Dave Froude is one of those artists who are keeping the true tradition of skillful, still life painting alive. It clearly shows in his fantastic work http://www.davefroude.com/. I saw his work online and knew I had to chat with him. He’s warm and approachable and a great guy …
MICHAEL: First of all Dave, Your work is very cool. I see some Old Master Dutch influence in your paintings - Pieter Claesz - am I right?
DAVE: First of all, thanks Michael. I do admire the Old Dutch masters and this isn't the first time I have heard this. Some have even said Cézanne, although it’s not my intent, my voice or style. It’s still developing so who knows where it will end up. I am drawn to the more traditional artwork. I am a big believer in skill and this is something those guys had in spades, so I suppose this carries through to my own work. Subject matter plays a big part in this of course, as most of my work tends to be still life. Being a former technical illustrator didn't hurt either as I have pretty good drawing and rendering skills. My work does differ though. I feel my work does have a modern look to it especially, in my use of brushwork, edges and the colours I choose. When painting on location with my art friends, we usually only have a limited time to paint, so my work tends to be a lot looser and more impressionistic, so I am able to capture the light in a particular scene. I actually love this as it’s a freeing experience for me, paint flies and paint blends together, bugs end up on the canvas on a regular basis. What a great mess!
MICHAEL: “Bugs on canvas” sounds like a great metaphor. The fact that you say you're a big believer in skill implies that there are artists out there who don't. What goes through your mind when you see shows where creativity or process appear to be higher priorities than skill?
DAVE: Ya bugs on canvas, I like it. I am a big believer in skill. Skill and knowledge give birth to confidence, which is an important element to painting and without it, your work seems laboured and uninspired and a miss-match of color and value. I really don’t care what genre of art one chooses to work in. Learning the medium and the basics is important. To have a real voice with your art, you have develop the skills necessary with colour, value, form and design are key and take time and effort to develop.
“Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.”
At first, when you presented this question to me, I thought, “How am I going to answer this without sounding like a big pretentious moron? You have no skills, you suck or look … you made an irregular shaped canvas and painted it blue. How thought provoking!” I thought about it for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure we have all been to local art events and just look around and wonder how this stuff made it on the walls or perhaps I am missing something and just don’t get it which is more likely. I have seen work that is an obvious attempt to cash in so to speak and perhaps the artist is trying to scratch out a living, which I can understand. But art has to be more than that … sales are important, but to improve you can’t think that way. While you develop your skills, you need to give it time. If you make sales in the meantime, that’s a bonus. But for me, it’s about always striving for what I feel is my perfect painting.
MICHAEL: You're obviously very concerned about your technique which viewers themselves may or may not be. Do you feel that observers should be "into" your technique or can they just like what they see on the surface without a bunch of analyzing or deconstructing?
DAVE: I am concerned about technique, but I have to say, this is more for me when creating a painting. Whether a person viewing my art has knowledge of painting or art of some kind, it really shouldn’t matter and this is my job as the artist to help the viewer see my vision without the need for that to happen. Take the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci; how many view this painting and are awestruck by its beauty and of those, how many have no knowledge of the art and how it was created? Now, although I would hope that an artist viewing my work would try and analyze and deconstruct the work, really all I want is that they get something out of it. Yet to be truthful, I am only painting for myself. That being said, I am mindful that it will be viewed by others. So for example, let’s say I paint a still life with an apple as the focus; perhaps I loved the colour or shape. My process would be to help draw the viewer’s eye to that portion of the painting, while creating areas of interest through a painting for a viewer to stop and enjoy and then carry on in a fluid natural movement.
MICHAEL: Your work has a storybook quality ... It seems almost allegorical as if you want people to see something beneath the narrative on canvas. I'm sure I'm probably jumping to conclusions or am I right?
DAVE: Oh, I like that word “allegorical.” Thank you, Michael. No, you are right. There was a time when that wasn't the case, but my work has evolved and is now based on working with shapes, values, colour relationships and composition and although my work is still representational, the objects I paint are secondary to the objects relationships and form. This my focus, so instead of painting an apple I paint the shapes of colour, tones and value that make up the apple and the surrounding area and so on through the painting. And you know, it still amazes me when I step back and see the apple fully constructed. Perhaps this is what you see when you view a painting of mine. A typical start to painting for me is to do a quick sketch for placement, very loose and takes just a minute or two, so I don’t get bogged down with outlines and then stuck within the lines. I am not doing paint by number, but more of a painting by feel.
MICHAEL: I think that most creative people create to please themselves first. In other words, their work is extremely personal, yet they share it publicly. Given that, I know numerous artists who don't place much stock in artists being motivated by society or what are later viewed as historical movements or genres (Impressionism, Cubism, etc). What do you think about this?
DAVE: Yes Michael, I would agree with that statement. I had to think about this for some time. As a technical illustrator and media artist, sometimes this would come up. To get paid, you would do this on occasion, fortunately not too often. Commissions just popped into my head. I would just prefer to paint what I feel that day and not what somebody wants or thinks I should paint. My heart wouldn't be into it. I think an artist does need to be aware of movements and society as a whole to stay current, but not be swayed by it. If it peaks his/her interest and the artist says, “Hey, that’s cool I want to try that,” then that’s different. I just wonder which artists said they weren't motivated by the Impressionism movement and ten years after it took off, probably said, “Damn it!” Who knows? By staying on your own path, you might be at the head of your own movement.
MICHAEL: What's your first memory of art? Do you come from an artistic family? When did you become an artist?
DAVE: Yesterday! No seriously, there weren't many people in my family who were into art. I come from a family of regular blue-collar and really wasn't exposed to art very much. Dad was a truck driver growing up and my mom worked as a receptionist. I am not sure where it comes from exactly. None of my aunts, uncles or even cousins drew or painted. What I do know is, I have always drawn, even as a kid, mostly things around the house. My dad had this thing for collecting stuff in cardboard boxes, so we had them in spades. I drew a lot of boxes when I was a kid. One of my first memories was a school trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Group of Seven on display, along with the permanent collections. I must have been 11 years old or so. I was awe struck and it stuck with me for a long time.
I was working a factory job for a few years after high school. I was sketching a lot then. My sister’s friend who was taking illustration at a local college suggested I should enroll. On a whim I applied, I didn't get into the illustration program, but was placed in an art fundamentals course, a full year of drawing and painting; just what I needed. I think I really took art seriously at that point and was well on my way to becoming an artist. My first life drawing class in college really set off a spark. Although my drawings weren't that good at first, I really applied myself, seemed natural to me, once I got use to staring at naked people of course.
You know Michael, this brings up a point I would like to mention, I remember always being told as a kid, you can’t make a living being an artist, so you’d better pick a career to support yourself. I guess that stuck with me for some time, as I didn't even consider being an artist, so it wasn't a focus for me. Even recently someone said this to me. So sad. Think of all of the artists who stopped creating because they were told, “You can’t support yourself” or didn't have the support. A lot of the artists I follow on the web and locally manage to support themselves with their passion. It’s tough, but it can be done, so why the hell not?
MICHAEL: Fantastic. I love hearing from people like you who believe in possibilities. Many artists might look at your work and be intimidated by it because it's so skillful. However, it sounds like you've spent years honing your craft. People always see the finished product, but never the effort involved, no?
DAVE: I always believe in possibilities. Being the forever optimist doesn't hurt. Thanks for the compliment Michael. Sometimes I wish I could stand back and view my work the way others do and see my work for what it is. I suppose that will never happen. Right off the bat I will say, most people don’t see the paintings that fail or the ones that don’t make it to completion. Sometimes, I end up with a cursed canvas and nothing ever works out.
To answer your question, I have always had confidence when it comes to painting, not exactly sure where it comes from, but in my first year of art school, my instructor said, “Be proud of everything you paint.” I suppose this is when it started. I have honed my skills painting feet of canvas making error after error and struggling most of the time. This took hard work and dedication and self-exploration to get to this point, but I still have a long way to go. I started painting about five years ago, so not that long ago. After not painting since college which was some time ago, I started slow, using mostly watercolors and acrylics and finally chose oils two and a half years ago. Oh, and my first paintings were horrible, by the way. Oils were a natural fit with my painting style. I was fortunate that I have been able to paint mostly everyday and in that time, I have seen steady improvement, every once and a while I make a huge leap, so I’m happy with that. I took my first workshop with an artist I really admired last year and that really made all the difference in my work. I would suggest that to anyone reading this. I also never set up something and just painted it, I always have something I want to achieve. I think for the first year in oils, I spent a whole year working with values, the next 6 months working with color harmonies and so lately, I have been on a color temperature kick and working with edges.
I always talk to people I meet and their first comment when they see my work or find out I am an artist is usually, “I could never paint like that!” I always say, “Yes you can.” Most of the theories and concepts of art can be taught; some are easy to comprehend, others not so much. I would say though that with the proper instruction in the basics of painting, anyone could pull off a half-decent painting. Being an optimist, I would hope this is true. I guess we shall see. Starting in the fall, I will be teaching an “Introduction to Oil Painting” course. Perhaps I might have to rewrite this in three months if it doesn't go well.
MICHAEL: What do you think of the art world and the way it operates today?
DAVE: Well let’s see, I have just recently started dealing in the art world, so I haven’t much experience yet, but this is what I see and hear from others … Not too long ago, brick and mortar art galleries held all the cards really and the only way to see art of any kind was to visit a gallery or juried event somewhere and most curators seemed to be focused on what was new or avant-garde, and of course the uglier the better. The buying public thought that this must be what great art is, so they bought into it and would pay thousands of dollars for something a child could do. Someone with no skill or art training could make millions and the galleries were happy. This was happening for so long that this movement made its way into schools and I can tell you that some colleges and universities don’t even teach drawing or traditional painting anymore; apparently it isn't important. I don’t want to make the argument that all galleries are or were doing this because that isn't the case at all. Some were focused on skill and tradition. I believe we are in a transitional state at the moment.
So what I see happening now is with social media. Artists now have a voice and can promote their own work with very little resources and sell directly to the consumer and make more money for themselves. The public is starting to wake up as they can see for themselves what great art is. For people like me, this is good news. Representational art is making a comeback. Brick and mortar galleries are having a hard time at the moment due to the economic downturn, but things are getting better and they are being more selective with what they hang on their walls, so work on your craft. Like I said, the buying public is now starting to look for quality, so there is hope for someone like me. There is a problem I see and it’s with most artists. That is most seem to be unorganized and not really focused on the business end of art, most artists think if I could only get into a gallery … well unless you do a lot of self promotion and get your art out there, a gallery isn't going to see your work, so get out there and mingle and always think of the business end.
MICHAEL: Finally Dave, Where do you want to go with your work in the future?
DAVE: Well Michael, my ultimate goal would be to support my family with my art, not looking for much. Just enough to allow me paint everyday and have the necessities of life, you know, just like any other career would provide for someone. I also would like to have my work exhibited in museums while I am still around to see that happen, of course. Finally, I would love be able to pass on my knowledge to others, holding workshops at home and abroad, especially for someone just starting out, as there is so much to learn and it would be great to start them on the right path straight away.
MICHAEL: Thanks Dave. This has been fun.
DAVE: Michael, Thanks for this opportunity. I really enjoyed this chat with you.
Check out Dave’s work at http://www.davefroude.com/.