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Meet the Artist
Jonathan Stockley and dark places
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
A thought-provoking image won the Strathmore Artist Papers Drawing Award at their Draw 19 exhibition this year which we sponsored. It turns out, a lot of Jonathan's work makes you think, conjures back alleys and forgotten places. Contrasted with his earlier beginnings in animal portraiture, his recent body of work takes his audience on a journey with him to get lost in a run-down darkness. We take some time out of his busy workday to ask him about his choice of media and inspiration.
Can you tell us about the winning image? Where it portrays, why you chose that place and scene to capture? How did you feel while creating it?
Thank you, it was a big surprise and a very pleasant one to win an award. The location is the ruins of Lennox Castle Hospital, a former institution built in the 1930's and closed down in 2002, situated in Lennoxtown just north of Glasgow. The building was severely damaged by fire in 2008 resulting in the loss of its roof and interior and the shell itself has continued to deteriorate since then. Like a lot of the sites I visit, I will go two or three times to get what I want from it. Sometimes you can see the image straight away that gets you excited to start working on it, sometimes you feel you missed that little something and go back again, sometimes even if you feel you got it on the first visit you feel it's got even more to give. Lennox Castle is one of those places, I've been twice now and will be returning again to explore the grounds further. The image shows the once main steps from the gardens up to the castle, which is now fenced off due to the building being unsafe. I just loved the steps, how nature slowly reclaims things, the textures of the moss and the stone and the trees twisting branches adding an almost sinister feelto what were once probably beautifully maintained grounds.
You work mostly in charcoal and pencil? Why have you chosen that media in particular? (I have to say, you have an exquisite skill with it!).
I just love the simplicity of black and white, to be able to convey a sense of texture, whether it be soft fluffy clouds or peeling paint and broken brickwork with a couple of pencils, erasers and a scalpel is the challenge that drives my work. Charcoal allows me to get some really deep blacks which help in the subject matter I'm drawn to and I think black and white just naturally helps to add atmosphere. The best compliment I've ever had was for an older piece of work of Long Stairs in Newcastle (which is exactly what the name suggests, they're a long set of very old stairs that run from the quayside up between buildings like an alley) when a gentleman had been studying it for a few minutes turned to me and said, 'You can practically smell the p**s'. For me, that's what a good black and white picture should do, through textures, light and atmosphere be able to evoke the other senses in the viewer, the sense of smell and even colour of places we've all been.
You work in Newcastle and Scotland / NI? How does living and working in those different regions affect your work? What inspires you there?
Yes, I work four days a week in North Shields, Newcastle, live in Coatbridge, Scotland and am originally from Northern Ireland so travel back there regularly. All the areas have their share of derelict, abandoned or simply neglected buildings which give me a wealth of inspiration and material to work with. But regardless of where I go, I'll always find something that appeals to my love of the forgotten or neglected. Doesn't matter how much wealth an area has, there'll be someone there who likes to put graffiti up or lets a property fall into disrepair, but the two towns I live in both have it in spades which is good for me and in some ways is probably why I'm drawn so much to that subject matter. Do what you know best, isn't that what people say?
What does a typical day look like for you? (Do you sketch outside, or from photos or go out for a walk, if you’d like to describe what you might do on a good art day, and how that impacts on your work?)
A good art day is just me, my easel, pencils and lots of cups of tea! I work full time so my art is very much fitted in around the full-time job and family life so the luxury of being able to go out for the day to draw isn't a reality for me. I would love to be working professionally as an artist, and that's the goal I'm building towards, but for now, it's fitted in as and when I can. My drawing in North Shields is done after work as a way to relax, I'll usually get in about 9 pm and start drawing before 10 until 12, then back up for work at 5.30. I'm not a big sketcher when I visit sites, my work is mostly based on photos, but I sometimes do the odd one now and again. Quite a lot of the places I go to aren't the kinds of places you would take the time to sit and sketch in any way, either they're a magnet for substance abusers or vandals or they're almost pitch black, rat invested and you don't really want to know what you're stepping on.
In your landscapes, desolation seems a key theme? While with your animal portraits, there is such a fabulous contrast of life and energy and personality. What inspires you to choose the subjects you do? And how do you approach such different subjects?
I've only been drawing for five years now, started out like a lot of people doing pet portraits, then moved on to other 'fashionable' animals, then people until I really started to refine my techniques and medium I worked in. By this point, my attention was being drawn more and more to derelict and abandoned places I was passing every day and I was beginning to see how the way I draw could work so well with this subject matter. So the animal side of things was really me finding my feet as an artist, whereas the landscapes have seen me grow more confident in what I do and hopefully will continue to.
What are you working on at the moment? Any particular body of work or individual piece? Or would you like to share a recently finished piece?
I'm not long back from a week in Malta and it was shabby door heaven!I'm currently working on a picture of just one of many, many doors and windows I took pics of while over there. So there'll be a few pics with a more Mediterranean feel over the next few months but interspersed with some more local dereliction and decay.
And finally, a fun question, if you were a Strathmore paper, which one would you be?
It would have to be one of the Charcoal papers so it would.