HOW TO HAVE AN ART LIFE – REALITIES & REVELATIONS OF BEING AN ARTIST
Please welcome Tony Hooke to the Gingernut Express artist interviews. Tony is a tonalist landscape painter specialising in the medium of egg tempera. His evocative artworks are inspired by the Australian bush. I met Tony many years ago at a Sketch Club and I have always been impressed by his knowledge and dedication to his work. He loves the chaos and disorder of the Australian bushland and manages to artfully organise this chaos into moody and mysterious landscapes. His chosen medium, tempera, gives his work a hazy atmosphere that adds drama to the artworks. He is an artist who is very much connected to the landscapes he paints. Painting from his property just north of Goulburn, he brings to life all that is magical about the bush. He often dismisses his dedication to his work, but it is easy to see that the results come from years of fine tuning his methods and style. This interview gives you some insights into his art and his love and dedication for translating his continued romance with the Australian bush.
Where you always a creative person?
I guess so. From as early as I can remember, it seemed natural to be always making things. I seem to have been singled out by family, friends, teachers and the like as a bit different!
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve never been been comfortable referring to myself as an artist, I prefer the term painter as that is mostly what I do and what I have pretty much always done. I’m not sure why really, it has just seemed natural to do so.
Where do you make your art?
I mostly work in the studio that I built on my bush block, north of Goulburn. The place is off grid so all the work is done under natural light. I still retain my studio/gallery in Petersham and it is interesting to compare the the work from the bush with that of the city where I can work under studio lighting.
Where do you store your paintings?
Storage is always a problem. I’ve often maintained that art is a form of pollution! The gallery in Petersham has very limited space, though I have managed to find nooks and crannies under stairs and by creating false walls etc. I have always resisted storing off site as one can lose touch with the work. The advantage of the bush studio is the ability to more easily create extra space.
How do you plan your art making?
This question made me think a bit. I seldom plan a work with preliminary drawings or the like. Even if I do, the outcome rarely bears much resemblance to the original plan.
Mostly, I approach the board or paper directly with a general idea that has evolved from observation or followed on from a previous work. The image then gradually evolves, taking it’s own course, often nothing like the original concept but eventually being somehow true to the environment I’ve been working with in.
What mediums and materials do you use?
Egg tempera has been my preferred medium for some time now. I enjoy the process of making and the control one has over the quality of the medium. It is a relatively ancient, simple to make and durable medium. The paint is mixed as required [it does not keep over for long] from mostly naturally occurring pigments which I buy as dry pigment powder. I use a fairly limited palette, often restricted to burnt sienna, terre verte, yellow ochre, ultra marine, zinc oxide and black oxide. Sometimes I will break out and add other pigments into the range if I do, they will usually be a naturally occurring one. The actual medium is egg yoke slightly diluted with water which I keep in a small plastic squeeze bottle for easy use. I keep small quantities of the pigment mixed with water to a smooth paste in air tight jars so that it mixes readily with the egg medium when required.
Tempera prefers a smooth rigid surface, stretched canvas isn’t generally suitable. I make a traditional rabbit skin glue and calcite or whiting gesso to prepare the timber panel, generally a marine ply or MDF panel, as tempera won’t adhere well to the commercial acrylic gessoes.
Some of the qualities I enjoy about this medium are the quiet translucency and luminosity that it seems to impart, the quick drying time, the ability to work up the underlying colour and the ability to rub back and burnish the surface.
What is the focus of your art practice?
My immediate surroundings have become my primary focus. The reason for moving to a bush block was to live in my subject matter. My current work reflects an ongoing fascination with the landscape under low light which accentuates its abstract qualities and creates a heightened sense of mystery. The romance of water holes in the late evening and the speculation around natural pathways are recurring themes.
How do you schedule your time?
When I was teaching I had to be disciplined and try to be a little selfish with my time. Evenings and weekend afternoons were my opportunities if family matters didn’t impinge. Now my time can be more my own, I don’t have a regular routine. I still have to be disciplined, there are so many distractions in life.
Do you like to work in complete silence or do you have music or other things playing in the background?
I like to have music playing in the background when I work preferably something classical and familiar. Unfamiliar pieces or voices can be distracting.
Where do you show/sell your art?
At my studio/gallery in Petersham, but now only by appointment as I spend most of my time in the bush.
Also from exhibitions at other galleries. I recently had a show at Weswal Gallery in Tamworth where I used to teach.
I am also a member of the Outliers group along with Kristine Ballard, Peter Porteous and Melony Smirniotis. We have had regular group shows, most recently at the Shop Gallery in Glebe.
I also have work listed on my website www.tonyhooke.com.au
How do you pay the bills? How do you balance your art making income and out goings with other income?
I never had the expectation of making my primary income from my art making, preferring instead to maintain a parallel career that was compatible with it. With a family to support , I wanted a steady dependable income. I taught art in High Schools for many years. It was a rewarding career and I was able to maintain my art practice and exhibit fairly regularly.
The downside of the parallel career is, of course, the lost of “art time” but I balanced that against notion that to make a living from my art I would be under pressure to churn out works for people to buy rather than being free to explore.
When I left teaching I established a Studio/Gallery as a venue to show my work and that of fellow artists. No road to riches but rewarding.
How do you keep motivated? When you do hit a flat spot how do you get over it?
The surrounding landscape is a constant source of inspiration though works can still get “stuck”. If is serious, I put it away for a while. Otherwise I leave it up where I can see it while I work on something else. I generally have several works on the go at once as there is a greater likelihood of over thinking or over working a piece if I concentrate solely on one.
If I reach a really flat spot I will work on a completely different project that will take me into a different mind set with a different set of problems. I like working with wood, so designing and making a piece of furniture or even making some frames will give my head a break from painting.
How do you tackle social media in the new ‘self promotion’ arena we find ourselves in.
I have a website but rarely engage in social media. Self promotion causes me great discomfort so I avoid it as best I can.
What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
Being satisfied with what you produce. Dealing with the expectations involved with the previous question.
What would you say is the best thing about your art life?
Being able to make my own worlds for my imagination to inhabit.
What is one thing you would recommend to others struggling to get more art in their life?
Make the time.
Where can others see your work?
For more details about Tony’s work check out www.tonyhooke.com.au
Check out more artist interviews here
These monthly instalments are a sneak peak into how other artists I know build an art life and maintain a creative existence. I hope you will jump on board as we take a few trips beyond the easle on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!
The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com
© Kristine Ballard 2020