Interview with Kristina from Decorart and Alan Furneaux
We’d like you to meet Alan Furneaux, a professional artist from Penzance in Cornwall. His extremely colourful and playful paintings have been attributed to Naïve Art, yet in Alan’s opinion, they are balancing right on the border – avoiding the fussy business and revealing personality and emotion. Whatever category you decide to put them into, this artist’s paintings will definitely leave a mark - they might encourage one to head for some far away country, evoke the warmest childhood memories or make us all realize how beautiful this World is!
We talked about Art and Music, lifestyle and journeys, unexpected turnings, that one’s life can take, and magic, that occurs every time a true artist’s brush touches the canvas.
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I must admit I have done a bit of research about you, Alan, and found out that you studied at the Reigate School of Art, but... left to play rhythm and blues. It seems that one of the Muses – Music, at the time, had you all to herself. How did it happen that you went back to Art and how much time was left for Music, after you made this decision?
Interesting question! I was 17 years old when I went to Art school and didn`t really know what I wanted. Bob Dylan’s album The Freewheelin’ and Led Zeppelin, who had just released their first album, blew us all away. It was a very exciting time to grow up and being cooped up in a studio for the rest of my life just did not appeal. Music was calling me so in my second year of Art School I just left. It was a choice; the immediacy of music or the solitary life of a painter. The choice was simple.
I did however always keep a link to painting by continuously having a painting on the go, although there were big gaps between painting sessions. I also remember being very interested in Jasper Johns and the American Abstractionists.
Later on, I became tired of the lifestyle of a musician and just wanted to settle down to raise a family, which is what I eventually did. This gave me the space to do more and more Art.
How and when did Art creep back into your life for the first time?
Art crept back into my life when I was living in Brighton, in the same street as my artists Grandfather George Hann.
I lived in a basement flat and George would walk by and rattle his stick on my window and we would talk Art. He introduced me to the works of an American novelist Jack Kerouac and I became interested in seeing what he was painting and how he did it, but above even that I just loved the smell of his studio! Oil, turpentine, pipe tobacco - I was hooked on the lifestyle and started back in earnest painting what I saw around me.
Why did you choose the path of Naive Art and how long would you say it took you to find your own and very unique style?
Daphne Stephenson, the Director of the ABNA (The Association of British Naïve Artists), was passing a gallery in Wimbledon, where I had a one man show, and saw my work in the window as she drove by. She stopped her car and took a look, who the artist was. Next thing she was knocking on my door in Cornwall telling me that I was a Naive artist and should join her Association. It just all clicked, I instantly loved this determined woman and said - OK.
In hindsight I am not sure I am a Naive Artist, probably borderline. I don`t like the fussy busyness the European Naive Artists employ preferring a looser feel to express personality and emotion. I don`t want to obliterate emotion by overdoing it.
Please tell us more about the birth of a painting. What do you start with? Do you have a clear image in your mind what it is going to look like when it’s completed? How long does it usually take you to paint one of your bigger artworks?
Paintings are born by having an idea in my head about what type of painting to do next, but in the nature of creativity, that can’t be fixed, it is not mapped out like a classical way of painting. It’s rather “Alla Prima” that is worked directly into the canvas, making it up as I go along from the vision in my head and then molding and remolding to find completion.
What inspires you the most? Do you wait until inspiration finds you or are you one of these painters who actively seek for it?
It’s a matter of concentrating and working as though you had clocked in at a factory. Then somewhere a bit of magic happens. Somewhere, where the eye can look at and go - Wow! How did that happen? As soon as this miracle appears you can work around it bit by bit.
I use a large mirror that sits behind me so I can cross check as I go along to make sure the composition is balanced. This is a classical technique and allows you to see the image from left to right instead of right to left and just wakes you up or jolts the eye to see the composition afresh.
I have traveled a lot for subject matter and have hundreds of photos and sketches that I made to remind me of Southern France, Spain, Tunisia, and Morocco. My first trip started in Nice and slowly I went down past Cassis all the way inland to Arles. These days I just work from my imagination of how I see it now, but I do go out drawing in the spring and summer. I love drawing.
When I first started painting I was looking around and every turn I saw a painting! This had to stop. Life is life, the studio is the studio and never the two shall meet. For example - I like to go plein air painting in the summer, but these paintings don’t have the magic I can make when I am free to make it up from my head and never get shown in galleries, they’re just not me. The only rule I have is that I won’t paint anywhere I haven’t been to.
In 1985 you moved to Brighton to be near your grandfather, he must have been a very important person in your life. What would you say are the most valuable lessons you have learned from your grandfather - established painter George Hann?
I liked George. He was funny, well-traveled, smoked a pipe, loved toffees and Rum and used a pallet knife to paint. The one major thing he taught me was that if you’re not happy with a painting, turn it upside down if you need to, just don`t be afraid of it!
What is it like being an artist? What are the "highs and lows" you have to deal with?
I remember when I first started as an artist. There was a horrible feeling that I had to make it, I had to succeed and I did not want to fail. I worked very very hard, going to London every week to see all the contemporary galleries in Cork St. etc. I do now feel a great sense of relief that I have been able to fulfill my dream and not have to endure a day job.
It is very up and down - feast or famine! You have to promote your work as well as produce it, so it is hard work. I am probably not as good at the promotion as I could be. It’s a good life to be an artist and I think again if you work hard you can succeed in a profession that is notoriously difficult. I think I have been very lucky. If I had had a formal education in Art and stuck with it I probably would have been more successful, as good classic Art always sells. I had to learn the hard way and mostly taught myself.
Who is/are your favorite contemporary artist/s?
David Hockney, Leon Morocco, Mary Fedden, Fred Yates and Terry Frost.
You have traveled a lot in your childhood, as your father was a CSM in the Grenadier Guards, what is the place you would like to return to?
We lived in Wales at Park Hall Camp in Oswestry. It was idyllic; I was 6 – 11 years old. There were woods, canals to fish, Olympic size swimming pools for the soldiers and me, and a running track and lots of outdoor friends, there were farms and sheep and the trains had steam coming out of them - I was so happy! Then we moved to Victoria buildings in Chelsea, London, a dark depressing tenement. I remember my mother crying with dismay. Fortunately it was only a 6 months stay. We moved a lot as a child and yes I missed out on schooling and friendships, but I liked moving - it was a two edged sword, kind of sad, kind of healthy and I think it made me the person I am now. I am very sociable and outgoing person and interested in all people.