John Farrington FROM - 16 Sep 2017

John Farrington: Life’s Stories….in his own words

I went to Dudley art school in the ‘50s. I wanted to do painting but I was advised to be a book illustrator because they thought there was more possibility of earning a living; then from art school to the army. When I came out of that, I started to paint. I got married and suddenly found I’d got a family and I had to earn a living so I became a teacher, first in Leicester and then eventually in Shropshire, Much Wenlock School, and that was my teaching career. I spent just on thirty years doing that. At 55 I managed to get early retirement and I’ve painted more less every day since, catching up on what I should have done years ago.

I’ve been in this studio since 1982. I’m a bit selfish. I paint for myself. I like telling stories with paint, sometimes using stories that have been around for generations. One of my first influences was Hieronymus Bosch, oh and Bruegel. I thought those two were men who did things and very often there was no accounting for why. There was no logic, well seemingly no logic to what they did, but they produced the most fantastic pieces of work.

I enjoy the whole process of painting. I paint on anything. I have made paintings on bits of wood and old doors chucked out by builders shop-fitting in Bridgnorth. I do love the use of colour, whether it’s sombre or bright. I play around with paint and have a sort of feeling when the effect of what I want is getting near. Then the secret is to leave it alone.
I like the idea of new ideas, forming ideas, seeing them develop on a surface and shopping that the idea moves away from its original vision of stimulus into something that I’ve created. I doubt if people would recognise how the original idea began from the finished piece of work.

If I can, I put things down on paper quite soon after thinking, or seeing something. I’ve got sketchbooks full of undeveloped work that has never been taken any further. I start with a pencil drawing for the individual once it starts forming in my mind and usually do a few more based on the same theme. I churn the ideas over in my mind. I don’t always know where they come from, they just evolve, and there’s a painting. I often refer back to things. I can refer back quite a number of a years. That’s what I like about keeping this stuff. You forget if you don’t record in some way. I now a lot of people use a camera, but lots of these things you can’t record on a camera, because they’re thoughts, visual thoughts. Really.

When I left school I went to work on a farm as a trainee dairyman up in Wales, and I think it comes out in my work. I use those recollections a great deal, whether it’s cows or pigs in a field. But they’re not painted like pigs really are they? Some people paint pigs beautifully, realistically. For me it’s the shapes on this rough churned up ground.

In the early days, I used to paint a lot of industrial landscapes. Where I lived, in the Black Country, was the source of more of my paintings, so there was very little in the sense of rural landscape. It was just chimney stacks and things like that. The only painting I’ve done recently that has that sort of feel to it is that one of the woman with the frogs. When I was a kid, she used to keep frogs, down the bottom of our garden. Looking through the fence I could see these big drums she used to keep the frogs in. She talked to them as thought she was trying to make them into men like the prince and the frog.

I don’t think I’m very conscious of it but as I work I develop different ideas. Walking through some woods I saw two or three horse riders. I’m sure they were very innocent, then suddenly, they’ve developed into these strange pictures of invaders on horses on ancient armour with figures looking through the trees, and heads on stakes. They were all these mythical woodland creatures.

When I first lost the eye, I had to sort of hold onto the brush with my other hand to actually touch the canvas because I couldn’t judge the distance between the canvas and the brush. I think the work has become flatter, more decorative, and probably more illustrative, going back to my roots.

You try to be fresh each time and not laboured and, I think, if you have one particular technique and one way of doing things, that can become a sort of laboured thing. I hope I never get to that stage. I think you go with the flow of the piece of work you’re doing at the present time. But, underlying that, the stamp of your personality on each piece of work always shows through, which I supposed makes it a recognisable. You can’t avoid that, I don’t think, unless you do something completely different, and in a different medium, or consciously try and develop a different style of working, or a different way of working.

I think it’s nice to be able to look back on the work and to see that you have evolved over a period of time. I’d certainly never give up painting now, at this stage. I supposed the other thing is if you didn’t do this, what the hell would do anyway? You’d have to do something, wouldn’t you?

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