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Ray Johnstone – Painting the Village People

By in Interviews

1 comment

Bacon as Icon by Ray Johnstone

Being an artist

Please give us a few words of introduction about yourself

I am an Australian artist and art teacher, and I live with my wife in an 800 year old house in a tiny medieval village in southwest France. I teach art to the locals and to guests who come to France on our art holidays. I have lived in South Africa, Australia and France, and I have had successful exhibitions in all three countries.

What training have you had?

I was trained at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

Regular successful exhibitions of portraits of the village locals held in the tourist office.

General Questions

What’s your favourite quote?

‘Warts and all.’

When Oliver Cromwell was about to have his portrait painted, he told the artist: “Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me. Otherwise, I will never pay a farthing for it.”

Who is your favourite artist?

Lucien Freud.

What are you aiming for?

To paint portraits of as many of the village people as I can.

How will you get there?

By painting regularly – I have currently painted over 30.

Is anything holding you back?

Painting portraits is one thing, but I’ve also always enjoyed painting nudes. Nude portraits seems to be the answer. It certainly worked for artists like Hockney, Freud and Pearlman. But I’m not in that league anyway and our village is not London, California or New York. It’s not too hard to imagine the local response to an elderly (some would simply say ‘old’) Anglo Saxon male trying to mount an exhibition of nude paintings here in the heart of Gascony, in an isolated medieval village in La France Profonde. Whether I tried to exhibit male, female (or like the coiffures signs that advertise ‘mixed’) nudes of whatever age, there is every possibility that I would find myself shunned, ostracized – or even hounded out of town – by the welcoming, friendly, but very conservative villagers.
Nude with yellow carpet by Ray Johnstone

You and art

What feelings or reactions do you hope to arouse in people who view your work? Are you ever surprised by reactions that you get?

I would like them to be surprised. In some cases confronted. Paintings stir emotions that remain submerged when considering other forms of art (novels, cinema, music, etc.)

From start to finish, how long does it take for you to create your work?

About a day if working full time.

What music do you like to listen to when you work?

Beethoven, Beethoven and Beethoven. Sometimes Wagner.

What are you working on next? Any future plans or projects in the pipeline that we should look out for?

I want to paint all the village people from the Mayor to the village street sweeper.
The Village Electrician by Ray Johnstone

Being inspired by art

Who (living or dead) inspires you? and why?

Van Gogh, because of his amazing output, technique and colour, colour and colour.

What feelings, subjects or concepts inspire you as an artist?

Nudes and faces.

What is your favourite work that you’ve produced so far and why?

A painting of a nude on a chair in a large room on a yellow carpet.

an artist’s advice

For those thinking about turning a passion for art into a career, could you give any advice?

Start early, and when all your peers are being offered good jobs and salaries be prepared to work on a shoe string. Suck up to galleries, the media, potential clients and have regular shows.

Any tips on how to get your work seen and get the commissions coming in?

Keep bashing away at the internet.
Salome by Ray Johnstone

Thanks Ray

More of Ray’s colourful characters (and other subjects) can be found on

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