Bella Greaves speaks with local artist Alex Snellgrove, about painting, the Blue Mountains, and the cat Frankie. Alex’s portrait of author Helen Pitt was a finalist in last year’s Portia Geach Memorial Award.
Bella: Why do you paint?
Alex: It’s the way I express the intense reactions I have to moments, memories, effects of light or atmosphere. I’m often surprised at the results, because while I’m painting I’m not fully conscious. Sometimes it’s almost as if someone else has done it.
Bella: What’s the most difficult thing with painting?
Alex: Finding your audience - people who not only appreciate what you do, but feel it’s worth paying for. Apart from that, I would say it is so rewarding, there aren’t too many difficulties. Costs, perhaps. Physical limitations, like a frozen shoulder, which I have experienced from painting. Some would say that solving various pictorial problems are difficulties, but I don’t think of them that way.
Bella: That’s very positive. What qualities does a painter need?
Alex: Persistence, focus, a preference for working alone, a sense that what you’re doing is worthwhile, curiosity, playfulness or perhaps an experimental attitude. What appears to be a failure can turn out well if you change your approach.
Bella: It’s interesting, these are qualities of character rather than technical skills.
Alex: Yes. Everyone has moments of doubt, irritation and maybe hopelessness, but a painter has to accept that nothing will happen unless they get back on the horse! (Should that be bike?) You also need to step back and survey the progress of your painting during the process. Maybe for longer than you want to. This is essential.
Bella: What subjects are you drawn to up here?
Alex: Misty roads and the silhouettes of the massive trees. I love the ephemeral nature of mist and fog.
Bella: Has the commercial side of painting changed in the past 20 years?
Alex: Yes, as many well-known galleries have closed, and social media has taken the place of older publishing and publicity media. I think when galleries take a 40 or 50 percent commission, it puts the prices up so high that only the wealthy can afford them. Some artists have decided to do their own publicity, and sell their work through ‘open studios’. There’s been a big trend for extremely large paintings too for some time - you need a big wall and a big house for those! But I notice a counter-trend to smaller artworks recently, so that will be interesting.
Bella: Who are some of your favourite painters?
Alex: Felix Vallotton, Gauguin, Bonnard, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Malherbe, Roland Wakelin. Clarice Beckett, Grace Cossington Smith. They all express quite mundane subjects with great skill. In particular, the light, the composition, and the use of colour is superb.
Bella: One of your paintings was used on the cover of the Blue Mountains crime novel, The Problem with Murder. Who’s the cat?
Alex: Frankie is my model. He’s an enormous tuxedo cat. He’s so big he scarcely fits on my lap!
Bella: What’s the most important thing about the Blue Mountains for you?
Alex: The beautiful fresh mountain air. Also the peace, the beauty, the space.
Bella: Favourite lookout?
Alex: Anvil Rock, down the end of our road.