Flight of light

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EXHIBITION British artist Jeremy Houghton tells SHAILAJA TRIPATHI how his canvas keeps getting bigger with works like painting Queen Elizabeth II, London Olympic Games 2012, London Fashion Week and Flamingos

Like no artist would like to be told what to do, Jeremy Houghton, didn’t like it either when he was painting Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 as commissioned by Her Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms but then it was a high-profile assignment. Houghton painted the regiment — the oldest in the world and the one which provides a bodyguard to The Queen at many ceremonial occasions. The artist painted it at different significant occasions during its 500th year. If he was to do it in his style, how would he have done it, I ask him and pat comes the reply, “I would have had Flamingos flying above.”

While his works on the British monarch sit pretty and regal in famed structures and acclaimed collections, his Flamingos have travelled all the way here. The British contemporary artist is in India showcasing his much-talked about Flamingo paintings, a subject he has been working on for last six years. The endangered species started to fascinate him while he was heading the art department at the International School of Cape Town. The gregarious pink and red birds crowd his canvases and the artist extracts different forms by playing with colours and light. Almost abstracting them, Jeremy creates patterns and shapes which are replete with harmony. “When you see Flamingos, you see natural abstract shapes, something that gives you a kaleidoscope of options. And even though there is a sense of tranquillity there is a sense of shimmering and energy that permeates the work,” says the artist who intends to visit Rann of Kutch to get a glimpse of Flamingos that descend on this wetland every winter and then paint them.

A product of the Slade School of Art and the Université of Provence, his Flamingo series is a conscious effort in the direction of making people aware about the ecology. “There is indeed an environmental angle to this work. I want to highlight the plight of Flamingos. The birds are so fussy about where they live and breed and human beings are constantly tampering with their surroundings. The balance of water is crucial to their existence and that’s rapidly changing,” elaborates Jeremy, official BT Artist for London 2012 at BT Art of Sport. BT is a British multinational telecommunications services company headquartered in London and BT group was a partner in the Olympic and Paralympic games held in London in 2012.

Ecology finds resonance on his expressionistic renditions. As an official artist, even though he had access to all the participating sportspeople, Jeremy chose to concentrate on water sports like sailing, swimming and rowing.

A contemporary of Damien Hirst and Banksy, he says that he is not producing cutting edge work like them and would like to concentrate on paintings. “But the imagery is very contemporary. I am now doing plastic paintings, which means I will be painting directly on the plastic and the painting can be seen from the sides. It can be seen as a three dimensional or a sculpture but for me it is a painting. I don’t want to go down that path of digital media because for me painting is a very visual medium,” says the artist who has shown at the prestigious Saatchi gallery in London and Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg.

Just like his busy canvases, his resume is crowded too with work and accomplishments with the Broadway artist’s appointment as the official artist for London Fashion Week in 2007 being one of them. “It was more like visual journalism, getting access to backstage and capturing different aspects of a fashion show. What happens with accepting this different kind of work is that it tests your stability and skill and gets you out of your comfort zone. I am open and receptive to ideas,” tells the artist for whom in stylistic terms form holds supreme position. “I like to eliminate the details and focus on the negative spaces. The white spaces where I play with light produce music to the painting and a painting without such spaces doesn’t quite have it for me.”

(The exhibition ‘The Flamingo and The Phoenix’ is on at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre till December 15)




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