In the Studio with Louis Appleby. Words by Ieva Jasinskaite

Hi Louis can you briefly tell me how you’ve become a painter?

It was a process of elimination. I’ve always been interested in art, particularly painting, and the conversations around art. I wanted to do something artistic, l tried my hand at a lot of other things before painting. I did a lot of drawing and painting when I was a child, so I think it came more naturally to me. My mother is a painter too, she has had a big influence on me, and she would always take me and my brothers to see galleries in London. I had a great Art Tutor in Secondary School who took my work seriously - he even allowed me to have a mini studio in a small corridor/room that connected the two art classrooms - I spent a lot of free periods or lunchtimes in there painting and listening to music. I was making abstract paintings in school - I was really interested in Howard Hodgkin’s paintings at the time. I’d also make alternate album covers for the music I was listening to. I remember once going to see a Hughie O’Donoghue exhibition of paintings in Kendal at a small gallery called Abbot Hall, I was really blown away by his work and the context that surrounded his paintings. After seeing that show more figurative elements started to come into my work.

What is your studio routine like?

I paint every day in my studio except the weekends where I’ll watch films, draw and cook. I have a 20-minute walk through Lancaster to my studio. I listen to music on my walk and plan my day. Once I get to the studio, I start by making a coffee. And then I just get straight into painting - there’s usually something pre-planned, or unfinished, from the day before, that I start with. It’s really important to me to have a studio space where I feel comfortable, which to me means working on my own with nobody else around. I found it difficult to adjust to having people around when I did my MA at the RCA.

Can you tell me a little bit about your process? Do you work on multiple paintings at once, what's involved?

I usually work on about ten paintings at once, in the hope that there’s a common thread that runs between each painting. My paintings are quite labour intensive and often require a bit of preplanning. I’ll begin with a gradient or a solid layer of colour, I’ve been doing these woodgrain/windowsill paintings recently. So I’ll usually construct a window which becomes a vehicle or theatre if you like, for whatever idea or objects I’m trying to paint. Some of the work evolves organically, but others start with a drawing, or a quick sketch to figure something out. Sometimes I’ll try and paint from a completed drawing - however I often find the more finished drawings don’t work or translate well to a painting. I think that when you know exactly where you’re going with a painting the less exciting it becomes. I often find that when I feel most uncomfortable or unsure about where I’m going with a painting, the better it turns out in the end.

A lot of my paintings are constructed in a way that mirrors photoshop or copying and pasting, I mix a lot of different images together. I get a lot of my source material from google image searches or posts on Reddit. I’ll make drawings from those and they’ll end up in the paintings.

Louis Appleby, The Invisible Hand, 2021, 120cm x 84cm, acrylic on wood.

I am interested to know about your source material. What is your process of coming up with paintings?

I collect a lot of imagery from the internet, or I’ll take photographs, collect images from old graphical magazines - like a mini archive. It usually begins with trying to construct a mini-narrative around an idea. Sometimes it’s just a feeling or a thought - or a loose idea of something. I then search for a suitable image or object that could portray that idea, for example, the gargoyle painting started with wanting to make a painting about isolation in a city, or a person being cut off from nature.

Digital culture seems to be a recurring theme in your work. What draws you to it?

I think it’s quite hard to ignore digital culture now, it’s a part of most people’s lives. I think I’m probably in one of the last generations of people who knew life before the internet and digital culture, whereas kids born today will never experience that. I think my generation has sort of grown hand in hand with digital culture, so we’re sort of keeping up with it. In many ways, it seems like it’s a new area for art and painting, yet to be fully explored. Making paintings about it is, for me, a way to try to understand or navigate through modern life.

Can you describe what your paintings are about?

I think there’s a bit of a recurring theme of nostalgia mixed with impending doom in my work, or at least that’s what I try and paint.  

Louis Appleby, Technological Singularity, 2021, 120cm x 84cm, acrylic on wood

You mentioned that you are interested in the juxtaposition between man-made objects and nature in your work. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?

I think it’s an inner feeling that we’ve destroyed the planet, or that we’re making a lot of new technologies, or we live in a way that is destroying or is at expense of the planet. A lot of the landscapes I paint outside of the windows are usually featureless or barren deserts or hills/mountains. I try and paint from a perspective of somebody looking out of the window. I often imagine them to be like altars or shrines in front of a backdrop of a radioactive or post-apocalyptic wasteland. I guess I’m trying to paint things that reference the world today and paintings that people relate to in some way. But I try and keep the narrative fairly obscure or open to interpretation.

How do you pick a colour palette for a piece, and what significance does colour have in your practice overall?

Usually, it’s colours that I’ll see elsewhere that I’ll try and copy. A film that I’ve watched recently called Mandy has influenced my colour pallet - in the film, there’s a lot of saturated reds and purples. I think it’s mainly colours of skies - I recently saw a photograph which was taken in California during the wildfires and the sky was a completely unnatural red colour. It’s the colours of skies, really, that I’ll try and copy or exaggerate in my work.

Are there any contemporary artists who inspire you or who you look up to?

Instagram is good for that sense because you can look at a global community of painters. I really like John Stark’s paintings. I first discovered his paintings about 5 years ago and I look at them regularly. Emily Mae Smith’s paintings are a big influence on my work too. Jordan Kasey’s paintings are great - the light and rendering she achieves really inspire my work. The work of Kerry James Marshall and David Hockney first inspired me to paint figuratively.

Louis Appleby, Bathing In A Bath Of Our Own Fault, 2021, 120cm x 84cm, acrylic on wood

You did your MA in Fine Art at the Royal College of Art London, now you’ve moved back up to the North of England. How has that affected your creativity? Do you miss the creative buzz of London, or does having nature on your doorstep, a major inspiration?

I really do miss the buzz and community of London, but I still prefer living in the North of England. I found whilst living in London I’d really crave the countryside and the privacy you can get in nature whilst out on a walk. It is easy to feel out of the loop living up here though with things like exhibitions and networking etc. but I am seeing more and more that artists are leaving London - so I think it’s quite an interesting time for the UK’s art scene at the moment. There are a lot of new galleries opening outside of London. Practically, and economically, working up here is better for me - I have a larger studio space than what I could afford in London so I can produce larger paintings.

Are you working on any future shows? If so, can you share your plans with us?

I’m currently working on a solo show of 9 paintings at Three Works Gallery in Scarborough. Then I’ve got a show at Castor Gallery in London at some point in the future. I’m also part of some group shows in London and I regularly show work with Castlegate House gallery in Cockermouth. It all depends on lockdown restrictions as to when they will open.

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Jarrad Connell