Clive McBain’s love affair with a Greek island is explored in his first exhibition for four years.
In those years, artist Clive has moved from Petworth to Graffham – and fallen head over heels in love with the island of Lesvos.
The results can be enjoyed at Chichester’s Oxmarket Centre of Arts from August 18-30, a celebration of the island’s unspoilt beauty.
As always with Clive, detail is the key. As he explains, his paintings are an exploration of texture and colour created by the relentless sun on both architecture and landscape.
“It’s all a new venture,” says Clive, “thanks to my sister who goes to Lesvos on an annual basis and loves my work with a passion. She said ‘Clive, you have got to come to Lesvos!’
“I know Crete and Corfu, and I thought ‘Oh no, another Greek island!’ But it isn’t. It has got a quality all its own. It is very laid-back and very uncommercial. It’s very relaxed and unspoilt, and obviously its architecture has been baked by the sun. When we were there in June, the temperature was 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and because the island is partially volcanic, though not erupting these days, it is very mountainous. It’s the sort of island where you have to have a car to explore.
“There are no high-rise buildings. The towns are very, very sweet and totally uncommercialised. The island is basically split into two. The western part is very, very rocky and very raw to look at. There is nothing in the way of agriculture. But the other part of the island has got 11 million olive trees. I travelled all around the island and there wasn’t a single place that didn’t make my jaw drop.”
But it wasn’t the scenes, the landscapes Clive was drawn to. It was the half-hidden details, the kinds of details which could so easily have been overlooked – the padlocks, the brickwork, the peeling paint on scorched doors: “Those little things interested me more than the overall picture.
“It’s very much like cooking. You get all the ingredients and you mix them together and you hope you will come out with something good.”
The degree of detail doesn’t however make Clive’s work photographic, a label he declines. He prefers to talk in terms of realism and illustration.
“There are artists out there, particularly in America, that paint in so much detail that you wonder why they have done it it is so, so real. That’s not my style. I keep looking at my work and saying to myself ‘This is not so much painting as illustration.’ For me, it is very illustrative of where I am at that moment.
“At one time, I painted more commercially because I had to pay the rent, but I do it more for myself now. I am not a landscape painter. I am a detail painter of architecture.”
Having said that, Clive is promising the highlights of the exhibition will be a couple of pieces not remotely in his normal style.
The exhibition is Clive’s first since his move from Petworth to Graffham: “At Petworth I had two galleries I could sell from so easily it was not true. When I moved to Graffham, I didn’t have a studio at all for the first year. I had to build it, but when the studio was up and running and ready to go, the first thing I did was not actually to paint in my usual way. I came up with something so different it was not true. There are two paintings that will be the stars of the exhibition. One is of a diving nude. The other is purely of water. And there is no detail. They are very much impressionistic.
“And I am hoping the exhibition sets the one type of style off very nicely against the other.”
Clive will be joined in the John Rank Gallery by his daughter Tabitha who will be exhibiting her gothic-style paintings inspired by medieval manuscripts alongside her realistic paintings of animals, birds and insects.
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