artist statement

My painting is about responding to particular places which excite me emotionally, which make me feel the need or even compulsion to return to them again and again. They are places which touch me profoundly as I approach them, make me feel as though I belong there.

Different places affect me in different ways, as do different moments in the same place. Consequently, my artistic response tends to vary, producing a range of styles and treatment. But although my work may appear stylistically diverse, it all springs from a common source and reflects the same preoccupations, from the loose semi-abstractions of my Venetian work to the more sharply-defined approach of my sea and landscapes. All my work, however, springs from a common source and reflects the same preoccupations with colour and light. I hope that it is instantly recognisable and distinctive.

Although I paint in both pastels and oils, it is for my pastels that I am best known, a medium which I exploit to achieve vibrancy and intensity. And because light and colour are what interest me, I have always been absorbed by evocative environments such as St Ives and Venice, though I also find inspiration in the landscape around my East Devon home, especially during autumn and winter.

Of these three, the place which has the most powerful hold on me is Venice. When there, I find myself drawn increasingly to the side canals and back alleyways where I spend time absorbing images which return to me later. Sunny weather used to be important, providing brightly-lit facades against a clear blue sky. Now, I find that half-light and misty days yield equally atmospheric subjects. At the same time, I have moved almost exclusively to a portrait format for my paintings, often elongating the height for dramatic effect.

When painting Venice, I normally begin by entirely covering the surface of the ground (fine glass paper on self-adhesive board) with black pastel, then draw an outline to establish the main structure. From there, layers of pastel and fixative are built up to establish the subject, giving it solidity and depth, and in particular defining the direction of light and its intensity. It is as though the day is breaking out of night. Mood is established by colours which may appear unreal. Splashes of hot reds and oranges are sometime used as a counterpoint to the cools of the shadow. Occasional suggestions of architectural detail give credence to the subject whilst dragging pastel over the top of fixative as a final gesture enables me to blur the edges and create a timelessness appropriate to the subject. Strong, dark verticals on one or both sides of the image echo and reinforce the black double frame separated from the surface by a gilt slip. I am frequently told that the frames give the images a jewel-like quality. For me, they complete the work, enabling me to contain and pass on my feelings about the subject.

Over the years, I have had solo shows in galleries throughout the UK and my paintings have been bought for private collections in many countries. My work has been selected for exhibition by the Royal West of England Academy, the South West Academy of Arts, the Pastel Society and Exeter University. It has also been reproduced as fine art prints by Solomon & Whitehead and Buckingham Fine Art.

- robin pickering