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 Clive Pates  (1965 - )

About: Clive Pates


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Lived/Active: New York/Mississippi / England      Known for: landscape, cityscape and figure painting

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Clive Pates
An example of work by Clive Pates
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is submitted by Virginia Rood, representative of the artist:

Clive Pates Interview with Julie Cole (property of Time Inc.)

How did you discover your interest in painting?

As a painter my artistic career was informed from an early age by my father's artistic work as a landscape painter. At this time, through my father's guidance, I developed a keen interest in draftsmanship, an area that has, I think, given a firm basis to my subsequent career.

At seventeen I completed a foundation course in art & design and then started the first year of a degree at Newport, Gwent College, Wales. Newport College represented at that time a leading art college in the study of conceptual art, a field that most of my contemporaries were involved in. This year of study gave me a keen sense of my own direction as a painter, establishing the need I had to focus my energies and artistic understanding around a perceptual, figurative base.

I completed my degree a number of years later in Bristol, again with an emphasis on a figurative, narrative style. Looking back at this time, I realize that my generation represented the first group of artists brought up with a training background focused almost entirely on abstract and conceptual work, and that we saw these movements as an established normal approach. I certainly sought to define my direction as a painter as a backlash to this training. My own solution and evolution has lead me back to plein-air landscape painting as a solid perceptual foundation to try and gage a future for painting.

How long have you been painting in the plein-air tradition?

From early on in my career I have worked directly from life, using the figure in the true academy tradition, as a template to teach myself to look at the world. The transition to plein-air landscape painting therefore represented quite a natural development for me, albeit an unconsidered and spontaneous choice. Directly before moving to New York in 1994 to fulfil a Fulbright Scholarship in Figurative Studies at the New York Academy of Art, I tentatively set out to record some of the scenes along the docks of the Cumberland Basin in my adopted city of Bristol, England. I have no real idea as to why I should have started on this small series of cityscapes, but I felt compelled to do so.

In New York those first few Bristol paintings found a backdrop for substantial development. I spent most of my spare time perched on the corner of busy New York streets fascinated by the compositional difficulties before me. One thing I found, in keeping with my earlier portrait and figure work, was my ability to switch off completely to the environment around me. Once I had started to paint, despite the hundreds of people walking by, often stopping to consider my work, I would almost fall into a state of trance, awaking to add the final brush strokes to the then finished painting.

What is it about the approach that particularly appeals to you?

Plein-Air painting of any description has a basic, almost primitive physicality. I can sit down with many ideas about what I want to paint, what colours I would like to use and how I would like to shape the composition before me. But when I start working, the landscape before me interrupts my line of thought, almost starts to talk back. I think the resolution of this process separates the professional from amateur painter. The novice will argue back, stating the rules of composition and colour theory as a convincing defense to the disorder before them. The trouble with this approach is that you start painting an ideal landscape based on a limited amount of experience. At this early stage of a painting you should listen to the landscape and paint what it tells you! For me I find the simple act of looking to be the most beautiful aspect of plein-air work. I can sit in front of one particular scene and paint that one view many times, each time looking a little deeper. The interpretation of the picture composition comes much later when you have learnt to understand what is before you.

Tell me about your Fulbright Scholarship.

My initial interest in landscape painting started when I moved to New York for study as a Fulbright Scholar at the New York Academy of Art. The Academy school, with its roots firmly embedded in a classical style of training, represented the only opportunity I could find to study representational painting at an MFA level. I found this style of education useful, but too formal for my style of work that was increasingly becoming more gestural, about paint and surface texture. To this end I spent most of my spare time on the streets of New York painting plein-air cityscapes. The second year I spent in New York, supported by my first Elizabeth Greenshields award, was almost exclusively dedicated to cityscape painting as a new and fresh outlet for my work to develop.

The Fulbright scholarship represented an important time for me, I think the opportunity to travel, and study in a different culture is important, not so much for the usual cultural reasons, but because you become aware of your own cultural idiosyncrasy when exposed to differing value systems. You become aware that ideas and concepts that you held as fundamental and universal are deeply culturally biased, and the awareness of this can give you an independence of thought.

Who are your influences?

I have always been a great fan of John Constable's work; not so much the larger works, but the smaller plein-air sketches. These works have an emotional life that gives you a real insight the artist's mood and understanding of the landscape: almost a recording of his life at that moment, brought forward as a gift to future generations. I think Constable was the first, great plein-air painter, and his pictures work because of their superb tonal realization.

I have spent my painting career as a tonalist, trying to understand the subtle undercurrent of the tonal composition in relation to a limited use of colour. For this reason most of my earlier influences are tonalist painters. I admire the works of Corot and Cézanne who both fought hard for their own vision of the world. Cézanne, one of those rare painters who, to slightly misquote my fellow painter George Thurmond, 'managed to unite a considerable intellect with the emotional intelligence of a painter'. Cézanne also managed to successfully make the transition from tone to colour, an occurrence - in my eyes - reserved for only a few painters in history.

Moving up to the present day and returning to South, I was struck by the long history of the plein-air tradition and present vitality of the movement. I had many long conversations with George Thurmond, a plein-air painter from Starkville, Mississippi, and was impressed by his complete dedication to landscape painting and huge, large-hearted grasp of his subject. I must admit to feeling let down by a European comparison. It would be fair to say that the plein-air movement is deeply unfashionable over here. The art market seems to be stagnating within an over-intellectualised and outdated conceptual genre, and seems completely stuck in a rut. I can't help but think of the deeply transitional time faced by artists at the end of the last century. Figures like Matisse and Cézanne were working plein-air as a means to establish the foundations of painting again against backdrop of frozen academia. These artists were working not for great rewards or academic respect, but for their own love of painting.

It seems to me that there is a ferment of energy, bubbling up in the South, which might prove the beginning of a renaissance in plein-air work, and the emergence of a new way forward for this tradition.

I notice that you have seascapes from Cornwall, Ireland, and Scotland and are soon headed the Baja Peninsula. What can you tell me about your seascapes?

I think that for the plein-air painter the seascape is the most complex of subjects. I painted for a summer on the Angus coastline, Scotland, completing a series of five paintings based on one location.

I set my easel up on a steep bank, a few feet away from a hundred foot drop and spent the next three months working with this subject matter. Each day, walking the mile or so with my easel and equipment and rounding the headland to my subject, I would be presented with a completely new set of light conditions and tidal variation, masking the same physical presence of the one view.  Each of the paintings represents a consensus of sifted information brought together to justify maybe a few moments of a seen reality that inspired me to start the picture.

To be placed in such a large environment, just watching the movement of the world, can be a very grounding experience. I think the artist's personality can all too often get in the way of the art, producing work that is limited and supporting of the person. The role of the artist should be to push beyond the boundaries of self, and what better place to lose yourself than the vast ocean expanse?

How would you describe your major themes?

My career to date has been marked by a lack of association to one genre or style and has developed as a series of marked trials and experiments. Much of my earlier work, underscored by a keen sense of draftsmanship and fascination with clarity of mark making, has left works that I could not possibly match today. On the other hand, the work I am now completing has an emotional breadth that would have been far beyond my earlier years. My main concern is to keep an active level of change and to explore future directions. I have always tried to maintain a strong theoretical background to my work and believe strongly in a continuing evolution for the painted image to reveal itself and that a precept for this is not to follow fashion or accepted opinion, but to step into the unknown, to work with hope but no expectation. Painting as a medium has been pretty much talked out of existence by critical analysis, but the key to painting, its emotional depth, will always break away from intellectual boundaries imposed upon. It is more important than ever, moving into a new century (as at the beginning of the last century), to push the role of paint on canvas as having continued importance for the future.

What inspired you to come to the American South?

I came over to Mississippi last summer with my fiancée, Virginia, to stay in Columbus, where she grew up. I have tried to visit the South on a number of occasions before, but for one reason or another, these trips never worked out. It seemed for this trip the time was right, I had a perfect guide to show me parts of the country that would not be considered interesting from a tourist's point of view.

What intrigued you about the land? Set it apart? What were challenges?

Before arriving in the American South, I had little idea of what to expect from the landscape. From past experience I knew that the stimulus of a new environment and visual impact of seeing a landscape for the first time would almost certainly inspire my painting, so I arrived with a sense of anticipation.

I arrived in Mississippi at the height of the summer and from my experience of Italy at this time, expected to be confronted by a rich array of burnt reds and ochre's of a dry and parched land. To my amazement the land was green and alive and very similar to the English landscape I had just left. The comparison to my home country was, however, limited. The verdure of the Mississippi landscape was completely transformed by the intensity of light and filtration effect of the dense moisture in the atmosphere. The shadows were deep and barbaric, and the light, lensed by the atmosphere, created a depth of colour I had not previously experienced.

The composition of the landscape also challenge my expectations; I have been used to a formalized landscape. The European landscape has been modified by centuries of land management, every part of the scene before you has an historical implication. The landscape is subservient to the human need and possesses quietude. The Southern landscape is surly in comparison. I felt not so much a distance, but a mutual respect between the people and the land, almost a stand off between the natural world and the inroads made by civilization.

Of course, as a painter I hope that the emotion I experienced is more purely represented in my work, and am constantly surprised when I look back at the work, how meaning bypasses the intellectual process, becoming imbedded in the work only to be gleaned on a rational level months or years later.

How long were you there?

I spent three months in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Where did you have exhibitions?

Through my time in Mississippi I was fortunate enough to be offered an exhibition at Mississippi State University towards the end of my three-month stay. Usually the exhibition schedule is worked out a year or two in advance, but I was given a cancellation space, providing an unexpected focus to the series of paintings I was then completing.

Any interesting anecdotes to share from your stay in Mississippi?

I found Mississippi so startlingly alive and ready to surprise anyone who showed the least bit of interest.

I spent many hours Catfish fishing, catching a four-pound female blue (small by Mississippi standards), one of the prettiest fishes I have ever caught with rouged lips and subtle blue colouring. This was the first occasion that I ever had a fish angrily bark at me, impatient to be returned to the water!

I remember seeing my first Mississippi Fox scurrying into the bushes as my fiancée briefly flipped me into consciousness, on our way back from one of the numerous Juke Joint bars we had encountered. This particular bar, for all the outward display, could have been mistaken for a factory warehouse if not for the small group of youths leaning on the entrance balustrade. On talking to the proprietor I learned that he had been stationed in England when in the services, and insisted on buying me a Crown Royal whisky to celebrate our cross-cultural ties. Little did I realise that this meant a half-pint bottle, and of course it would have been rude not to finish the bottle. I will never drink Crown Royal again!

Are you planning to paint in the South again?

I will be returning to the South in May this year for a solo show at the Sylvia Schmidt Gallery on Julia St. in New Orleans. I was also lucky enough to receive a third Elizabeth Greenshields award this year, so will be spending the summer months in Mississippi, New Mexico and the Baja Peninsula, Mexican California, to complete a new series of paintings for a December show at Delta State University.

Foundation in Art and Design, Cheltenham College of Art, Cheltenham, England.

BA Fine Art awarded with First Class Honours, Bristol Polytechnic, Bristol, England.

Practising artist, working from studio base, Bristol, England. Post degree extension course, Bristol Polytechnic Based in drawing department and foundry.

Fulbright Scholar, New York Academy of Art.
Awarded Andy Warhol Scholarship
Awarded Posey Foundation Scholarship.
"First Open Sculpture Exhibition", Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, England; casting credit awarded for work specially commended.

1995-96: Awarded Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant
Working from D.U.M.B.O. (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) Studios, Brooklyn.
Part-time student at the Art Students League, NYC.
Mark Humphries Gallery, New York. Mixed exhibition of recent drawings.
Working from studio, Bristol, England.
Second Open Sculpture Exhibition, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, England.

1997: Sculptor Madame Tussauds.
New Visions Broad Horizons exhibition, Beatrice Royal Contemporary Gallery, Eastleigh, England.
New York Cityscapes solo exhibition at Parkview Gallery, Bristol, England.

1998-99: Part-time lecturer in life drawing and painting, Queens Road School of Art and Design, Bristol, England (continuing through 2002).
Awarded second Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant.
Awarded Juliet Gomperts Tuscany Residency, Casole d'Elsa, Tuscany, Italy.

2000: Awarded Roundstone Open Arts Residency, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.
Working on a new series of paintings, Casole d'Elsa, Tuscany, Italy.

2001: Awarded Robert Fleming Residency, Hospitalfield House, Arbroath, Scotland.

2002: Retrospective exhibition of landscapes, Rood Contemporary Fine Art, Bristol, England. Residency in Lowndes County, Mississippi
Solo exhibition of new paintings, Department of Art Gallery, Mississippi State University.
Awarded third Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant.

Solo exhibition of portraits (paintings and sculptures), Rood Contemporary Fine Art, Bristol, England.
Article on painting in Mississippi, Southern Accents Magazine, May/June 2003 issue.
Solo exhibition of paintings 'The Light in August', Sylvia Schmidt Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana
Group exhibition of Miniatures, Cultural Arts Center of Estes Park, Estes Park, Colorado
Painting in the Park (invitational), Estes Park, Colorado
Solo exhibition of seascapes, Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi

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