In conversation with Nigel Sharman

While currently living and working in London, Nigel’s roots are firmly in the South West of England, where the landscape and culture influence his work. Though Nigel paints semi-abstracts, there is a strong figurative reading to his work. He paints abstract artworks from sources, such as a landscape, a harbour, boats, a still life, or a nude. He uses oil paint on canvas, sometimes using board as well, with particular concern for colour and composition. By placing objects carefully, Nigel hopes to create ”an awkward but calm relationship” between his subject and the viewer.

To coincide with the launch of his new exhibition at Own Art member gallery Marine House at Beer, we had the opportunity to sit down with Nigel to find out more about his work and the ins and outs of working in his profession.

What’s your background and how have you developed your career?                                                                  

I studied Textile Design at the University of Brighton. Since leaving college in the late 80’s, I worked across several design fields both here in the UK, as well as internationally in New York and Southern Africa. Although, my formal artistic education took place in Brighton, my real education was being dragged round the galleries of West Penwith in Cornwall as a small boy by my father and introduced to work by Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson.

My career previously had centred on design and running a distribution business for other designers but I eventually focused much more seriously on what had been a hobby. Making the transition to doing what I really wanted and being a full-time artist was hard but I drew upon both creative and professional skills learned in previous incarnations. Over time, by entering competitions, doing art fairs and getting feedback I grew in confidence to make the leap, part time at first and now happily full-time with gallery representation by Marine House At Beer.

What do you consider as some of the best and worst things about your profession?

I love being an artist. It’s a job that I actually believe in and I am my own boss. I relish the idea of endlessly being able to learn and grow. Sometimes it’s a struggle but other times its a joy to experience the ‘flow’ of creativity.

It is very easy to end up working or thinking about work all the time. Sometimes you need to remind yourself to stick to a schedule with breaks and times where you  just need to go outside, see friends and relax. But perhaps the worst thing about art as a profession is that there is no financial security so budgeting for a rainy day becomes essential.

It is very easy to end up working or thinking about work all the time. Sometimes you need to remind yourself to stick to a schedule with breaks and times where you  just need to go outside, see friends and relax. But perhaps the worst thing about art as a profession is that there is no financial security so budgeting for a rainy day becomes essential.

What or who inspires you in your career?

Living in London I’m able to see all the exhibitions at the major galleries and make a point of doing so. It’s important to me to get up close to paint and see how each artist used line, colour, and form, and how paint strokes were applied. There is always something to learn.

Of course, we gain inspiration from the greats. My particular thrill is looking at the early, often figurative, work of an artist and seeing how they transitioned into abstract or modernist painters. I love to hover around in this zone in my work. Retrospectives are great for this. Consciously, I have been very influenced by mid-century Cornish modernist painters. For instance, seeing both the William Scott at Tate St. Ives retrospective in 2013 and the Giorgio Morandi paintings in Italy, which had the most profound effect. I can remember my pulse rate quickening on these two occasions.

I’m also inspired by my own memories, places I’ve been, the lyrics of a song, or just a few choice of words. I’m currently obsessed with Leonard Cohen’s phrase ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ Somehow no doubt sooner or later this will manifest itself indirectly in some of my work.

In the end, my paintings are a distillation of the impressions made on my psyche by the landscapes I grew up with and surround me now. Although based on first inspection my work is figurative, I try to introduce a distinct abstract sophistication. By removing detail, I distil the essence of a complex composition into an arrangement of semi-figurative forms with a particular interest in subtle nuances of colour, evoking a sense of calm.

 What’s the most annoying question you get asked as an artist?

‘How long did that take’ is the question most often asked by non-artists. This simple question can’t  be answered simply. For me, each painting is different. Some paintings paint themselves, while others are like puzzles and the answers are not obvious. These take much longer to resolve. Some works need to be put aside or hung half-finished so that a solution is given time to ferment in my unconscious. To equate the worth of a painting by calculating the time spent on creating it makes no sense to me. Invariably I misquote Whistler’s simple answer…’a lifetime’.

What role does your background play in your work?

My studies for a BA in Textile Design and subsequently experiences both in a studio practice in New York and as a freelancer in London really fostered my understanding and love for the language of colour. Today, this forms a very important aspect of my work. Colours subtly change how we see them according to their adjacent colour. It is the relationship between colours that I enjoy. Quite often I will mix the colour directly on the canvas to achieve the exact right tone. I guess there is an analogy with music in that you know when you have it right.

Despite living in London, my roots remain firmly in the South West of England, where I regularly visit family and paint. This is also where the distinct landscape and culture has always been a huge influence on my work. I love mucking around with boats and generally spending time by the sea and in the harbours. It’s gratifying to see the enormous amount of time and pleasure spent doing this and seeing this feed into my work.

Before becoming a full-time artist I found and ran a successful product design and distribution business. During this time, I developed a very professional ethos which I’m happy to be able bring to my practice. Sometimes ‘artsy’ people are perceived as, and can be, unreliable, Artists don’t work entirely in isolation and need to work well with galleries, dealers, framers, show organisers etc. In these relationships, small things matter like paying invoices on time, not being late or cancelling arrangements. It’s just about respecting that others are running businesses too. I wouldn’t want to work with people who don’t get that.

In your opinion, what are the main struggles for an emerging artist in the current art market?

The biggest underlying factor for all artists is time and resources. How do you pay for a studio and materials, not to mention bills, and where do you find the time and energy to actually make art. Also there are so many artists making work today and so many types of media with which to both make work and present it. I think focus is essential and it can be hard to achieve if you are just starting out.

Find out more about Marine House at Beer here

View Nigel Sharman’s current works at Marine House at Beer