In the Studio with Struan Teague. Words by Reuben Beren James

Words by

Reuben Beren James

In the Studio with Struan Teague. Words by Reuben Beren James

How did you begin making art? What steps then led you to the kind of work you have been making the past few years?

I’m not sure how or when I began making art, but what I’m making now feels like a very natural progression. I was always exposed to art through my family. I knew I always wanted to work independently, partly because I’m quite dyslexic. I’m interested in abstraction representing a visual language thats removed from normal written and spoken communication. I’m often more comfortable forming lines and colours than sentences.

How do you feel your work has developed since we last spoke, you’ve moved to London, to a new space, do you feel your environment has affected the work?

Last time we spoke I was on a residency in Dusseldorf after living in Copenhagen fora year, now settled in London for a couple of years. So I moved around a fair bit and all that still comes into the work. I recently moved into a studio with incredible natural light and a lot of space which is giving me alot of freedom to work the way I like.I like to keep my process quite open, changing my plans in response to what’s happening on the canvas. For example, sometime the canvas will get turned over half way through if the painting isn’t going the way I wanted, but theres something interesting happening with the marks showing through on the reverse of the canvas. Thats never something I plan to do from the beginning though, every move you make is a new decision.

Do you have any rituals or personal processes when working?

The preparation stage is important to get a feel for the painting, I always start with unprimed canvas or linen, the act of stretching, preparing and priming the canvas gives me the first thoughts of where to take the painting.

How did you come to the particular materials and techniques you have been using?

It’s all an ongoing process of learning what works for what you want to do.I use things like oil sticks and pastels on my paintings because they feel more like making a drawing, more immediate than a brush which runs out of paint. Lately I’ve also been mixing my own distemper or dispersion paints with dry pigments. There’s an interesting contradiction between having a lot of control over the colour but it also being quite unpredictable at times, and you can create really beautiful surfaces that respond to light very differently than acrylic or oil.

How does your relationship to the colours and materials you use change while working with them?

It’s a constant learning experience, a lot of trial and error. I’ll get bored of some colours or materials after a while but others you can just keep getting deeper and deeper into.

Untitled, 2019, Oil stick, oil pastel, pencil and distemper on linen, wood, 200 x 150 cm

You talk about your work being very intuitive are you ever surprised by what you produce? Or are you comfortable enough in your processes to know what to expect?

The best paintings are often a bit surprising and difficult at first. I use processes I’m quite comfortable with but I try to push things to a point where I don’t always know what to expect.

What role does speed and error play in your work?

I usually work very fast on the canvas once I get going, but I’m also interested in the idea of slow paintings. I want some of my paintings to slow down the process of looking, you can spend a lot of time with them.

Can you talk a little bit how the smaller sketches you do relate to the larger paintings?

I make a lot of small very quick drawings in sketchbooks, then tear out the pages I like the most and roughly organise them into collections. I use them partly as studies of forms and compositions, for many of the larger paintings there’s a drawing, or multiple drawings, that acted as a starting point. But the paintings always quickly go in their own direction after the initial start.

What position do you take on aesthetics? Do you feel that terms like beauty are an appropriate way to evaluate your paintings, or else do you prefer people be more attuned to issues like materials, process etc?

It’s not important to understand the materials or processes to read my paintings, there should be a bit of mystery there. I don’t like to intervene with any kind of explanation. Aesthetics isn’t the right word though, the experience, the scale, the touch and texture are all important qualities that aesthetics doesn’t take into account.

Do you feel a beautiful painting is necessarily an accomplished painting? And visa versa?

It depends on the context, but if a painting is beautiful then that’s certainly an accomplishment. There are great paintings that are not necessarily beautiful, but a beautiful painting is always better than a cynical or ironic painting. I don’t set out to make something beautiful, it’s more of a feeling if it works or not. To loosely paraphrase Raoul De Keyser; it can’t always be beautiful but it can be not ugly.

Sklent, Acrylic, Oil Stick, Oil Pastel, Pigment, Pencil and thread on Canvas, 210 x 160 cm, 2018-19

What kind of experience do you hope the viewer has with your work? Are you trying to elicit certain kinds of responses? Are some responses better than others? If so, what kinds?

Like I touched on earlier one of the best things for me is when someone wants to spend a long time with a painting, when it has a certain kind of calmness and complexity. Another experience that I find when looking at certain paintings by other artists is the feeling of immediately wanting to go to the studio and paint. Any painting that can promote that kind of response is a success to me.

You exclusively work as a painter. Why is painting still your preferred mode of expression?

I don’t know if I would like to say that I exclusively work as a painter, it’s true that painting has been very much my focus for the last few years but drawing is also a crucial part of my practice, not just in support of the painting. In the past I’ve been more involved in books and printmaking and that may come back into things a little bit.

Where do you think painting finds itself today? It seems that, after lying dormant for several decades, at least in terms of the mainstream historical conversation, the pressure has slightly lifted about whether or not one should paint?

Painting obviously has a very long and complex history which is important to be aware of. The ‘Death of Painting’ argument seems pretty absurd now, I’m sure it’ll stick around.

Untitled, dispersion, oil and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 95 cm, 2019

Abstract art has a long history of artists and critics attempting to decipher a lack of visual representation, what role do you feel abstraction has in your work?

Well I wouldn’t even attempt to decipher it but maybe there’s things in there somewhere, there’s bits of nature and landscape, there’s rhythm, music and movement and space.

How do you see the work developing? Is there anything you have yet to explore that excites you?

I’m just getting started, I’m excited to just keep working the same way I always do and see where it leads, I don’t make any longterm plans.

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