Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Studio of Benjamin Warner

I just found the artist J.M. Whistler! He is alive and well and living in Cornwall. He is 177 years old, given up being a dandy and working hard but there must be some kind of alchemy going on. Perhaps a painting in the attic because he doesn't look much over 40, and his mother was painting the front door!
It actually took me ages to find Benjamin Warners studio. I followed tracks, talked to farmers and was directed across fields, went along lanes and ran away with some gypsies.  However, when I finally got there,  my journey had not been in vain.  An old farm building houses his studio, we go in through what could be a tractor shed, he has plans for that bit, a bigger space for bigger paintings. Then through another door which opens into a long room which is very clean and neat.  It is a new studio for Benjamin and I suspect will soon have the scars of vigorous painting written large all over it for , as I look around,  I am intrigued to see that everything has a patina. 
The old Apple computer in the corner is covered in paint, the same spotty paint design covers all the books on the book shelves.
A huge collection of music arranged into big black folders has similar markings.  Two pots look as if they are hewn from granite hold some brushes soaking in turps, upon closer inspection they once were old earthenware jars.
A vast collection of brushes lie in waiting and two sheets of heavy glass are clean and waiting to be used as pallets.
Paintings rest against the walls, like  frames  from a dream film,  half remembered upon waking.  The misty evocative scenes, seascape, landscape, townscape, seem to come from another age until you realise that there is a crane, or boat with an outboard, or a skyline that you recognise.  Somehow, the images created appear to have been excavated, wrought out of a long memory, a find of sorts from an archaeological dig. 
I like this feeling of time travel and ask some silly questions, a bit like a teen magazine reporter:
What's your favourite colour? "Dark" 
When is your favourite time of day "Evening or first light" 
Who are your favourite painters, "Whistler, for his pallet and his technique, not his portraits.  Turner, his later work, his experimental work"
How do you do these paintings?  The technique can't be explained easily.  He spends a long time learning his subject, being there, absorbing the effects of light, feeling the changes in temperature, the nuances of mist and fog.  Making notes, and sketches, finding out when the light is right for what he wants, when the falling night has taken away just enough detail to render a familiar  scene almost on the edge of being abstract.  Then with this knowledge he wrestles the painting out.  Painting on, scraping back, glazing in and rubbing out, massaging the paint onto the canvas staining the picture into another existence.
Benjamin paints for a while as I take some pictures, I feel privileged to have had a slight insight into how these timeless paintings are made.  They are beautiful, woven, deep and dark, full of mystery and suspense.  They feel like "real" paintings, made by a "real" artist.  Paintings out of time.  Now to find that portrait in the attic!
Interview by Sarah Wimperis.

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