Like many of "my artists," I found Alan Coulson online. He does really cool portraits that are authentic and poignant. Believe it or not, he's a self-trained artist www.alancoulson.com who believes that hard work is more important than "talent." Despite that, he's definitely gifted. Here's our cool chat.
MICHAEL: Hello Alan, Your portraits are amazing and very life like. You seem to be pre-occupied with portraits. What is it about them that fascinates you?
ALAN: Hey many thanks Michael! Yes, I am slightly obsessed with making portraits! The simple reason being that people are fascinating. I love to people watch and relish the opportunity to really scrutinize a face when viewing or producing a portrait. For me, a successful portrait is one where the artist seems to look beyond the physical and manages to convey a real sense of the individual. This is my challenge.
MICHAEL: Your portraits are very real and almost documentary-like. They don't seem to be beautified which ironically makes them more attractive. What do you think?
ALAN: I prefer not to stage my portraits and so I'm constantly taking informal photos of friends and family. These become reference for my drawings and paintings and so in a sense my work is documentary. I hope to make works that are compelling, but it's never my intention to flatter. I won't be editing out the mole or the stray eyebrow! For me, it's the honest representations of people, including the lines, freckles and dimples that make us beautiful.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. Some of your works are color paintings and some look more like black and white graphic drawings. How do you determine how to create each portrait?
ALAN: Both drawing and painting share equal importance within my practice. However, I'm a painfully slow painter! I'm able to complete a drawing within a comparatively short space of time, so I will often produce a fully realised graphite drawing before committing to making a painting in oil. With particular subjects of course, colour is essential to capturing the character of the sitter, such as with my painting "Latoya," where my sitter projects her individuality through her eclectic style.
MICHAEL: When did you realize that you had talent as an artist? Is your work the result of natural talent or ... work?
ALAN: My work is the result of ambition, a methodical approach and lots of time and effort (oh and major support from friends and family)! I'm not sure I believe in talent as such. It's my opinion that acquiring a skill has more to do with application and a desire to achieve a particular goal. I'd always had an interest in art, but never considered it as a career until five years ago. I'd left an unfulfilling job to care for my one-year-old son, decided I couldn't possibly go back and started furiously drawing and painting! I found a great deal of inspiration visiting The National Portrait Gallery in London and always had the ambition of showing at the yearly BP Portrait Award exhibitions held there. Thankfully five years on, it's beginning to pay off!
MICHAEL: Fantastic! Good for you. London is one of the three top art cities in the world. Has being an artist there been a challenge? You're definitely among the heavy hitters there. Have you felt accepted or snubbed? I love Cool Britannia, but let's face it, the British basically invented snobbery.
ALAN: Heavy hitter! Ha, I've never been described as that before! A super-fly weight maybe. Perhaps I should move to the states Michael? I think Cool Britannia belonged to the young artists of the Saatchi collection and the conceptual art scene continues to rule here. Having said that, there is certainly plenty of opportunity here for figurative and representational artists. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else and I'm lucky to have been given some great exposure. So far, I've escaped any harsh critique, but if I do step into the firing line, I won't take it to heart. When you make your work public, you have to accept people may love it or hate it!
MICHAEL: Your portraits are so life like. It's almost like they're photographs. How do you achieve this?
ALAN: I work quite closely from photographic reference and strive for a high level of realism. However, I don't consider my work photorealistic. My main concern when producing work is to engage with the viewer on an emotional level. It's never my intention to simply replicate a photo. I've had no formal training, so the technical side of my work is purely down to painstaking trial and error! It's funny. The finished result appears quite tidy, but I'm constantly adjusting, painting and re-painting areas, sometimes sanding back. Ultimately, I hope this gives the work depth, something that (for me) can be lacking in some photorealist work.
MICHAEL: Have you ever had the desire to go to art school? I sort of feel that if you did at this point, it might screw up your process.
ALAN: Thanks for the confidence vote! Showing at the National Portrait Gallery is one daydream ticked off the list and submitting each year gives me that extra push to produce my best work, so I'll keep going for it! I did a foundation year at art college after leaving school. It was a very general and open introduction to art practice with little emphasis on drawing and painting. For me, rather than helping me to find direction, the course left me feeling rather disillusioned. Every artist must develop their own very personal, ever-evolving technique and approach regardless of schooling. That's one of the great pleasures of making art. So no, I won't be going back to school at this point!
MICHAEL: Portraiture is one of the oldest art genres. Given that, do you try to keep it fresh for yourself and viewers or does it matter?
ALAN: The painted portrait will always have its place among the visual arts, though it's never going to be the cutting edge! I think that's one of the things that attracts me to portraiture. I prefer to produce simple works, free of narrative, that don't require a degree in art history in order to be understood. (In short,) "I like this person's face so I painted it."
MICHAEL: Finally Alan, have you learned anything about the human face as a result of doing portraits?
ALAN: Only that we are all a sum of the same parts! It's how we are knitted together that makes us individual and beautiful.
MICHAEL: Thanks Alan. This was very refreshing.
ALAN: Thanks Michael, lovely talking with you.
To find out more about Alan Coulson and his work, check out his website at www.alancoulson.com.