Nicholas Hely Hutchinson explains that art must share an artist’s emotion, and provides some sage advice for young artists trying to find their voice. Interview by Edwina Baines.
Artist Nicholas Hely Hutchinson’s inspiration is fired during walks with his two lurchers, Olive and Martha, around the beautiful Dorset coast and countryside. His paintings are easily identifiable. He observes and sketches the changing rhythms of the seasons.
‘Little things inspire me and I try to capture those moments. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it because it touches you, because it’s poetic.
‘Before coming back to the studio, I might do a sketch to get the composition and to remember the colours. I don’t make any initial marks but use large brushes to under-paint the canvas. When this is dry, I use rags and brushes to build up the layers of paint. Slowly I move from larger to smaller brushes, I use fine sables, to create details. I want the viewer to share the same feeling I felt in that moment: a smattering of winter snow, a covering of frost, a bluebell wood in Spring – or the vulnerability of a little bird in the landscape.’
I was told I’d be bored!
Nicholas studied at St Martin’s School of Art and Bristol Polytechnic, where the emphasis was not only on technique but also on the History of Art.
This latter gave him much of the rigour for his work.
At the start of his career, he was told that once he had got over the initial excitement of being a full-time artist, he would be bored by the time he got to forty. However, he told me: ‘I wake up most mornings thinking about painting. It’s constantly exciting. I haven’t got bored yet!
‘The trouble is, I have too many ideas and not enough time to get them all down. That was one of the good things about lockdown, it did provide more time. There are always distractions – but I’m very disciplined. I treat it like a job – but not a job I don’t want to go to. It’s a bit like an itch. I want to be in the studio. I just potter along! On a good day I work all day, walk Olive and Martha the lurchers in the afternoon and then carry on until about seven.
‘You have to have the discipline and the passion – but if you want to have a family life you have to do a juggling act.’
Break the rules
Nicholas likes to have a clear idea of how his finished painting should look and he suggests that amateur artists should follow this rule.
Not that he is keen on some of the established ways: “Personally I always think there aren’t rules to painting. I’ve never quite understood why these rules exist. For example, you are discouraged from using black.
“Most people who are learning want to get things‘ right’ but it is more important to know what the painting should look like. I try to get the essence of the thing, a fleeting moment in time, rather than trying to paint just what is there. After a certain period of time, you will find your voice. I tend to use the same limited palette of perhaps 10 colours and I use a warm and cold version of each.’
He continued: ‘A painting can create a mood with the colours you use or the thickness of the paint.
‘That’s what I find most interesting. Essentially, I’m a landscape painter – but I never feel that tells the whole story. When you look at Van Gogh, you can see his excitement about nature. It’s a passion that he gets that into the painting – and we can still see that. Or we can look at Graham Sutherland’s paintings before the War. They are dark and gloomy with a sense of foreboding. Artists can convey the way they feel about things in a painting – and the observer can sense that.’
Some of the paintings show a clear passion for the sea, especially when the weather is not always benign. ‘A stormy sea is such an interesting subject for a painter,’ Nicholas remarked. The exhilaration of Portland Bill often provides this drama and the different forces of nature are beautifully portrayed in some of his works.
Nicholas also showed me some digital artwork created on his iPad.
‘You can get such wonderful textures using the software. It’s such a good medium. I tend to complete some on holiday when it is easy to carry the iPad around. You can even do these paintings on the plane and you can use all the colours without the mess.
Sometimes I turn these images into paintings. I often wonder what Turner would have made of this technology. I bet he would have loved it!’
I had the privilege of being shown the dining-room mural Nicholas painted between 1993 -1995, soon after the family had moved into their current house.
As well as favourite local locations, it includes images of several of his pets and even the Cerne Abbas Giant. The mural covered the doors, walls and even the ceiling of the room and I’m sure would look beautiful on a candlelit evening. A real labour of love.
The prestigious Portland Gallery in London has represented Nicholas’ work for many years and another successful one-man show was held recently. A peek at the gallery’s website will convey how few of his paintings remain unsold:
However, 2022 may include a small show in Dorset, which is an event to which we can all look forward. https://www. nicholashelyhutchinson.com
by Edwina Baines email@example.com