In this edition of ‘Spotlight’, we’re talking to one of The Artist’s Web’s most popular artists, Alexander MacFaul. Alexander’s mesmerizing paintings focus on cityscapes and the occasional countryside setting, using weather and emotion to produce wonderfully atmospheric and evocative works. His art is loved and sought out by many and it is a privilege to be able to obtain such a personal insight into what motivates Alexander – and to discover exactly why he loves all that rain!
Were you an ‘arty’ child?
Yes, apparently as soon as I could pick up a pencil I was drawing all the time! I have stacks of papers with drawings on them – I seemed to have a fascination with cars!
Cityscapes are obviously greatly influential to you in your work. When did you first feel the urge to capture the city in a painting?
When I first got my studio in the East End near Canary Wharf. I had started doing a Masters art course and found myself working very late into the evening. I’d get these fantastic views of the city at night and started to find it very attractive. That opened my eyes to how beautiful the city can be. Over time in my work I moved away from the night views of cities but recently have gravitated back towards them again!
Rain also features heavily in your work! Is this because it adds such interesting dimensions to a picture – or do you just really like rain?!
Ah, the rain – I’m not exactly sure why all that started! I think it was when I had to take a trip to New York (also during that Masters course) and I was there for two weeks, during which the weather really changed. It became very rainy and misty. I went to the top of the Twin Towers and saw just the most amazing view; it was dusky with a rainy mist descending with the city lights just starting to come on through it. It was contemplative, relaxing and moody. I wanted to include that feeling in my work. Adding rain to my cityscapes, for me, makes it a lot more interesting. The mind can run free. And yes, I really like rain generally!
How do you capture such vivid and evocative scenes? Do you paint from memory, from sketches you made previously or do you paint on site?
It’s a combination of all those things! I memorise scenes a lot and rely on that – I have developed the technique of using my memory to recreate my cityscapes over the years – but I also sometimes do drawings on the spot or take photographs. Rarely do I get my paints out in the open air; mainly I draw when I’m out and about and the painting I save for when I’m back in the studio. A lot of people like to stop and have a look when you’re capturing scenes – I don’t mind that at all! But sitting down and sketching does generate a lot of interest from others!
Do people who buy your paintings feel drawn to them for personal reasons?
Buyers of my paintings often live in the cities I paint, or have worked or been on holiday there. They often talk about responding to the mood or atmosphere of the painting and feel a connection between this and time they have spent in the city. People often say they feel themselves drawn into the paintings by the structure of the composition.
What emotions do you hope to stir in those viewing your paintings?
I hope to create a number of feelings in the viewers. I hope they feel excited by what they see; contemplative if it is a painting from my New York Rain Series or London Thames Series and inspired to look at these cities in new ways, as well as celebrate the city for what they already know and love about it. I try to pass on the excitement I feel for these places when I paint and I put my own feelings for the city into the paintings. I don’t want to dictate the feelings a viewer has to my work, but I am aware that my paintings will inevitably steer a viewer towards certain emotions and responses.
I am sometimes surprised by what clients point out as their favourite key element in a painting. It can sometimes be something I spent very little time considering, i.e. a gestural mark of colour, or the curve of a lamp post. When this happens, it reminds me that even the smallest mark or detail can be the key to a successful composition.
How long does it take you to complete a piece from first spotting the scene you want to capture to the finished product?
That’s rather a tricky question, as I tend to work on up to fifteen paintings at once! I work in layers with the paint so I will start work on one painting and while I’m waiting for that paint to dry, will like to start on another rather than waste that time. Then I go back to the previous painting and so on. Doing this also keeps my perspective on each painting fresh and ideas bounce off from one painting to another. I like to listen to music as I work and will map my work day out with my choice of music – it’s a very important part of my process! I find that ambient house music is good for the cityscapes! I suppose each work can take an average of about a month – although some have taken up to a year – so it really does vary.
London or New York?
Oooohhh….tough one! Well, London’s my home partly because I’ve been here since 1990 and the longer I’m here the more I discover about it. I’d love to spend more time in New York than I do. New York is very, very vertical! The buildings are so high and this generates a lot of shadow which is interesting to paint. London is more rounded, more gentle and seems to carry a lot more history; it’s a combination of the modern mixed with the old which I love. The next city I’d like to paint a cityscape of? Tokyo!
Has the current economical climate affected your work?
No at the moment I’m fairly safe. I’ve not really noticed a huge drop in demand or income. I split my work time between teaching and freelance painting in the studio. I deliberately put myself in a position where I don’t have to rely solely on the sale of paintings. So fingers crossed!
What advice would you give to artists just starting out and trying to craft a career from their art?
When approaching galleries with your work – do your research! You can waste both your time and theirs if you’re not careful. Look first for galleries that are suitable to display your work and read up on them. And never ‘doorstep’ them; don’t just turn up with your portfolio tucked under your arm and expect to be seen. Politeness and planning goes a long way. Do your research, find out exactly who you’ll be meeting and make an appointment. You’ll be amazed how much of a difference that can make to the end result!
We would like to thank Alexander very much for his contribution to Spotlight and for his valuable insights into his remarkable pieces of work. Take a look at his website and lose yourself in the atmospheric pull of his city and landscapes!