On Portraiture, Travel and Inspiration: A Chat With Martin Burrough

Our next member profile features an interview with Martin Burrough, an alumni of The Heatherley School of Fine Art who has a background in Reinsurance.

Martin Burrough in his studio
Martin Burrough in his studio


A Chat With Martin:

How did you become a painter?

The best looking girls at Uni were those doing a fine arts degree. Hanging around the studios seemed like a good idea at the time. This was at an American University in the mid 60s and some of the excitement of the New York art scene rubbed off on me. Acrylic paint was an exciting new medium for many hard edge pop art painters. So I had a go and loved it. The head of the Fine Art faculty was wonderfully encouraging and I was determined to develop into a professional artist. Reality intervened and parental pressure pushed me back to London and into a job in the City. As it happened, a stimulating career in Reinsurance introduced me to many areas of the world, particularly in Asia Pacific, and, more to the point, to many different art scenes.

Obviously life got a bit busy, raising a family and earning a living, but I always managed to keep my eye in by joining life drawing workshops, visiting countless museums and throwing oils and acrylic around in the odd painting class.
On retirement I leapt at the chance to do the Portraiture Diploma at Heatherleys with Susan Engledow, looking for a fast track toward attempting a second career as an artist. Portraiture wasn’t initially my main interest but I did recognise that the course would provide discipline and a considered, traditional development of skills. The environment was perfect, classmates were really good fun and the tutors and models were outstanding. The flame was lit and portraiture became a passion.

Do you still focus on portraiture?

Yes. I now have a studio in West London with a huge window facing North and work on commissioned and non-commissioned oil portraits. However, I have learned that it’s a great release to get out of the studio and paint in plein air as well as trying all the different mediums. Lots of life drawing helps too and it’s very energising to have a crack at still life studies, iPad paintings and printing. But I’m always drawn back to the exhilarating challenge of portraiture.

P050 - MBurrough portrait of Enzo
Enzo, Martin Burrough, 2012, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm

Which other artists or painters do you look to for inspiration and why?

Part of the fun of my artistic venture is building up some knowledge of art history (from a very poor base), studying the masters and trying to keep up with contemporary work. My favourites seem to change week by week but I do get very influenced by what I see. The Impressionists provide such a wealth of ideas. So does Picasso, Richter, Diebenkorn, Tai Shan Schirenberg, Jemmy Saville, Lucian Freud. And look at the stimulus one can get form Velasquez, Caravaggio and countless others. To roam a museum is like filling your soul with inspiration.

What, to you, constitutes a good portrait?

Obviously a good likeness is key. So a pose that is natural for the sitter is important. It is vital to take serious time and trouble with setting-up and lighting the subject. With natural light if possible. Hard work at this stage makes the actual painting so much more of a pleasure. It’s like a roller coaster – a hard grind to get to the top and then, woosh you’re off, on a wild ride. If the end result shows something of the personality or quirks of the subject, so much the better. Some kind of real engagement with the sitter during the whole process helps. I want to see strong contrasting light, bold colours, good modelling of the head and, finally, a picture that I would like to hang on my own wall. However it is awfully hard to know when you’re finished and, then, to be satisfied with your own work.

Do you have any current projects that you’d like to tell us about (exhibitions, articles, websites, commissions, personal projects)?

I’m just about to leave for a 16 day trip to Ethiopia and, watercolours nervously in hand , want to come back with a sketchbook full of images that I can develop. Otherwise I continue to build up a body of work for exhibition. The first step being to finish off the 16 or so current paintings that I have on the go. Far too many! My website is http://www.martinburrough.com.

Many thanks Martin and we look forward to seeing your work post Ethiopia!

(all images and text copyright thelotsroadgroup 2014, please ask permission before use)

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