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A Moment with Jeremy Sutton

by mana on March 15th, 2011

Jeremy Sutton in front of "Moment in Time"

A moment in time slips away before we know it, yet may be filled with a depth of feeling. Jeremy Sutton has captured such a moment in his painting, A Moment in Time. Though his work requires intense concentration and attention to detail, Sutton gets the feeling of the essence of a scene the moment he sets sight on it.  For us to see in this way, we need to stop our busy lives.  We need to set time for looking at things and we need to learn seeing in an artful way.  When we are mindful and aware, we can start living in the moment.

In this interview, Jeremy Sutton answers questions about his approach to art. You can see his paintings and meet him in person on May 14th at the Swing in the Spring event.

Register for Swing in the Spring in Los Altos Hills, CA  on Eventbrite

What is your approach to portraiture?

Sutton: I am tuning into my subject the very first moment I meet them. In a sense, my painting begins when I first set sight on them, even if I don’t know it at the time! It is not a matter of what I look for, it is more a matter of simply being open and receptive to what I feel in response to that subject. What is the feeling? What needs to jump out of the painting? There is no specific time needed to get a sense of what I want to convey in a portrait. I can paint a portrait immediately; however, I will always take a few seconds to breathe and observe before making any marks on my canvas. Often I will first draw the portrait out in the air with my hands.

How did you get started in art?

Sutton: When I was about three years old, I picked up a pencil and started drawing and never stopped! I covered the walls of my bedroom with drawings as far as I could reach. Mum said it was okay, as long as I only drew on my bedroom walls and not other walls in the house!

Did you grow up in an artistic environment?

Sutton:Yes, my Mum is an artist and I grew up surrounded by her drawings and paintings. She went to the Camden School of Art in London while I was a child. Later, she studied at the prestigious St. Martins School of Art, earning a Masters Degree in Fine Art. There were always drawing materials around the house.

As a university student, you studied physics as well as art. Tell us about your interest in physics.

Sutton: When I was about twelve or so, I visited the laboratory of one of the key developers of the linear induction motor, Professor Eric Laithwaite, at Imperial College, London, and was so inspired that I then decided that science was the direction I wanted to pursue. I was fascinated with the fundamental questions that Physics addressed such as what is the nature of forces and matter that leads to the physical reality we experience?

Does your science background influence how you think about art?

Sutton: Studying Physics at Oxford University was a training for the mind that influences my approach to problem solving. In Physics, you look for the essence of a problem, the underlying a priori assumptions and boundary conditions and apply the language of mathematics in building up verifiable predictions and phenomena based on those underlying principles. In art, I seek out the essence of my subject, honing into the essential elements of light and shadow and the varying contrasts and colors. Painting and drawing are, like Physics, about problem solving. How do I describe a subject and communicate the story, the feeling, the personality, in the most elegant, simple and effective way? In this sense, my Physics training has greatly influenced my art.

Moment in Time

Tango dancers in front of Moment in Time

The Physics approach to breaking down a subject into a well-structured analysis that starts with the simple building blocks and “big picture” also influences how I teach. I like to make things accessible and easily understandable. I try to break down the barriers of jargon and intimidation and lead a student methodically through a process, step by step.

What roles do digital and traditional media play in your work? How has their relationship evolved over time?

Sutton: From childhood through 1991, I used exclusively so-called traditional, i.e. non-digital, art media. It was in 1991 that I was introduced to digital painting and loved it! For the following ten years or so, digital paint became my primary art medium. Over the last decade, I have been mixing digital with traditional media more and more, returning in some senses to my traditional roots. Now, almost all my digital artwork also involves a traditional media phase and ends up being a truly combined media artwork. My latest public work, the large Heart currently displayed in Union Square, San Francisco, is an example of this.

Detail, San Francisco Heart

Could you briefly describe the process of incorporating digital media in your paintings.

Sutton: I create freehand brush strokes with a wide variety of brushes on a digital canvas using the tools of the Macintosh computer, Corel Painter software and the Wacom graphics tablet. This original hand-painted digital painting is then printed out on canvas onto which I continue to paint with a variety of traditional paint media such as gels, acrylics and sometimes oils.

The theme of dance and movement enters a lot into your work. What is it that attracts you to that?

Sutton: Dance and movement is an important part of my life. I have danced since I was about thirteen and love Lindy Hop swing dancing most of all. This passion is reflected in all I do—the way I paint and, often, my choice of subjects.

[Hopefully, we will see Jeremy in action at Swing in the Spring!]

You sometimes develop paintings at events in front of an audience. I have an image of artists who constantly change what they have done, throw paint angrily at what is already there until they see their vision come true. How do you perfect and achieve your vision in front of others?

Moment in Time

Moment in Time

Sutton: Vision, vulnerability and commitment! I start off tuning into my subject and visioning where I want to end up. Then I let go of that vision and allow myself to be completely vulnerable in the moment, making marks on my canvas that reflect an intense observation of my subject. I don’t ever “undo”—I always move forward, continually resolving my canvas, working from general to detail. I don’t throw paint angrily. I do take risks. My process is intense, focused and concentrated, not angry. I am continually stepping in and out of my painting mentally, analyzing what’s working and not working and responding accordingly, but without judgment. I continually move paint around, sculpting my subject from the canvas. I am committed to the process and to moving forward no matter where it takes me.

Come enjoy Jeremy Sutton’s art, along with the music of Noam Eisen’s swing quintet, good food, and of course, dancing, on May 14th at FHCC in Los Altos Hills. To book tickets, please click here:
Register for Swing in the Spring in Los Altos Hills, CA  on Eventbrite

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