Film Production Designer to Fine Artist…Another venue for the Art of Storytelling.
I am a film production designer and an artist. When the film industry started to leave Los Angeles for better tax benefits elsewhere, I started to tell personal stories through my fine artwork. Today, I am finally able to rededicate my life to working as the fine artist I set out to be in my career. I arrived in America from London in 1993 when I came to work on The Last of the Mohicans film as Supervising Art Director and I never went home.
My work as a production designer totally influences my approach to my work. I build stories from the outside in; personal stories, that reflect a universal script. The script is followed by several “sets or paintings” that tell the story. Each painting explores a set theme until I feel I’ve expressed the story as fully as I can. A key part of the artwork is the frame of the painting that becomes a visual and sometimes verbal extension of the storytelling. I start with my script that plays out in a series of paintings that cover a real-time narrative that is also timeless.
I am an Englishman living in America for nearly 25 years and my work is rooted here. The work, highly layered with dimension and storytelling features, reflects my observations about American Politics, American Values, the economic landscape and living the American Dream in California and America. The paintings require intense research for an historical perspective on my American state of mind. The paintings are often set in times gone by or in iconic places since forgotten. This is in keeping with my approach to designing films. A big part of the pre-production film process is laden with research to embrace the world a film inhabits. I draw artistic inspiration from the work of political satirists throughout the ages and artists like Mark Ryden, for his beautiful worlds and frames, and Michael Charles Ray for his bold storytelling and rustic technique.
My artworks use perspective, computer compositing and skill-based production design techniques like draftsmanship, drawing, and painting learned in the European tradition of apprenticeship training when I started in the film industry. The work begins with freehand drawing that utilizes several techniques. The cut outs in the work derive from the use of perspective I used in films like Indiana Jones, Labyrinth and Roger Rabbit. The colors used in the artworks are purposefully muted to telegraph America’s iconic images and place rooted in the past. Influences from past entertainment venues, such as the Circus and Fairgrounds, are present along with my love for Americana. The layering effects in each work tell the deeper story beyond the iconic recognition. The curtain opens and the stage is set.
For the American Series my technique is to cover the paper or canvas in acrylic copper penny. I cover over that with the painted subject matter. Then I begin the process of aging by sanding and scrubbing the layers of applied paint. After the painting is finished I start creating the frame. Each frame is hand-sawed and scroll-cut from wood and is painted using the same process as the painting, multiple layers of paint and sanding. Each frame is unique to each picture. Each element plays a role to complete story.
For the Hollywood Series I created on paper first and then imported that into Photoshop. After painting on the computer I transferred to Illustrator where I created paths for cutting on a Laser machine. The artwork was assembled, painted and placed in a hand carved shadow box—a complete set piece.
As a film production designer I see the big picture story or theme of a project and then break it down into its parts—in film it is sets with walls; in my art it is paintings within frames. They say every good film starts with a good script. In my artwork, my primary source material is the background of history and the contribution it makes to the times we live in today. As a European,I am steeped in history, and I bring that to my work to play out today in a very American way.