We are delighted to announce Martyn Brewster as Artist of the Month for August. Waterhouse & Dodd has been Brewster’s exclusive gallery and agent for 9 years and has held 5 solo shows in London. Earlier this year we introduced his work to US collectors for the first time at art fairs in Palm Beach, and a number of sales resulted. An exhibition of Brewster’s paintings is planned for October in our New York gallery which will include works from the 1980s to the present day. His work is available to view in our private galleries by appointment at 16 Savile Row, London or 15 East 76th Street, New York.
A discussion about Brewster’s career and current work between the artist and Jamie Anderson is printed below.
Martyn Brewster’s abstract paintings are strongly linked to the English landscape tradition. His paintings and drawings explore the coastal light of the south coast of Dorset where he has lived and worked since leaving London in the early 1990s. Brewster has had retrospective exhibitions at the Russell–Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, 1997 (which coincided with Simon Olding’s major monograph of the artist); the Royal West of England Academy, 2001; and the Study Gallery of Modern Art, Poole, 2003, amongst others. He has won numerous awards and has work in private, public and corporate collections worldwide. Public collections include the Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum, Russell–Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Arts Institute at Bournemouth and Bournemouth University.
JA: Your work occupies the middle ground between landscape painting and pure abstraction - is there a side you are perhaps more aligned to or do you feel such definitions are too restrictive?
MB: I don’t really like any definitions but obviously to talk about paintings one needs reference points. Some of my works have a stronger visual reference to landscape than others, but the majority are ‘abstract’.
The word ‘abstract’ covers a lot of ground and one could spend ages just talking about that. It is the area I am most concerned with. I am not abstracting from landscape, but creating new images. These are imaginative abstract works of a lyrical nature rather than purely geometric compositions.
JA: Can you say a bit more about the inspiration behind these paintings?
MB: The paintings have to work on an emotional level, they are about feelings. What it is to have human feelings about beauty, nature, joy, sadness, wonder and despair. How do you express these feelings in abstract terms? How does music do it? Words in the end cannot explain a painting, just provide hints, but it is important to have some emotional element to the painting that hopefully some viewers will share.
JA: Visitors to your recent exhibitions have often compared your work to Patrick Heron and William Scott. Is it fair to say such artists have influenced your painting?
MB: Strangely I wasn’t that interested in Heron or Scott when I was younger but I can see the visual connections now and appreciate both painters work. When I started producing abstract work it was the American Abstract Expressionist that influenced me most, especially De Kooning, but I was equally struck by the work of De Stael, Hofmann, Diebenkorn and Hoyland. Of all the English St Ives painters it was Lanyon and Hilton I responded to the most.
JA: Aside from influences from within the art world and the obvious importance of the coastal environment near your home, are there other art forms that feed into your work? Music or poetry for instance?
MB: Apart from nature (which is visual), music, poetry and literature are very important. I work to music of every kind most of the time. For example, Glenn Gould, Miles Davies, Keith Jarrett and others. The visual and emotional evocation created by some poets is wonderful; Baudelaire, Dylan Thomas, Keats, Whitman for instance. I try and bring a lyrical and poetic response to the ideas I have and to do this you have to develop a poetic sensibility yourself. You then try and evoke this emotion in the work which the viewer can, in turn, respond to.
JA: As you know Waterhouse & Dodd represent the estate of Dennis Creffield, who was your tutor. What did Creffield’s teaching give to you?
MB: Creffield was a wonderful teacher for me when I started at Brighton working mainly in the Life Room and with the landscape. As I got more interested in abstraction I had less involvement with him. It is difficult to explain how a teacher inspires you; it is in a multitude of ways. On a personal level it is by example – the seriousness of the undertaking – commitment, dedication, hard work and so on. But I think somehow it was to do with expressing a personal feeling for the thing, whether body, head, building, landscape – its totality, its weight, solidity, not illustrating just its appearance or surface but its depth and its strength – its beingness in the world. And with Creffield in particular I learnt the importance of drawing as an activity and the relationship between light and shade.
JA: How much does the composition of one of your larger canvases develop organically during the painting process and how much is planned in sketches beforehand. How much of a part does chance play?
MB: I don’t like to plan too much. I like to experiment and find an image and often the idea I start with gets completely changed. This is particularly so in the recent acrylic works. Chance and imaginative leaps that work, and that I recognise and retain, are an exciting part of the process. With oils it is a bit different and they are usually based on a more specific idea but I don’t really do ‘sketches’ as such, small works are complete in themselves like drawings but they do provide ideas for larger pieces.
JA: Do you prefer to work on one canvas at a time or work on a group that are thematically linked?
MB: I work on lots of paintings together, as many as ten to fifteen. Small, medium and large, and in thematic groups. They get rotated around constantly according to how I feel and according to technical necessities.
JA: Could you say something about the use of colour in your work?
MB: I have always loved rich, strong, glowing colours, many blues and warm reds and oranges. However, my desire to use a greater range of colours, a broader palette, continues to increase all the time, coupled with an interest in a lighter, softer palette generally. Recently I have been using yellows, ochres, greys and a variety of browns, burnt sienna, raw umber etc. I find colour endlessly exciting to play with and full of an infinite range of challenges and expressive possibilities, lyrical, evocative and aesthetic.
JA: What are you working on at the moment?
MB: Recently and particularly during the 'Pandemic' like a lot of artists I have spent most of my time in the studio. I am very fortunate my studio is in my garden so I have had no problem travelling to work. I have much on the go, a new series of large paintings and a set of triptychs both vertical and horizontal. There are always plenty of smaller works that I produce alongside the large pieces and some drawings and works on paper. Many new compositions as this has been a great time to experiment and try out fresh ideas.