‘It’s hard – try it!’: Hilary Puxley on life, painting and other artists

Hilary Puxley is next up on our list of members of the Lots Road Group to interview. Here she chats with us about juggling family life and a career as a shipping solicitor and entrepreneur, her love of making and collecting portraits and the many artists she looks to for inspiration, including Degas, Rembrandt and Jenny Saville.

Hilary Puxley in her studio

Hilary Puxley in her studio

How did you become a painter?

By the scenic route!  My mother was an art teacher and I spent much of my childhood drawing and painting.  I particularly drew portraits and, shamingly in retrospect, ran a cash-for-drawings enterprise at school.  That was the end of my artistic career for a long time though, as academic subjects took priority.  I managed evening classes at the Ruskin School of Art when at university but that was about it until I emerged from other careers – working for an African charity, being a shipping solicitor, helping to set up an internet business (www.justgiving.com) and not least being a wife and mother. All the time though, if someone had asked me what I really wanted to do, I would have answered “Paint portraits”.  So I was delighted to sidle onto the Portraiture Diploma at Heatherley’s, via part time courses.  I’ve now been painting commissioned and other portraits for a number of years and continue to feel very lucky to be doing what I most like to do as my profession.

Why portraiture?

I am so irritated by the glib idea, quite often expressed, that portraiture is an inferior art form.  It’s hard – try it!  I’m not sure why, except to state the obvious – that I like to observe the infinite variety of the human form and face.  I have always been gripped by portraiture and the portraits are the first thing I look at in art books or exhibitions.  I collect 20th century portraits in a very minor way – only from minor auctions, junk shops, even eBay, and I’ve had some interesting and successful searches for the identities of artists and sitters in unattributed (cheap!) works.

Which other artists inspire and why?

This is a moveable feast – enthusiasms come and go, but some artists I keep in mind when painting are as follows:

Manet, because his figures and faces are bold, quite simple and direct, and he can make the viewer’s eye do the work, for example in “Luncheon in the Studio” recently at the RA, he conveys the information that the boy’s jacket is velvet, though it is almost featureless black.  I looked very carefully.

Jenny Saville, paints flesh with extraordinary virtuosity, verve and generosity, using a delicious palette, even when the image is ostensibly challenging – so much better than Lucian Freud’s khakis. I wish.

Rembrandt, not for the psychological profundity – that comes of decades of thought and practice – but because despite his power, he also has extreme delicacy of touch.  A portrait I know well is that of his mother reading, at Wilton House, in which tiny flicks of paint convey exactly what he intends.  Be bold, but also be careful, subtle.

Degas – master of composition, often extremely unconventional (thank you Japanese printmakers).  A favourite is “The Dance Class”, which has the legs of the dancers coming downstairs in the top left.  A moment of casual movement is captured, but the geometry is there and the intellect is working hard.

I have recently been in Vienna and resumed my admiration for Klimt, Schiele and their contemporaries, after a lull of 20 years or so.

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

I’m working on what is turning out to be a series of portraits and drawings of Margo, a fitness instructor with a fantastic physique – and face.  On the drawing board (literally) is a group portrait of actors on stage in a period comedy performed by a young theatre company called “Let Them Call It Mischief”, who very kindly allow me to draw at their rehearsals.

My website is www.hilarypuxley.com



Below is one of Hilary’s portraits, entitled ‘Toby’. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on painting with us Hilary. 

'Toby', oil on canvas, 75cm x 60cm, 2013.

‘Toby’, oil on canvas, 75cm x 60cm, 2013.

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

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