Today we meet painter and owner of Ovenden Contemporary Craig Kerrecoe and find out what drives his vibrant abstract work...
Where did you train as an artist?
I trained as a building designer originally, studying at Canterbury College and then University of Greenwich. I had my own award-winning architectural practice in Kent up until 2004. I sold the practice for lots of different reasons and moved up to Cambridgeshire soon after so that I could help to raise my three young children. I'd been painting before I left the architecture industry but I was able to devote more time to it when we came up here. I'm self-taught, effectively, but obviously my architectural training and background informs the majority of what I do in terms of geometry, proportion and balance, at the very least.
Tell us about your practice and what feeds your work.
Well, once I started painting in earnest, from late 2004 I suppose, it became evident that I would be able to express lots of the aspects of parenthood and genetics that had concerned me for many years. My painting style is almost always abstract but I was able to use texture, colour and geometry to represent emotions, fears & concerns that I had 'bottled-up' in response to the degeneration of the relationship I had with my father. The longer that we remained estranged, the more concerned I became that my own children might one day reject me for some reason. Painting became a sort of therapeutic process for me, enabling me to resolve issues and solve problems; in the process reassuring me that I was much more a product of the external influences and experiences I had gained in my life, rather than a carbon-copy of my father.
Genetics and DNA became a sort of 'motif' for me, a common theme represented by the series of lines that runs through the vast majority of my paintings like a barcode. It represents the fixed, genetic element of my 'self' and the random abstract patterns and mark making represent my free-will, the chaos created by influences and experiences. The two elements are seen to be battling for 'supremacy' in many of my earlier paintings in 'The Code'
series but, over time, a sense of balance has returned, acceptance maybe? Now the code and the free-will work together in a much more unified way to create each painting. As a therapeutic process, it worked because that is pretty much how I feel about myself now. I am much less concerned that my genetic code will cause me to make the same mistakes as my father, so I can relax a little, go easier on myself, enjoy being with my children rather than being consumed with the fear that they will reject me at some point.
I use acrylics, emulsions and metallics, applied with an assortment of paint scrapers and palette knives. I scrape paint on to the canvas and then scrape it off again to reveal patterns. I will often use 'wet-on-wet' techniques to create blended patterns and 'wet-on-dry' to retain more control and create texture and layers.
Your painting titles are intriguing. Where do they come from?
It's all based on the therapeutic process that I have been going through. I would listen to music and a certain lyric would strike me as poignant or representative of how I felt at a particular time. Or I would read something in a book or newspaper or hear dialogue in TV shows that struck a chord. Whatever it was that had created that reaction, a lyric or a phrase, it would cause me to think about my relationships with others and I would then feel compelled to explore that reaction, to express it visually somehow. The titles are generally the phrases or words that inspired me to produce the painting that bears that title. 'Part of Something Bigger Than Myself'
is a good example- I had reached a stage where I had become acutely aware of the fact that all of the things that I was worried about were irrelevant as I was part of a new family and that family was far more important than me as an individual. I was, literally, part of something bigger than myself. That painting is a perfect example of my genetic coding and my free-will working together in a much more cohesive, mutually beneficial way than had been seen before. The painting shows a partnership, a positive realisation, a resolution.
Many of the titles are lyrics from Radiohead songs as I listen to them a lot. Some of the titles from 2006 and 2007 were taken from a novella I wrote many years ago about a man being forced to confront his subconscious self in order to resolve issues that were blocking him in his conscious life. I'd intended to return to the book to develop it into a full-length novel but I've never had the time since. Maybe one day?
What about the woodcuts and linocuts that you are doing?
Well yes, that's quite a recent development really but one I am enjoying immensely. I have wanted to do woodcuts and linocuts for a while. I have been inspired by my great friend John Lyons
(the acclaimed Artist and Poet from Littleport) who has always used woodcuts as a medium to express himself. I love his work and I love the definition that woodcuts possess. They have enabled me to work in figurative terms, which is liberating as I have used abstraction and series of lines for many, many years now. I had a few teething problems with my first few linocuts so John took me into his studio and gave me an impromptu 'workshop' session. It's handy having experienced artists as friends! John is insisting that we spend a day together producing a new collaborative woodcut - I can't wait.
Describe your workspace.
My studio is currently one half of my Double Garage. It's not perfect but it does enable me to splash around and make as much mess as I like. When I am painting I have the canvas on the floor and I walk around it. I need to get a large bench or table so that I don't have to kneel down so much. My paint tubes, bottles and cans are usually strewn across the floor when I am painting. I always print my woodcuts and linocuts in the studio but I will often cut the plate when I am wondering around the house or watching television or something. I tend to make a bit of a mess to be honest. There are little shavings of wood or lino hiding under desks and coffee tables.
Where can we buy your work?
I'm online obviously. I have my own website and I am part of the Ovenden Contemporary portfolio. I am represented by Siott Gallery
in Reading and Alpha Art Gallery in Edinburgh. Siott are taking a selection of my work to the Newcastle Gateshead Art Fair
later this year. This will be the first time I shown at NGAF for several years- my work usually sells well at big art fairs so I'm looking forward to that. I am also a Gallery Artist at Frameworks Cottenham
. I am currently part of a group exhibition there now actually. The show is called 'Summer Abstracts'
and it also features Mike Bell from Northumberland and the local artist Katarina Hanssens Carlsson. I have a solo show booked in at Frameworks for February and March next year which I am looking forward to. I have taken part in Cambridge Open Studios for two years running now, both times at my friend Jo Tunmer's
house in Highworth Avenue in Cambridge. I've really enjoyed being part of Jo's studio- she's very supportive and really knows how to make the most of the experience.
You seem to have been involved with several charity art events recently. How does that come about?
Yes, that's right. Well, some of them I organise myself and others I am invited to participate in. Last year Jo Tunmer organised a one-night charity event called 'Cambridge Art For Autism'
and she invited me to be part of that, along with several other artists. It was a fantastic event and we raised over £2000 for the National Autistic Society. I was so impressed with the way that the event worked that I decided to organise my own this year in Cambourne
and we raised over £1000 for the local charity East Anglia's Children's Hospices. It went so well that we are already looking forward to doing it again next year. I also donated work to the Charity Art Auction
at Haddenham Galleries, organised by Alice Clough, which raised a significant amount of money for Cam-Mind and the Christina Noble Foundation recently. I'll be taking part in another charity fundraiser at the end of this year too.
What advice would you give emerging artists trying to promote their work?
Get out of your studios and meet other artists and dealers as much as you can. Go to art fairs and galleries and shows and support other artists by attending previews if you can. You can't function properly in the art industry without getting immersed in it and knowing how it works. Also, once you have developed a body of work, edit it ruthlessly - discard work which you recognise doesn't reflect the quality of the majority of the work. Get other opinions, preferably from artists or dealers rather than friends and family. You need to be able to cope with criticism, constructive or otherwise so it's good to get used to it early on so that you can use it to develop. Organisations such as Ovenden Contemporary
are great for new and emerging artists as you will become a part of a supportive network of artists who are at varying stages of their careers and have experience and knowledge they can share with you.