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Interview with Mark Pearson

Can you tell us about your background and when you became interested in art?

I come from a working-class family in South East London. None of my relatives (apart from my aunt Eileen) were interested in art, but it was all I wanted to do from a very young age; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw and paint. Aunt Eileen had ‘married well’ and moved to Surrey (next to a Beatle!); I spent part of the summer holidays with her and she encouraged me to paint.

At school I was very dyslexic and I was placed in the lowest steam of a large comprehensive school. The only subject I excelled in was Art and luckily, I was left to my own devices in the art room most of the time. I was supported by some really good teachers, but it was the father of a school friend who saw my work and suggested that I apply to art college.

My father worried that I would never make any money from painting and thought that I needed to learn a trade, but I wasn’t interested in anything else. I initially went to Medway College of Art to do a foundation course, but the emphasis there at that time was towards graphics, so I changed to City & Guilds of London Art Schools in Kennington. I had a brilliant teacher there called Eric Morley and I was also taught by Sir Roger De Grey, both of whom helped me get into the Royal Academy Schools for my post grad. At the RA I was taught the traditional techniques of drawing and painting by many renowned painters, including Sir Hugh Casson and Ruskin Spear CBE.

Which artists have inspired your work?

Many, many artists, in particular Caravaggio, Goya, Turner, Cezanne, Sickert, Schiele, Hopper and Sutherland. All these artists had great drafting skills, and painters excelling in light and movement have been very influential to me. Some of the living artists whose work I admire are Peter Doig, Maggie Hambling and Frank Auerbach. I have also been inspired by film, by directors such as Orson Wells, Fritz Lang and Henry Ford. Their use of light emphasises the drama – each frame could be a painting.

Describe the way you work and how you create your images.

I work from constant observation and note taking. I notice a situation that inspires me to develop an idea, I sketch onsite and take photographs. The ‘small stuff makes the big stuff’, but a lot of work and rework also goes into the smaller studies on paper (for the large oil paintings on canvas) as well. For the smaller work on paper, I always use acrylic and ink. The ink gives it a different tonality, it makes strong lines, brings in structure, and I find the two media work well together.

Then I go to the studio to paint (although I can return to the site to draw in perspective lines later on the canvas). When I work, I am looking to capture an original idea. It’s about a constant process of looking, but sometimes the saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ applies. My wife Nicola is my constant critic, she is brutally honest – if she thinks something is not working she will tell me. Nicola has been looking at my work for over 30 years, so if she can’t ‘read’ anything in the composition, or the figures don’t work, I know I have to make changes.

What do you like about living in Peckham and what changes have you seen over the years?

There is stability in living somewhere for a long time. We have been here for 25 years, and over this period I have built up the support of the community, friends and clients who have seen the evolution of my work. That is very important to me.

Around eight years ago, I started to paint pictures of the area. Peckham was changing rapidly, and this was accelerated when the Overground came to Peckham Rye. The main change has been the tremendous influx of people living here and people who come to socialise, with so many bars and restaurants opening. But even though there has been obvious gentrification, it is still a mixed community, which I love.

I also work in Peckham, having had a studio at the Bussey Building for many years. The Wilson’s (the owners) have been great supporters of my work. The arrival of Peckham Levels is another positive change for the area – I have taught some art classes there recently. Nicola and I have recently set up Peckham Art School and we plan to do more classes at the Levels in the spring.

What is the inspiration for your Beach Life paintings?

I have always loved painting by the coast, in fact I started working on seascapes when I was a teenager. I think the vast expanse of sky, the changing light and the contrast with the different hues of the sea are my inspiration.

Nicola and I travel to India every year in the winter, and in the summer we may go somewhere in Europe or to one of our coastal resorts in the UK. On these trips I also get the chance to draw figures extensively, this is essential for the discipline of figures in my cityscapes.

Where do you exhibit your work?

I am represented by the Catharine Miller Gallery in Chelsea. As well as the Dulwich Open House every year, I take part in the Peckham Festival Open Studios in September and last year I took part in the Camberwell Festival Open House in December. I also show in a number of mixed exhibitions every year, last year this included with the art group FocusLDN (at the Menier Gallery London Bridge) and the Lovely Gallery in Sydenham. My first mixed show this year will be ‘SummerScapes’ at D-Contemporary, Mayfair, in July.

You have been involved in the Artists’ Open House for nearly 10 years, what do you like about being part of it?

It has always been a positive experience welcoming people to our home. It is hard work but always very worthwhile. I like the fact that you never know who will turn up, we meet so many new people every year. It is great to see different reactions to the work, listen to people’s comments – also admiring our tropical garden!

Over the years, it has also helped me make contact with some other artists in the area, and I feel we have built up a supportive network.

What are you showing at this year’s Artists’ Open House?

I have completed a series of paintings documenting the changes in Peckham, focusing around Rye Lane. I hope to have captured the area as it is now, especially around the station, before the redevelopment there gets underway. I am also exhibiting some paintings of the City, showing the juxtaposition of old and modern buildings, and a selection of small works from our travels this year.

For more information about Mark Pearson visit:

Twitter @markpearsonart

Facebook @markpearsonartist

Instagram @markpearsonart

For more information about Peckham Art School visit:

Twitter @peckham_art


Instagram @peckham_art

Photography by Ian Brodie

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