Sunday, 21 July 2013

Simon Barford Painting Portraits

It was in the hairdresser’s that I first met Simon Barford.  Toni & Guy, to be precise, on Castle Street opposite M & S.  He’s really good at cutting hair - one of the few people I’ve ever been to whose styling I don't wash out as soon as I get home because it doesn’t feel like me.  But he’s even better at painting portraits.  In fact, painting anything you want.  All you have to do is ask, and provide Simon with a photograph.  Or ask, and he’ll provide the photograph himself - and it will always have something a little bit different about it, something special about the subject matter that catches the eye and can be developed into something interesting.

Simon paints every night in his studio from 9.00pm onwards. At the end of the day, after work and family time, these are the hours that are his own.  One day he'd love to paint full time and make a living out of it.  And he's on his way.  Simon's large and often startling paintings are already selling.  Yet remarkably Simon only started painting three years ago.   

I know all this because the other day Simon brought over a few canvasses to show me.  He said he didn't much care for art when he was at school - but then he didn’t much care for anything.  ‘School failed completely to inspire me,' he said.  'But I was heavily dyslexic.  Nothing inspired me.'

What happened, I wanted to know, to turn Simon into an artist? Three years ago, he said, a friend turned forty and was having a bit of a bash.  He produced a present list and on it was a reproduction of a George Ioannou painting of Michael Caine.  Simon looked at the picture and thought I could do that.  It was his eureka moment.  He bought a canvas and a small set of acrylics and set to.  The result, everybody assured him, was indistinguishable from the Ioannou painting.  Needless to say, as fortieth birthday presents went, it was a massive hit.  Friends who saw it wanted portraits of other subjects. Suddenly Simon was in business. Clint Eastwood? He'd give him a go.  Steve McQueen. Jack Nicholson. Desmond Tutu. Even the minis from 'The Italian Job'. Simon had discovered what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Simon loves painting, but is self-depricating about what he’s doing.  'I'm a copyist, he told me. 'But I reckon I'm good at it.'  He couldn't have been more matter-of-fact. There were no frills to what he said, no fuss, no bigging up.  This is what I do, he seemed to be saying, and I love it, and by the way I'm  proud of it. I know there's a lot to learn but I'm working hard to develop my skills. 

It’s not only portraits that Simon paints. With his father-in-law’s sixtieth birthday approaching, Simon wanted to give him a painting of his favourite corner of the Lake District.  He looked at the work of William Heaton Cooper, found a photo of the appropriate landscape and painted it in Heaton Cooper’s style.  When his father-in-law saw it, so convinced was he that Simon had bought an original that he scolded him for spending so much money.  Simon owned up - but the present was no less appreciated. 

Simon often paints for presents or special occasions. Boats, cars, landscapes, portraits – he’s turned his hand to them all. Whether painting for family or on commission, his criteria for embarking upon a project is very simple.  He has to feel a sense of urgency about taking the commission, and he needs to come up with an unusual angle to work from - a photograph that rings some sort of bell, that tells you something about a person, that has its own particular quirk.

'Each painting takes about fifty hours,' Simon said.  'And most of them are big. I've no idea if I'm doing it right because I've never been taught, but all my paintings start the same way.'  First Simon finds the idea for his painting, then he draws with either oil or acrylic onto canvas -  'making marks' he calls it - then he develops, builds up and fine tunes his painting.  ‘I don’t use expensive equipment,' Simon told me, 'but simply what I have to hand. I’m looking for a narrative. I want my paintings to tell a story. It's important, though, not to overwork them. I think I've developed a sense of when I should stop.'

Simon is full of ideas. At the moment he's captivated by the idea of magic of the sleight-of-hand variety. He’d love to do some paintings that showcase conjurors' hands in the process of performing magic tricks. 'I'd paint all the time if I could,' he told me. 

But if he did that, what would happen to my hair? 

View Simon Barford’s work for sale here:

No comments:

Post a Comment