Having taken a short break to launch our 1st ONLINE ONLY exhibition (Online Spring Exhibition), we are now resuming our Artists chats.
To kick off this week, we are delighted to introduce you to a professional artist with a particular penchant for flower paintings. However, these are no ordinary flower paintings! So, let’s take a new twist on Flower Power with GREER RALSTON
Flower Power with Greer Ralston
Greer, Hi, I’m starting to really missing seeing you and all of our artists, but hope you are well and keeping safe. Just to inform our friends out there, could you say a few words about yourself? I was born in Stirling but brought up in the countryside of the Carron Valley near Fintry. As a child, I was given a gift of a watercolour box after a presentation for the late lord Wheatley and have painted ever since. Later on, I attended the Glasgow School of Art, graduating in Drawing and Painting in the late 80’s and shortly afterwards was awarded the prestigious Greenshields International Scholarship for figurative art. I have worked for the last 33 years as an artist, exhibiting in many galleries including the National Portrait Gallery in London. Throughout my career, I have supported many charities and have had several portrait commissions auctioned by Christies, London. I am passionate about using my art work to help fund charities and I am at present working on the Portraits For NHS Frontline Staff. This project was set up by portrait painter Tom Croft where a frontline worker gets nominated to have their portrait painted free of charge. The consultant I am painting is a young woman, whom I have known since she was a very small child, so this is a deeply emotional painting for me to work on as she is continually putting her life at risk to save others, as are so many other amazing NHS people.
Apart from the time you spend as a professional artist, do you also have other occupations, such as part time lecturer/tutor? I taught as a lecturer for 25 years at Forth Valley College, covering everything from special needs classes to degree level. I now run a few private classes including Life Drawing , Portrait and also flower painting classes in the garden…..”Art in the Garden”. Obviously, these have been stopped for the time being.
Where do you work? Do you have a studio/workshop? Tell us a little about this special place. I paint mainly in the studio at the bottom of my garden surrounded by flowers; it is walled and very private. When working on large scale work, I rent a large barn but it is very difficult to work there when it is freezing cold, in the winter.
How has the lockdown affected your time in the studio/workshop? It is quite difficult to lose yourself in painting beautiful things when so much pain and grief is going on. Other than that I am painting a lot more as I have no teaching at the moment.
Describe a “typical” approach to your work practice I tend to paint every day, taking breaks to get some exercise or walk the dogs. I often work late into the night, if I am in the middle of something, so it is not unusual for me to work all night.
Are you a “must have total silence” kind of creative person, or do you listen to music whilst working? I occasionally listen to music but prefer silence when working late at night. Depending on the mood I am in when I am working, the music can vary from classical to country, with a bit of current stuff in there too. If I am having a struggle with a piece, I am much more likely to listen to someone like Beethoven, but, if it is going swimmingly well, I might have some Dolly Parton on. When I work late into the night though, I prefer complete silence as I find I can concentrate really well thinking that everyone around is asleep. But I do get the occasional fright when I am deep in concentration and the neighbour’s cat jumps on to the roof of the studio which often results in my brushes going flying!
What is your fave music you like to work to? What did you listen to, last? … My favourites … Nina Simone, Scottish artist Terry Neason & Sarah McLachlan. Terry Neason. (who is a personal friend) is the one I listened to last.
What is the main subject of your inspiration? My first love was the figure, being inspired by artists such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt, and also fascinated by the movement and power of the body. When painting flowers, it is also easy to get lost in the folds of the petals etc in the same way that you do when painting the curves of the body. My intention is to closely examine the structure and shapes of flowers, rather than to paint them as a subject of domestic decoration. I feel like an insect, wandering over the surface, in the same way as someone may walk through a rocky ravine and the landscape changes with the different types of flowers.
What medium and techniques do you use to translate your creative ideas? Tell us a little about your creative process. Initially I do sketches and watercolours working directly from life, then I move on to oils using photographs as back up. When working on a canvas, I start loosely with a large brush to form the composition, then build up many layers using thin glazes of paint …to create the final structure and detail. This is a slow painstaking process as each layer has to completely dry before the next application. The first stage of underpainting is to establish the shape and tones making sure I have the darks strong enough to give strength and form. The next stage is about applying the colour, then I move onto the thin layers, mixing the paint with mediums such as a glaze medium or liquin which allows me to gradually build up the detail.
Looking at the history of art in the Western World at least, where would you place yourself, spirit and style wise? I am extremely interested in Women’s Art History and the use of domestic subject matter such as still life/flowers….I would love to continue the work of artists like O’Keeffe in portraying them in a monumental way, taking the work to another dimension .
Some people have ‘studio pets’. Do you have one? What’s their ‘contribution’ to your creativity? My two whippets Bella and Bunty are constant companions …they are much better at keeping the time than me.
What did you do at first to try and adjust to this new ‘lockdown’ situation? I had to try and limit looking at the News as I found it too upsetting to concentrate.
What is your favourite pastime? Has the pandemic impacted on your ability to enjoy this? I love to walk in the hills and have a project to build a log cabin where I have old stables in the country, where I grew up.
Can you while away the hours with a “good book”? or do you need to do something more active. Any particular title you would recommend as a “must read once in a lifetime”? I don’t read as much as I used to, but at the moment I am reading a fascinating book about the artist Rosa Bonheur, called Art Is A Tyrant What about films? What is your favourite film of all? Dangerous Liaisons is up there as one of my favourite films ever. I love the settings and the opulence of the costumes coupled with dramatic lighting in the film. The characters in the film are caught up in a romantic Machiavellian plot which backfires and, there are so many twists in the plot as it unfolds. I recently met an actress who played the role on stage, that Glenn Close played in the film, and it was fascinating hearing how she got into character for it.
Tell us of one of the most beautiful or happy moments in your life? I have bred, ridden and competed on horses all of my life and, over the years, have judged several hunter classes. This is both nerve-wracking and rewarding, as I usually have to ride 50/60 horses in one day and so far I’ve lived to tell the tale!! Riding horses you do not know can be very dangerous as they do not always respond well to someone new on their back.
What inspires you in life and in art? Inspiration….people and nature
Who is up there in your esteem in terms of artistic excellence? What is/are your favourite artist(s)? Two of my favourite artists from the past are Rembrandt and Georgia O’Keeffe. Rembrandt for his insight into the human condition and O’Keeffe for her single minded dedication to her work. Currently, Jenny Saville is also up there with the greats. I first saw her work at her degree show and have admired the strength and impact of her work ever since. I can identify with O’Keeffe as she had a need for isolation and needed to be away from people. As I was brought up in the country I spent many hours wandering around in the hills, often drawing in my sketch pad, and very much enjoyed my own company. As a Gemini I have two sides: one which is very sociable and the other which needs to be very much on its own. The current situation of social isolation I find difficult in that my working time has not changed, but I am very much missing, like everyone else , the chance to see friends and connect.
Any pet hate? – we all have one, it’s OK to say it. Comedic commercial Art.
As a painter, do you have a favourite colour? Crimson
It has been said that creatives are often great cooks as they know how to balance food colours, flavours, texture to create that perfect tastebuds experience, do you like cooking? What is your signature dish? I am not a huge cook but I cook a mean venison steak, with mushrooms and onions. It’s a healthy and easy dish to knock together when I’m busy working in the studio.
What are you exploring at the moment, artistically speaking? As well as continuing to produce floral pieces, at the moment, I am working on a new body of work based on women who inspire me and who, in some way, have touched my life. These portraits/ figurative pieces often incorporate flowers which have different symbolic meanings in each piece.This body of work is allowing me to fuse together my on going love of painting the figure but also including the beauty and rich colours of the floral work. This project is very much evolving with the different characters that I am working with and in many ways is being shaped by their personalities.
What makes you laugh/cry? I have a few friends that I have known for a very long time, and we can sometimes be a bit outrageous when we catch up… so that is probably when I laugh the most.
What makes me cry is cruelty in the world both towards vulnerable people and animals.
What is your favourite tipple? Has to be gin
What is your “naughty but nice” comfort? Gin, again I’m afraid
If you could travel, where would you go? Right now I would love to go to France, Paris in particular. Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world, I love the buildings and the cafés and would love to walk down its bustling streets. It would be great to just be able to sit in a café, have a glass of wine and watch the world go by. Finally, going forward, what would you hope we could learn as society/humans from this pandemic. What is your message to the world? Be kinder to each other and definitely kinder to the planet!
THANK YOU so much, GREER, for sharing these thoughts with us.
I hope our readers would have enjoyed listening to you. I, for myself, find it amazing to see how you manage, time after time, to combine such power, exuberance and beauty all at the same time in your work. It is also most inspiring to hear from an artist who is, single mindedly, dedicating her creativity to challenge concepts of the “feminine”. Thank you.