When an artist leaves Brighton with his oil paints for the Pyrenees...

Q&A with self taught, Brighton based artist, Craig Simpson, following his artist-in-residency at the heritage home of Talkin' Culture in France, part of #projectpyrenees Here's what happened...

Q&A Part 1 with Brighton based artist, Craig Simpson, the first artist-in-residence with Talkin' Culture's #projectpyrenees

Craig Simpson is a self taught artist, his 'observational oil' has captured moments in the lives of Brighton based characters, echoing British, 60's kitchen sink dramas, with solitary interior spaces in Sussex, that nod to french and European influences. Craig's observation offers warm honesty in ordinary moments whilst raising unknown possibilities in solitary settings. We invited Craig to our heritage home in the Pyrenees - here's what happened....

1. Before Talkin’ Culture suggested an artist-in-residency to you had you had a similar opportunity before and how useful was the residency to you?

I've only been painting for nearly five years and I've not had the opportunity to meet someone who would offer me an artist-in-residency. I had no idea that I'd end up being invited to the Pyrenees as the first artist-in-residence for #projectpyrenees. I met Paula who set up Talkin’ Culture three years ago randomly at work; a colleague told her I was a painter and from that moment she followed my work on social media and was very supportive right from the beginning. 

The residency was incredibly useful to me, not just as a painter but to discover a new friend and to surround myself in peaceful surroundings which had a lasting effect on my mood whilst I was there. Something which I really liked about this lovely heritage home in the Pyrenees, was living in a home with none of today’s excessive luxuries, back to basics; no television, no internet (just my own data connection) etc... Things which can be a distraction in the modern world for a lot of people. 

2. How would you describe the experience and how you used your time?

Not having any modern-day distractions, I found it very easy waking up at 6:30am and start painting on the terrace overlooking the forest, excited to know what the morning light would bring. This was the first time I'd tried painting landscapes which brought new challenges. Though there weren't enough hours in the day to see and do everything both Talkin’ Culture and I had planned; visiting nearby villages, visiting local exhibitions or simply taking in the mountain views were included. There is inspiration everywhere you look, whether looking out of the window whilst enjoying breakfast or walking up a mountain to a monastery.

I'd definitely like to spend more time there the next time I visit as I know there is much more to explore and influence my art.

3. Has a short residency had any real impact on you personally and creatively, can a week make a difference, if so, how?

A week in the Pyrenees has made a huge difference to me. Initially the residency focused on painting, though I left feeling completely refreshed from everyday life and also anxiety which I've dealt with on a daily basis had diminished significantly. This was an amazing experience which has shown me that one can live free of the issues we create in our heads and knowing there are environments in which we can feel much better.

4. Were there any positive outcomes you might not have expected?

Apart from my mental health improving, the way I was painting was beginning to change. For a painter who usually works from photographs to painting plein-air and capturing the mountains right in front of you was a huge learning curve.

5. How might the residency help develop your creative work?

This is the first time I've painted landscapes and painting plein-air. Emerging yourself with such beautiful surroundings goes hand in hand with painting outside and painting what you see directly in front of you. The instant change in colour pallet is responsive to the light which is signature to southern France.

I've already found my colour pallet changing as soon as I started that first painting in the Pyrenees. This is a challenge in itself as I'm used to darker, autumnal hues.

Painting landscapes was completely new to me as was painting from life. In the past only painting self-portraits using mirrors and ink/ pencil sketches from life.

One of the most valuable lessons from this experience was the challenges that arose for me as a painter, trying to capture the landscape at the moment in which it appealed to me. I was working as quickly and efficiently as possible so as not to lose the change when the sunlight highlights those sculptural mountains.

In turn I'm sure the Pyrenees residency will influence the work I produce in the UK, adding more vibrant colour.

Part 2 to follow


#projectpyrenees is the heritage home and project of Talkin’ Culture, set up by Paula Moore. Part of the original priory attached to a national monument, Sainte Marie, in Corneilla de Conflent, a revered church and Catalan masterpiece in France. This home sits in an 11th century setting and forest at the foot of the sacred Canigou mountain. The project is evolving a learning model combining permaculture, arts, craft and wellbeing for positive community impact and cultural exchange. This project is also a response to today’s empty homes scandal and un-used land that could become part of a network for positive, social and environmental change.




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