Alun – We bought this building from John Firth-Smith the painter, and we’ve been here ever since 1963. The studio was built in 1910, and it has not been changed, except Nola’s studio. It was a disused foundry when we bought it. It had originally been a grain store for a nearby bakery. I suppose the best part is this part with these windows looking out, because we get all the lovely afternoon sun. It’s really very nice. Nola doesn’t get quite the sun because she faces into the courtyard, and there are only small windows into the street.
It used to be more irregular. So, we might just say, “Oh, let’s just go to Mexico,” or, “Let’s go live in New York for two years.” And we’d do that. We’ve lived in South India, New York, San Fransisco, London, Berlin and South Wales. And we’ve got friends in New York and Berlin and they’d say, “Come and stay,” and so we’d go, but that’s far and away and it’s now just a steady discipline of coming into the studio in the morning, and working all day.
[By] 9:30, we’re ready to work. And if the work is going well, you’re on a run, 9 o’clock, I’ll come out of the studio. It’s a long working and hard day but you get an awful lot of work done. I’m a slow painter, in a sense that the complication in the work requires that sort of obsessive dedication… Nola will tell you. She’ll come in and she’ll say, “Oh, you’ve moved another colour a quarter of an inch.” I always work through drawings and variations in drawings. Sometimes, you can hardly see the changes, but it might be just one shape being put here, and one taken out.
Colour drives the emotion, and the structure of the work is what the colour hangs on. And it’s Baroque abstraction. It is immensely complicated and has a lot of energy. I work in a palette. It’ll be mainly, might be all red, or all yellow, or all blue – but it’s never quite that because there are so many colours in the pictures. It’s just a matter of what looks like a lot of colour, but it’s maybe not quite so much colour, but they’re put in different positions, and that strikes you as something new and fresh.
I never use colour straight from a tube or a jar; everything has to be mixed. And it’s in the mixing that gives you a signature. It’s the pitch of the tone, or the brightness of the colour, the sharpness of the edge against a softer tone.
[The Field Revisited, 2018, National Gallery of Victoria]
The Field was the inaugural exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria’s current premises in 1968. It was a group show consisting of 40 artists, focusing on hard edge abstraction, colour field painting and abstract sculpture. My two paintings from that went into private collections and they’re now lending them back to the NGV for The Field Revisited in 2018. Eric Westbrook who was the very innovative director of the National Gallery of Victoria, he initiated The Field, but he’s long dead, and now they’re repeating it again next year.
What else am I doing? I was just in a group showing in South Korea, because I was made a cultural ambassador, and because I went and lived in South Korea, so occasionally I exhibit in South Korea.
I’ve stopped making bronzes for the time being, because I’ve been concentrating more on the painting. When I started making the bronzes, Bob Klippel was a good friend, and he inspired me to sculpt… he said, “You’re a very good painter.” He said, “So you’ll be a good sculptor.” And I said, “Bob, you’re not a very good painter.” He got very angry. He was a good sculptor, but he was also a very good collagist as well. We were very, very close friends.