CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hampshire Life today CLICK HERE

Fordingbridge artist Cliff Brown and his individualistic works of art

PUBLISHED: 10:52 10 December 2015 | UPDATED: 10:52 10 December 2015

Cliff Brown: 'Painting is therapeutic, escapism. It is great if others like it, but you can't paint for other people because you can't possibly access their minds'

Cliff Brown: 'Painting is therapeutic, escapism. It is great if others like it, but you can't paint for other people because you can't possibly access their minds'

Archant

When suggesting to Cliff Brown I sense the presence of a rebellious streak, we are an hour or so into our Sunday afternoon interview, time enough for me to detect, if not cultivate an admiration for, the free range approach which underpins both his lifestyle and passion for painting.

Pinewood: these barcode pieces - as the artist refers to them - are more about tantalisingly soft infusions of light than the solid obstacles in their wayPinewood: these barcode pieces - as the artist refers to them - are more about tantalisingly soft infusions of light than the solid obstacles in their way

“Although I don’t think of myself as rebellious,” he ponders, “I have always advocated that the first rule of art is: there are no rules, or at least only your own rules. This is the only way one can paint freely. If it feels right to you, whatever you do on that canvas is right.”

Refreshingly uncomplicated, I suspect this attitude is more nature than nurture. In rejecting stereotypical styles and traditional techniques, Cliff is simply being true to himself, standing his ground in the face of convention and being all the more spectacularly creative in the process.

He continues: “I don’t want to be contained. Right now I’m diverging – on one road my artwork is more sellable, probably landscape based, the other is more experimental and expressive, actually saying something, to me anyway. I almost think of it as art for everyone else and some for me.”

Cliff paints in one of the downstairs rooms of his home, valuing the intimacy of being close to work in progress and living with each piece as it develops. On days when he isn’t painting, he captures ideas via his camera.

“My one rule is I only paint from photos I’ve taken and I know exactly what photo I want for the preparation of the painting I want to do. That might mean going out at 4.30am and waiting in the woods for the sun to come up.”

'I’m a bit of an environmentalist and the beauty of mythical subjects is the fact that you can just let go''I’m a bit of an environmentalist and the beauty of mythical subjects is the fact that you can just let go'

An affinity with animals and the environment has long been an inspiration. Indeed, Cliff’s childhood ambition of becoming a zookeeper was realised when he joined the team at Marwell. During that period a friend urged him to apply to Winchester Art College where he was accepted but, with the grant marginally less than his earnings and his heart set on purchasing a bike, he remained at the zoo, a decision he now confesses was ridiculous.

Nevertheless a lack of formal training has not inhibited his development as an artist and images such as Frosty Morning epitomise Cliff’s bond with the countryside. The two horses here, dark and solid figures, contrast with the frosty foreground against which they are silhouetted. Despite the chill, they continue to graze. No matter the dawn, they majestically continue their routine, oblivious of the onlooker and seemingly indifferent to the climate.

Such contrast, I notice, is a common theme.

“That’s me, there’s no subtlety! I take a white canvas and paint it matt black with oil based paint. I’m now using stage paint which is more of an emulsion but it produces the mattest black. I’m in search of an ultra matt texture so there’s no light reflection. I like light and the best way of showing it is with dark. Black gives the opportunity for contrast.”

Is the same effect achievable by painting black on white?

'I’m now using stage paint which is more of an emulsion but it produces the mattest black''I’m now using stage paint which is more of an emulsion but it produces the mattest black'

“Once I started with white and then added black but it came out way too light.”

In Cliff’s eclectic portfolio, Coleus is equally eye catching, the outline and body of the leaves seemingly luminous in their intensity against a black background whilst Dormant, a subject also brightly captured in the foreground, immortalises nature but with a nod to mythology.

“I’m a bit of an environmentalist and the beauty of mythical subjects is the fact that you can just let go.”

This ability to decide his own artistic destiny is admirable. Cliff is unbound by genres and liberated from professional expectations. Indeed, with no desire to conform, his artwork also stands out in terms of shape.

“Square is the only shape worth thinking about. It works in a way a rectangle doesn’t. My thoughts on a rectangle shape are that it is conventional. I just know square - at the moment either 1m x 1m or 60cm x 60cm are right for me.”

In Cliffs painting Coleus the outline and body of the leaves are seemingly luminous in their intensity against a black backgroundIn Cliffs painting Coleus the outline and body of the leaves are seemingly luminous in their intensity against a black background

Browsing through his other pieces, I just believe I have a handle on his style when I discover Pinewood. Superficially, perhaps a conventional subject, these barcode pieces - as the artist refers to them - are more about tantalisingly soft infusions of light than the solid obstacles in their way, as Cliff explains: “I’m interested in negative shapes, the lines of light through the gaps between trees.”

Having previously used plastic bags with oil on melamine wood, which provide deep, interesting textures, Cliff currently favours brushes - though does not rule out returning to previous techniques should the right subject present itself. He avoids mock ups or preparation, preferring to experiment straight onto canvas, knowing that more layers of paint can be always be added.

When we touch on the subject of titles, Cliff’s response amuses rather than amazes me.

“A title is something you have to think up when you’re writing out your exhibition entry form. If a painting needs an essay next to it, then it should have been a book. An artist once said as soon as you give a painting a title it comes with baggage. I’ve shied away from titles, but they need to have some sort of connection so I try and do that.”

As Cliff, a self confessed country soul who loves the lushness of his home county, readily shares early artistic influences he recalls a visit to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum during his twenties - the exhibition moving him more than any other he has since seen. He admires Banksy and was shocked when first viewing an Elizabeth MacGill exhibition in a Southampton gallery as she dared to use black, a concept he’d always been told to avoid.

Dormant immortalises nature but with a nod to mythologyDormant immortalises nature but with a nod to mythology

Having experimented with a selection of mediums including gouache during A Level, followed by acrylics and “a bash at watercolour but never really took to it,” Cliff eventually turned to now favoured oils, although having to wait for paint to dry makes acrylics more practical and appealing. He is a member of Fordingbridge Art Club and Romsey Art Group, enjoys art exhibitions in his home county because of their, “rawness and honesty,” and is beginning to discover a crossover between art and horticulture. A lack of gregariousness, he adds, forces him to shy away from social gatherings and I suspect absorption in his own artistic world fuels disbelief at his success.

But it is individuality that best sums up this likeable artist. And with a portfolio that tests art enthusiasts, prompting them to expand their mindset in terms of style and subject, his paintings have the ability to entertain, explain and inform. Viewers merely have to embrace the artist’s mentality and appreciate the world through his unique insight.

“Although my stuff sells – which is a constant surprise to me – it’s not the point. Painting is sometimes just about the aesthetics, sometimes everything is a metaphor.

Painting is therapeutic, escapism. It is great if others like it, but you can’t paint for other people because you can’t possibly access their minds. You can only paint for yourself, as that is the only psyche to which you have full access.”

Find out more about Cliff’s work at forestart.webs.com

More from People

Yesterday, 11:46

Right at Home, with offices in Southampton, Winchester, Portsmouth, Farnham and the surrounding areas; offer home care for adults of all ages and the elderly

Read more
Monday, December 3, 2018

What does Christmas mean to you? Not everyone celebrates it of course but for those who do it is often simply a time for festive fun and creating new memories. We asked Craig David, Elizabeth Hurley, Colin Firth, Amanda Holden and more of Hampshire’s stars on what Christmas means to them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Graphic artist Chris Gibson is bringing Hampshire’s landmarks in to people’s homes with his nostalgic posters

Read more
Monday, October 29, 2018

Some of Hampshire’s best known personalities have revealed what they most love about the county. Here, we compile some quotes from our interviews over the years

Read more
Monday, October 8, 2018

Something Wicked this way comes… the hit musical follows the yellow brick road to Southampton this month. Leading ladies Amy Ross and Helen Woolf share tales from behind the emerald curtain

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Turning 40 kick started a career change for Claire Fuller that took even her by suprise. She talks to Rebecca Fletcher about becoming a best-selling author, and what to expect from her latest novel

Read more
Monday, September 10, 2018

You can take the lady out of Hampshire but you can’t take Hampshire out the lady. Yes, it’s a corny expression but it is true in the case of actress, singer, dancer and TV presenter Amanda Holden, who has never forgotten her roots in the county

Read more
Monday, August 20, 2018

With her bold, graphic designs, New Forest artist Evelyn Bartlett captures the magnificent scenery on her doorstep

Read more
Monday, August 13, 2018

From food and drink to fashion and furnishings, Wickham is home to businesses that are pushing the boundaries. Viv Micklefield meets some of those proud to be different

Read more
Monday, August 13, 2018

A surf club… on the Isle of Wight? Surely not! 50 years on, Faith Eckersall meets those that say their little island is the surfing community’s best kept secret

Read more
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tinnitus affects around 10% of the UK population and often goes untreated. Leightons Opticians and Hearing Care told us everything you need to know about tinnitus

Read more
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sir Ben Ainslie’s sights are set on bringing home the 36th America’s Cup in 2021 and hoping to join the battle are the sailors currently in his youth squad. Viv Micklefield catches-up with some of the young guns already taking the world by storm

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

You can’t keep Mary Berry out of the kitchen and the same goes for Hampshire. Bernard Bale hears about her favourite places to visit

Read more
Monday, July 16, 2018

We are a nation of shopkeepers, but is the shop dying? We head to Winchester’s High Street

Read more
 
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory



Property Search