Published: 13 December 2018
Robert Kelsey is one of Scotland's most accomplished and popular landscape painters working today. We have enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Robert and we at Thompson's Gallery have presented over 25 solo exhibitions of Robert's work since our first meeting.
Audiences recognize the artist's distinctive style, accomplished technique and brilliant use of colour. Kelsey enjoys painting landscapes both locally in Scotland and further afield, having traveled to Italy, France, and even the Caribbean for inspiration and subject matter. Thompson's Gallery are proud to present this exclusive interview with the celebrated Scottish painter. We hope you enjoy the insight!
Thompson's Gallery: Do you have any studio rituals or superstitions?
Robert Kelsey: Our only real ritual is that of having a quiet hour with a coffee first thing every morning.
This eases me into the day before heading out to my studio.
TG: Your technique is very accomplished and distinctively your own. What guides your decisions at the easel?
RK: Nowadays I am driven by exhibition deadlines and pressure from various galleries to supply new works. Fortunately I thrive on pressure and many of my best works have been produced in this tight timeframe.
If starting a new work I prefer to have it composed and ready to paint before going into my studio in the morning.
I have a fabulous Architect designed studio to the rear of our house which is my sanctuary, and I feel at peace when I am out there. There is no better place to be on a freezing winter day, when I can work at my easel in comfort while enjoying the wildlife and bird activity a few feet away through the large windows.
I work almost exclusively in oils on linen these days, so the painting area in my studio is all set up for this.
My colour palette hasn't changed much in the past ten years and I have an almost instinctive relationship with my choice of colours.
I often tell people who invite me to explain my painting technique that I don't work in any textbook manner. Traditional methods of oil painting, such as staining the white canvas brown before applying the first proper brush strokes, don't really appeal to me. I like the brilliant white canvas. I love applying luscious creamy paint directly on to this, and allowing the light to shine through, creating luminescence. As a landscape artist I tend to paint the sky first before gradually moving closer to the foreground.
TG: Does your process have any established pattern, ie sketching beforehand or resisting pattern in total?
RK: I work from sketches and studies established on location. These provide the guide for working out my composition which I usually complete using charcoal, unless it involves a more complicated subject, like a Venetian scene, when I will use pencil.
TG: What is your favorite location to paint, and why?
RK: I am well known for my love of painting the beautiful coastlines of Western Scotland. My Father was born on the Hebridean Isle of Barra, so the Western Isles are in my blood. What is less well known is my love of painting architecture and city paintings. I adore painting London, especially along the Thames at Hammersmith or Westminster. Venice is a joy to paint. A few years ago we stayed on a small island called San Clemente, in the Venetian Lagoon, about 20 minutes by water taxi from St Marks Square. This allowed me to be on the water several times a day, observing the light against buildings such as Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal. Another favourite painting location is Barbados in the Caribbean. Gorgeous beaches and turquoise water.
TG: Do you ever experience 'painters' block'? How do you overcome it?
RK: Fortunately no. I have plenty of inspiration for new works in my studies and sketchbooks. I don't believe painting every single day is beneficial so I elect to have a day off now and again, in order to stay fresh.
If I choose not to paint on a particular day I have lots of other things I can do. I hate being idle so it isn't long till I find myself absorbed in a project of some kind, going for a game of golf, or I picking up my guitar.
TG: Do you listen to music while you paint? If so, what is your favorite genre or band to play in the studio?
RK: Music is very important to me and I can't imagine life without it. Painting is a very solitary business so having music in my studio is essential. I have a very broad taste in music. Classical music, especially the Baroque period, is my favourite. I have recently started appreciating Baroque Operas by composers such as Handel and Rameau. Having said that I often listen to Jazz or Scottish or Irish Folk Music. I have a passion for Classical guitar music and my lifetime hero is the guitarist Julian Bream.
TG: What advice do you have for young aspiring artists?
RK: Don't expect success on a plate. It is easier to get hung in a gallery today than it was when I was a young artist, but you still have to be prepared to build up knowledge and experience. Study the works of artists you admire. Try to find a mentor and pick their brains.
Don't be greedy, it takes time to become established, so get there gradually.
TG: Do you have any other talents outside of your artistic ability?
RK:I started playing the guitar when I was a young student and I still play regularly. Mainly Classical pieces by Sor, Dowland, Narvaez and Bach. I have two beautiful nylon strung Classical guitars, one by Ramirez, and a steel string accoustic guitar by Guild.
TG: How have you changed in style and approach to painting across your career?
RK: From time to time I find my early paintings coming up in Auction Houses and I am amazed at how different they appear from my current works. In the 60's and early 70's I was more abstract in my compositions. Expressionist and free. I composed more from imagination and used geometric patterns and textures in my landscapes and seascapes. These works preceded my trips to France and Spain in the late 80's. Once I started visiting the Continent, especially Italy, I became more interested in capturing the beauty of what I was seeing in a more accurate manner. I also think the influence of different artists have an impact on ones technique. I started to become aware of the works of early 20th century English artist Edward Seago and fell in love with his atmospheric paintings of East Anglia and Italy. I would say the biggest influence on my colour has come from the Scottish Colourists SJ Peploe and FCB Cadell who's paintings of Iona produced in the 1930's are still a daily inspiration to me.
TG: Artificial intelligence can now produce paintings, some of which sell to human buyers - what do you make of this?
RK: Artists have to face so much competition in today's fickle marketplace the last thing we need are "robots" taking up wall space in Galleries. When I am faced with this scenario I shall have no hesitation about pulling out his plug.