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Keith Ashcroft: Visual Record of Time and Space

1. Could you tell us about yourself? Where are you based? How does your city shape you as an artist?

For the last five or so years I have been painting in my studio on a daily basis. I have been exploring the possibilities that painting offers me as a visual language and a means of communicating ideas through the making of images.

I’ve lived most of my life in and around Manchester, and its influence on me is unquestionable but difficult to define. Manchester as a city is a product of the industrial revolution and is known for it’s manufacturing and trading industry. This heritage has undoubtedly seeped its way into the very core of its people and has influenced its already rich and diverse community of artists. There seems to be an inherent need to create and make things within the city. For me Manchester is very much a part of who I am as a person and therefore, by association, part of me as an artist.


2. What is a painting for you?

Broadly speaking I see a painting as a visual record of time and space, a language like any other which communicates ideas and provokes feeling through colour, form and content. A painting should be challenging and informative, to entice and impart knowledge which enriches and teaches us something new. Personally I like to see the guts of a painting and to witness how it’s made. A good painting has to be willing and able to withstand the cultural weight of art history, modernism and conceptualism put together, to remain relevant and progressive in an ever-expanding world.


3. Who are the people appearing in your paintings?

The people are anonymous strangers taken from 1970’s and 1980’s found photographs. The people don’t really represent any personal significance to me as individuals, I’m not necessarily interested in who they are, they are merely a means to represent the human form and its relationship within a domesticated space. My interests lie in their general potential for making rich and interesting paintings.


4. How do you choose your subject matter?  How do you deicide about color?

I work mainly from found photographs. Working in this way allows me the freedom to explore endless areas of subject matter. My preferred genre of photography is domesticated scenes taken from the 1970’s & 1980’s. I am interested in the content and what it offers me as a potential starting point. Photographs from this particular period tend to display specific visual qualities that lend themselves to the painting process.

Colour is very important. It has its own vocabulary and has an immediacy that is able to communicate ideas through various associations and references. It has the ability to inform through memory and is able to provoke feeling. The colours I use in my paintings are very much an instinctual response to the subject matter at hand. Choice of colour is also dictated by what the painting requires, what it needs to work as a painting.


5. Do you use photographs as a starting point for your paintings? Could you tell us a bit more about your process?

Yes, very much so. Once I’m fully in the throws of a painting I try to use the photographs as little as possible and only refer to them when really necessary. I try not to limit myself to just one photograph. I like to introduce other elements taken from different photographed sources.

My practice is very much a process-led affair. The physical process of painting for me is the most important part. Most of my interests and motivations rely heavily upon the act of doing. I like to focus my attention on the practicalities that creating a painting offers. I spend a lot of my time developing and experimenting various methods and approaches. For me it’s all about the act of painting and what it offers me as a medium. The subject matter certainly plays its part, but my main concern is led by the process of making and all the things associated with this, all the rest acts as a kind of fuel to encourage and further my interest in painting.

My approach to painting and the processes involved are very much aligned with some traditional methods and techniques. These methods sit alongside some more contemporary and experimental methods. I try to keep an open mind and avoid limiting myself too much to any one specific approach. Experimentation and the ability to keep an open mind are essential parts of the painting process, to keep things fresh and new and for things to be constantly changing and evolving maintains the element of chance and excitement. The painting process is a two-way conversation between artist and painting. Its an intimate relationship with all kinds of exchanges and responses, a back and forth enquiry that eventually leads to a point where nothing else can be said and the painting just either works or it doesn’t.


6. Do you explore other mediums?

Occasionally I will paint the odd watercolour or ink drawing, but my main concern is with exploring the versatility that oil paint offers. It’s ability to lend itself to many different approaches and techniques of painting are second to none. I want to fully explore this potential and the physical properties that oil paint offers me as a means to communicate ideas.


7. It is hard to find information about your paintings online. Is it deliberately?

Yes and no. My online presence, or lack thereof, is a combination of things and more circumstantial rather than a deliberate act of defiance, a pragmatic approach to productivity. Avoiding the engagement of the internet and social media allows me the time to concentrate on the work, free from any unwanted outside distractions, free to explore and develop my practice and focus on painting.