Published on 11 May 2020

This week, for our 4th chat, we are absolutely delighted to introduce an artist of stellar reputation.

Specialising in the depiction of wildlife within the landscape, and with works displayed in several prestigious collections, at home and abroad (Paris, Singapore, USA and Japan), including recently a purchase by Lord Palmer of Manderston House, our man is also a recipient of many awards and a Member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA).

So, with no further ado, we will be

Painting the wild
with Chris Rose

Chris, sketching a ptarmigan

Chris, Hi,  

I’m missing seeing you already 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 Uganda where I lived until the age of 6. My father worked in the tea business there. I spent the rest of my youth in Surrey and then went on to read Biology at Nottingham University. On graduating, and unable to find a job in biology, I was offered a one-year post as an illustrator for the Dorset Heritage Coast Project, now part of the larger Jurassic Coast of South West England.  At the end of this year I knew that there was nothing else I wanted than to be an artist. With a second-hand drawing board bought for £15 and some basic artist’s materials, I set myself up as a freelance artist and illustrator, and I have been doing it now for nearly 40 years.

Apart from the time you spend as a professional artist, do you also have another occupation, such as part time lecturer/tutor?

I have been lucky enough to be able to support myself purely as an artist for all these years so I have no other occupation, although, recently, I have done a little wildlife tour-leading for a British-based tour company. The main reason for this is it gives me the opportunity to visit some exciting places I have never seen before, and to get paid to do it!

Where do you work? Do you have a studio/workshop? Tell us a little about this special place.

I have a purpose built studio in the garden, or as my wife likes to call it, a “shed”. It measures about 3m x 6m, has a bank of north-facing windows and looks out across a small dean behind my house. From here I can watch birds, deer and occasionally foxes. It is a space in which I spend a large part of my waking life. It has my easel at one end, and a drawing board at the other, but is otherwise slightly overcrowded with a large plans chest, bookshelves, cupboards and draws and a small printing press. I have a hi-fi system, a telephone and daylight fluorescent lights for the winter and for dull days and late nights! It is my home from home, at home. 

How has the lockdown affected your time in the studio/workshop?

My studio time is almost unaffected by the lockdown; if anything I will spend more time in there. Artists like me who work from home are extremely lucky in that regard. There is no excuse for time off! 

Describe a “typical” approach to your work practice

As a wildlife artist my inspiration comes from being in the countryside and from seeing or experiencing the natural world. I head out into the field with paints and sketchbooks looking for new material. This is often the hardest part of the process, although sometimes it can be the easiest! If I see something that really moves me and thrills me visually, I can’t wait to get started. I will make a field sketch, getting down the colours and the light and the main elements of a scene in paint. This is my main reference. I will also make many pencil sketches of the wildlife, generally birds, that will inhabit the painting or that have inspired it. I take some habitat photographs with a small camera for reference; as an aide memoire and to record details of the landscape I don’t have time to paint en plein air.

Back in the studio I will assess the idea and make small composition sketches to decide the format and size of the studio piece. Then it’s a question of interpreting the idea onto the canvas – a large oil or acrylic might take three or four weeks to finish or more than a month in the case of the Winter fox.

Are you a “must have total silence” kind of creative person, or do you listen to music whilst working?  

My day is almost always spent in the company of Radio 4! I particularly like radio dramas, comedies, current affairs and environmental programmes. And ‘Sorry I haven’t a clue’!!! If all else fails, I put on music or sometimes just enjoy silence.

What is your fave music you like to work to?

Rock, pop, ‘world’ and some classical. I don’t have a long enough classical music attention span to listen to a whole concert so tend to listen to short pieces and adagios. When a painting is really going well and I’m really fired up, I’ll listen to some great, classic rock tunes: Led Zeppelin, Dylan, Neil Young. I have made some compilations that I like to put on and have categorised them, such as “Chillin'” (some cool music to chill to) or “Rockin'” when I want that extra buzz of adrenalin, with anything from Reggae, Jazz, Blues, Afro-Latino and who knows what in between!

What is the main subject of your inspiration? 

The natural world, but it can be anything from the abstract patterns and shapes found in nature to a particular light or the interplay of colours in the landscape. And by ‘landscape’ I often mean the landscape at my feet – a small patch of grass or the ripples on a sandy beach for example. I don’t often paint the big landscapes; the mountains or the long sweeping bays or the fields. My landscapes are the immediate landscapes of the birds or animals that inhabit them – the small tidal pool or a patch of undergrowth. I see beauty in all of these places; in the often overlooked corners of the landscape.

What medium and techniques do you use to translate your creative ideas? Tell us a little about your creative process.

I mostly work in oils or acrylics. I also dabble a little with lino-prints.

Winter Fox , oil on linen – 132cm x 142cm, framed (purchased by Lord Palmer of Manderston House)

Looking at the history of art in the Western World at least, where would you place yourself, spirit and style wise? 

I am a realist. I am defensive against being called a photo-realist; photo-realism is where a painter, usually with the use of an airbrush, re-creates an image to look exactly like a photograph, with all of the out-of-focus blurry bits in the background.

My paintings are often described as looking like photographs by well-meaning viewers who only mean to compliment, but this stings a little as I would rather people viewed them as representations of the real world. Actually they are interpretations of a sort of reality – they never represent an exact moment in time and place like a photograph, they are an edited and adapted version of reality made to look convincing. I will emphasise certain parts and edit out others to better convey the things about the subject that first inspired me.

Some people have ‘studio pets’. Do you have one? What’s their ‘contribution’ to your creativity?

Not really, although one of our cats likes to come in and sit on a studio chair for an afternoon (I think she likes the afternoon play on Radio 4!). Her contribution to creativity? – none; only the occasional muddy paw print in a sketchbook.

What did you do at first to try and adjust to  this new ‘lockdown’ situation? 

With the source of new inspiration shut off from me (i.e. roaming in the countryside) I have been rifling through old field sketchbooks looking for ideas that never quite made it to the easel or into a picture frame and seeing if there is mileage in them after all.

What is your favourite pastime? Has the pandemic impacted on your ability to enjoy this?

I don’t have a particular favourite pastime, but almost all of my pastimes involve being outdoors: sea-kayaking, cycling, walking, tennis, snorkelling and scuba-diving, and riding my 1300cc sports-tourer motorbike!

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 am not one who can sit still during the day – even if the sun is not shining, I could never sit down and read a book or watch television (with the exception of the Wimbledon finals, the Six Nations or Rugby World Cup). The weather would have to be pretty awful to keep me inside and even then there are always DIY projects to be done in the house.

I have enjoyed so many books I’m not sure I could pick one out as a favourite. Recently I have enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver novels – I love her writing style and she often has interesting environmental messages underpinning her stories with which I empathise. I did really enjoy Sebastian Faulke‘s Bird Song but would I put that as a favourite novel? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell? No – I can’t chose!

What about films? What is your favourite film of all?

This will probably horrify many people but Pulp Fiction is one of my favourite, if not the favourite film of all time. I enjoyed the clever way Tarrantino weaves different strands of the same story into different timelines. The script is excellent and often very funny; the characters are all well drawn, extremely varied, somewhat eccentric but still believable; and the acting is superb – in particular Samuel L Jackson and a ‘re-born’ John Travolta. The two share some great conversational and slightly bizarre dialogue together. If you can cope with the gore and the cheapening of human life (true to real life in the sort of world these characters inhabit) then it is a great watch. And the soundtrack is brilliant!

Grey wagtail, oil on linen – 111cm x 96cm, framed
(very recently selected for the prestigious North America’s wildlife art exhibition ‘Birds in Art’ ;

Tell us of one of the most beautiful or happy moments in your life?

Getting married to my wife Donja on a beach on the island of Coll!

Who is up there in your esteem in terms of artistic excellence? What is/are your favourite artist(s)?

This is an almost impossible question to answer! There are and have been so many great artists, working in so many different media and styles, that it’s hard to pick out one or two favourites. There is so much fantastic art out there in all genres, it would take many lifetimes to explore and appreciate it all. For example, a friend recently introduced me to some Russian painters who are far less well-known in the west but are equally as brilliant in their own way as our more familiar European masters.
However, if really pushed, I would have to put John Singer-Sargent right up there. I’m lucky enough to live only an hour away from the National Gallery in Edinburgh, home to one of the greatest works, in my opinion, he ever did: a portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw. Not only is his handling of paint sublime, but he has captured in her face such subtle nuances of character and mood that one can sit for hours trying to work out what she was thinking at the time. They say the Mona Lisa has an enigmatic smile, but have a good look at this painting by Singer Sargent and you can imagine all sorts of private emotions playing out behind those smouldering eyes.
I’m also a fan of many contemporary painters: Ken HowardDavid Curtis (who captures light so beautifully), and many of my peers in the wildlife art world.

Jewels of sunlight, acrylic on paper – 66cm x 86cm framed

Any pet hate? – we all have one, it’s OK to say it.

Pickled beetroot. Liver. That’s two.

I don’t have pet hates as such. Plenty of things annoy me but these change as one moves through life. I don’t know if either of the following two things class as pet hates, like people sniffing or using poor grammar, but at the moment the two things that upset me a lot are:

i) Shooting defenceless wild birds for sport, including the indiscriminate slaughter of migratory birds (e.g. swallows, turtle doves and birds of prey) for target practice by heartless ‘sports shooters’ in Italy, Spain and, in particular, Malta. Sadly, in Scotland, we’re not much better with the anachronistic Victorian pastime of driven grouse shooting, which is responsible for the illegal killing of birds of prey, the annual slaughter of tens of thousands of mountain hares (not for sport but just to increase grouse numbers to be shot at and killed later in the year) and much appalling environmental degradation of our uplands by muirburn as one example.

ii) Donald Trump.

As a painter, do you have a favourite colour?

The colour that is almost always on my palette is cerulean blue – it’s a wonderfully versatile colour that can mix with almost any other pigment to create a whole range of great colours. I wouldn’t want to paint it on my walls though!

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 do enjoy cooking and I’d say I’m OK at it, but I have to be in the mood. After a full day painting and being creative, sometimes the last thing I want to do is spend a long time and a lot of thinking to be creative in the kitchen. However, I do a mean lasagne and quite a good mushroom paté en croûte, even though I say so myself!

What are you exploring at the moment, artistically speaking?

Until the lockdown kicked in, I had ear-marked this year to explore plein air oil painting. My field work has always been done in acrylics but I admire the looser style of many plein air landscape oil painters and I want to move away a little from my very realistic style to something tentatively more impressionistic. A good friend is the American painter James Coe, who produces the most wonderful little plein air oils and who also paints wildlife in the landscape, and I want to explore this way of working. That is a little on hold at the moment although I guess I could stand in the garden and practice.  

What makes you laugh/cry?

Funny things and sad things… Difficult question. I do love the British sense of humour and the coronavirus lockdown has inspired the most wonderfully funny posts on social media – it has brought out the best in people in so many ways, and the worst. The Dutch actually have a similar humour to ours. We have a good Dutch friend who lives in Holland but whom we first met on Papa Westray of all places. In the course of our early conversions we said we have a Dutch neighbour – “Oh!” he says, “So have I”!!!

 What is your favourite tipple?

G&T has to be right up there, but depends on my mood. A nice glass of Argentinian Malbec goes down well too and I would never turn down a nice champagne, not that I’m offered one that frequently. Or, more modestly, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But you can’t beat a good single-cask malt at the end of the evening – and I’m not particularly fussy about which one, although I’ll have a Speyside if you’ve got one thank you very much. Or a Highland Park, or a Bruichladdich, or a….  

What is your “naughty but nice” comfort?
I always like to have a box of maltesers in the studio.

If you could travel, where would you go?
Costa Rica, go back to Antarctica (I’ve been twice), go sea-kayaking with Orcas in Vancouver Sound, or just visit the west coast of Scotland – there is often no finer place to be.

Winter Moorhen, acrylic on panel – 76cm x 106cm framed

Finally, going forward, what would you hope we could learn as society/humans from this pandemic. What is your message to the world? 

There are many things we can learn from this pandemic, but a key one for me is that it should teach us we can and should slow down, as individuals and perhaps more importantly as a species.

Our world, our society, is driven by economists. We are told we have to have growth. Do we, really? Growth ultimately means using up the planet’s natural resources at an ever increasing pace, and for what? To be able to make more stuff faster so we can throw it away faster and in greater quantities; to pollute our oceans more quickly with more stuff, more plastic disposable rubbish that we actually don’t really need to survive or to lead contented lives; to cut down more rainforests; to bring more species to extinction faster; to warm our planet even more quickly than we are doing now. What is the end game of this constant need for economic growth if it is not ultimately to kill ourselves off as a species and take many others with us?

The huge irony of this pandemic is our sudden fascination with the much talked about exponential growth curve of the virus. I have yet to see anyone compare these growth curves with the same exponential growth curve of our own human population. Any O-level or Standard grade biology student will tell you all unchecked population growths in nature follow the same pattern, whether it’s a bacterial culture on a laboratory agar plate, a viral pandemic or the human population. All have their own finite resources; the amount of agar nutrient within the petri-dish; the number of animals available for a virus to infect; the finite resources of a planet. The one certainty in every case is that after that initial, exponential, rapid growth, the curve crashes downwards. I believe the vast majority of people view our species as somehow separate from the rest of the natural world, shielded from the natural forces that govern every other living thing on the planet. Many believe that our superior brains will protect us from the worst of disasters and from extinction. Once again the irony is that it is our superior brains that are blindly propelling us to extinction though greed. I hope that this pandemic might give cause for many to think again. It is a cruel lesson on a human level, but as a species it is one we have to learn.

We have already born witness to environmental benefits of a global lockdown. The water in the canals of Venice have become clear for the first time in living memory because there are no tourists so fewer people are polluting the waterways; towns and cities are recording hugely reduced air pollution levels; wildlife is enjoying a lack of disturbance and is better able to thrive. However, one wildlife atrocity being perpetrated by our species that I really hope will end as a direct result of this pandemic is the trade in wildlife for bush-meat and oriental medicines. It is almost certain that this virus, along with many others like the annual flu viruses, pretty much all stem from wildlife markets in Asia. China and Vietnam in particular are responsible for the decimation and probable extinction of many of our endangered mammals, including tigers, elephants, rhinos, pangolins and many others. They are illegally trapped or killed to satisfy a new craze amongst the burgeoning oriental middle-classes who see the meat from wildlife as a delicacy and who buy their ground up bones and other body parts for spurious medicinal benefits. I hope and pray that when this pandemic is over there will be a huge international clamour to force these countries to ensure a complete ban on the trade in wildlife.

On a more human level we are re-discovering some of the simpler pleasures of life; speaking to friends and relatives more often because we suddenly have the time to do it; baking bread (if you can get hold of flour and yeast!); if you’re lucky enough to have a garden – making the most of it and growing your own food.

The digital age has brought so many amazing benefits, but it has also accelerated the pace of work and ‘growth’ and has meant we lead our lives under an enormous pressure to keep up. Does it really matter so much if that e-mail doesn’t get answered within the first few minutes of it arriving? Does that package really have to get delivered the very next day? Let us learn from this experience that perhaps our frenetic pace of modern life, driven by economists’ need for growth, is actually not completely necessary and that, just maybe, our lives would be calmer and happier if we all slowed down a bit.

THANK YOU so much CHRIS for sharing these thoughts with us.
You’ve been most informative, inspiring – and fun! 

 I hope our readers enjoyed listening to you. I, for my part, certainly feel I now know you better still and will be able to appreciate your fabulous paintings on a much deeper level. Thank you!

If you want to know more about the paintings shown in this email, please CLICK HERE

 However, please note that Chris’s work is in great demand. These paintings are, therefore, shown here purely for an illustrative purpose as they are all already spoken for. Chris, however, will be creating a couple of new paintings specially for the White Fox Gallery as soon as it becomes possible for him to set off into the wild, in search of new inspiration. 

Feel free to send us any comments/questions at  CONTACT US

Thank you for reading and please do stay safe!

ps.: Our next episode of THE FULL PICTURE will be published on Wednesday 13th May 2020

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