineers that really value the groundbreaking technologies in those times within a health and safety nightmare, never to be repeated.
I see you are creating limited editions to the numbers on the paintings, why?
If you own a Ford GT40, a Porsche 917 or a collector of a classic car, you know all about scarcity and I wanted to replicate that. These are rare images and the value within them reflects those times in the sixties. It's when I create only nine of my bronze sculptures – it's the same thing.
I was initially drawn to your oil landscapes on canvas, but having seen your new work with coffee I’m fascinated to know what made you choose coffee as a painting medium?
Firstly, whatever medium I choose to use must fundamentally satisfy my creative endeavour, whether it be coffee or oil paint. I am driven by the subject matter rather than the medium I'm using at the time. Having said that, coffee does have its own characteristics that help me to express myself with an added freedom. And that excites me.
I discovered coffee simply by accident after a mishap on my studio floor, it was only days later when it dried did I make the connection to my existing earthy colour palette – this is when the journey started for me. I then set-out to explore coffee and to see how far I could take it.
What challenges did you face when using coffee?
It's taken well over a year now for me to understand the behaviour of coffee and how it reacts on a variety of surfaces. Experimentation is the driver of new work and it continues to surprise me when I least expect it.
My current techniques combine coffee blends or grinds with various binding agents that give me different results taking me further into the creative process. Coffee is not like watercolour, it contains natural sugars that makes it really difficult to overlay and blend more coffee, and this is why I layer my works so I can get the maximum from the viscosity of coffee. I now think of the aroma as I'm saying this and although I like the smell of coffee, it does tend to cling to my clothes and I can take it home with me.
Working as both a sculptor and a painter, which do you prefer and why?
This is a difficult one as I'm asked to make this choice all the time.
The pleasure and satisfaction from both is equal to me because they are so different in many ways and those differences spark fresh ideas and becomes a catalyst for the next project, of which there are many. So I'm never really torn between the two because each discipline has its own rewards for me, and I like that. Working in one medium is not my thing really. When I create sculptures in resin or clay that are cast in bronze, the process is so fascinating I get really passionate about it and always look forward to each stage as there are many – including the patination stage when we colour the bronzes. Painting on the other hand is more absorbing, using a single surface and I suppose provides me with a different set of challenges. I must admit, I don't really think about it that much as I'm just absorbed in the making.
I didn’t know this, but you’ve had a long career as a brand consultant. How has this influenced the way you work as an artist today?
Well the reason I turned to sculpture over fifteen years ago now, was that I didn't have deadlines and there was no one telling me what I should think or create. This was a revelation to me, it was something I could do in my garage and create till my hearts content and it still is today thankfully. Working for clients has its benefits but nothing beats the feeling when I'm actually getting my hands dirty and at the end of it, I can look at the work with a sense of pride and achievement.
Are you influenced by any painter or sculptor in the work that you do?
Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Edward Seago are all big influencers in my approach to painting. I love painting impasto (thick paint) and enjoy playing with colour and texture. When it comes to sculpture not so much really, I like Giacometti and his human forms, it may be the texture that appeals to me, but other than that, I just go my own way really.
I'm often asked about my sculpture and why I chose to sculpt mice or hares. I see animals as characters so I don't approach animals in the normal way, which brings a smile to me and my audiences.