Figuratively speaking, Maureen could be watching you!
In this edition of ‘Spotlight’, I’m talking to talented landscape and figurative painter, Maureen Monteath. Maureen has been painting for many years and has enjoyed a rewarding and successful career.
When did you decide to pursue art as a career? Is it your main job?
I have always been passionate about art from early memory. I’m still teaching painting techniques at 67! That’s just one day a week as it’s a lot of work and of course the rest of the time I’m painting. I also do a few workshops in the Summer; it helps me keep my car on the road! I do enjoy it. Everyone is creative, you see….if someone enjoys looking at paintings then the chances are they can paint; they just need a bit of direction and to be shown how! I think it’s very thereputic; it’s like the way golf is for some men….a bit of escape!
You mention in your Biography that until 2000 your art consisted mainly of landscapes; what prompted the shift towards figurative art after this?
I began painting landscapes around 1995 after spending a few summers touring Northern Scotland. I did landscapes for a long time as I was doing a lot of travelling up north and was just bowled over by the scenery. The wild beauty and ever changing light inspired me. The landscapes sold really well in the galleries up North so I just kept going! Then I suddenly got fed up because at this point I was just churning them out. I didn’t have the passion there for them; I have to have a passion for what I’m doing before it becomes exciting. So then I started on the figurative work which takes a lot longer and is a lot more difficult! I start off with one figure and then start to add other figures and to develop a narrative; the imagination kicks off after I’ve started the work. I tend to take figures I’ve drawn and place them within a different settings then let imagination do the rest.
Many of your pieces seem to have a story unfolding behind them; where do you get your inspirations for these narratives? Are they based on real experiences or do you just have a very active imagination?
I observe people, facial expressions and movement without realising it. I carry a sketch book everywhere I go.The other night I was at a wedding and sitting there drawing people! I do that all the time; I can’t help it! I suppose people might consider me to be a vouyer? I’m often secretly watching people and drawing them! Then I incorporate them into my paintings and let my imagination go.
‘Boozing At The Nappy’ is basically how they used to drink in old Edinburgh in the nineteenth century; I did a lot of research into Edinburgh’s history as it fascinates me. I decided to do a bigger painting of that work; ‘Boozing At The Nappy’ basically translates as ‘drinking in the pub’! I did a series of paintings around old Edinburgh’s history and Robert Burns’ poems – these were bought by the National Library Of Scotland. (Editor’s note: see question below!).
The National Library Of Scotland bought two illustration works that you produced as books! Bravo! How did these works come about? Was the commission to produce the works as books or did you come up with that idea?
When I was doing a post-grad art course I decided to do some illustrations as part of it rather than just paintings.
I wanted to illustrate something Scottish so I chose two different areas as I mentioned before; Edinburgh history and Robert Burns’ poetry. I decided to illustrate those themes and the National Library Of Scotland heard about them. They buy fine art books if they’re originals so they bought them, which was great! They’re one-off pieces. I did a lot of engraving and etching on the old-fashioned presses and the books are created with original copper etchings.
With your landscape painting and some of your Edinburgh paintings, how do you capture the scene? Do you use photographs, sketches, your memory or do you paint on site?
I use photographs for reference. I do lots of little drawings in cafes from my car or on site depending on weather. These are essential for finished work.
How long does a piece take you from concept to finished painting and do you find you gain more satisfaction from a longer piece which had become a ‘project’?
Figurative work is more time consuming and more difficult than landscape work. Some pieces take months, others weeks. I do gain more satisfaction from paintings which take me longer to do, such as figurative paintings, because there’s so much more going into it. You need to come up with a lot of imagination, do a lot of research and all that takes time. So you do feel more satisfied at the end!
‘When The Saints’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Summertime Blues’ look like they were painted in New Orleans! What was the inspiration behind these works and are you a jazz fan? Do you like to capture aspects of your personality in your art?
I think my personality is in all my art. I love all music; it touches the soul!
Do people who buy your art feel a personal affinity with the subject or scene? Do they respond in a way that you expect or are you ever surprised by their reactions?
My paintings usually draw people into the scene. Everyone reacts differently depending on the image.
Any tips on how to get your art into galleries that other artists might find useful?
I exhibit as much as possible. Artists need the public to see their work! I have never painted for fashion. I don’t stay in one area; I paint what I feel passionate about.
Some galleries reject me, other galleries like my work. To get work into galleries, I tend to just pick up the paintings I can carry, drive into town and walk them round the galleries I want to show in! That way they get to see it first-hand which is lacking in an email.You need to be quite brave to do that because there is rejection sometimes if you just turn up but then sometimes not; it’s a gamble you take. I paint now because I want to and because I’m passionate about it, not because I want to make money. So any money is a bonus to an already big passion!
How have you found the recent recession with regards to your work as an artist? Have you struggled or have you not noticed much of an impact?
I think the recent recession has had a major effect on both galleries and artists. Prices for good work are below average. Many galleries have closed. With my landscapes, I had quite a lot of success with the galleries in the north of Scotland – mainly I think because of the tourists visiting the area; tourists like landscapes! With my figurative work it’s been far more difficult. I’ve only got one or two figurative paintings into galleries. I think figurative work is not so fashionable; so much of what some galleries will accept and show is to do with fashion. Not many will show your work for the sake of it.
What is the best aspect of being an artist and what do you love about it?
Art is the love of my life. I am 67 years old and still feel the excitement of beginning a new work. There is great fulfilment and joy when I get it right. If I couldn’t paint I would just fade away!
What are you working on next? Any future plans or projects in the pipeline that we should look out for?
At present I am absorbed in figurative work, “People and Places”. I paint whatever touches me emotionally.
I’d like to thank Maureen for her friendly chat and allowing us into her thoughts regarding her work and art. We wish her all the very best for the future and great continued success….and if you’d like to have a closer look at her imaginative, thought-provoking work, take a look at her website: