City Rooftop - Dunedin by Tom Voyce
Oil on board, courtesy of the artist
Canada, the United States, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, China, Central Europe, Enniskerry... artist Tom Voyce, from Burton-upon-Trent, has been places. And when, aged 28, he won First Prize of £10,000 and was named Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2017, a commission took him to Jamaica - where he painted the view from Noël Coward's holiday home, Firefly.
Coward is now buried in the garden, but the house is better remembered as the venue where the writer, raconteur and wit once entertained the Queen Mother, Churchill, Sophia Loren, Burton and Taylor, Laurence Olivier, Joan Sutherland and Evelyn Waugh.
Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, famed for its brewing industry, is "not the most active place for things like the arts". Voyce sees himself as "the odd one out" but "this did allow me to find my own way". He drew roads and buildings as a child and "my favourite subject matter was airplanes".
"Lines and perspectives always interested me and I used to design football shirts, ships, trains, city maps. In secondary school I found a small niche market for people wanting drawings of football stadiums in their student planners."
Voyce did not paint until, having left school, he took a BTEC course where artists Mick Stubbs and Ian Hartshorne "influenced, encouraged, challenged me". Art School at Aberystwyth University, and an MA followed and he now teaches at Repton School in Derbyshire, holds online interactive workshops with Kathleen Soriano on Sky TV and has given terrestrial workshops in Ireland, China and New Zealand - and it was a Dunedin car park rooftop, on New Zealand's South Island, which inspired this work.
"The relationship between man-made objects, their shapes and structures, to the more natural, organic forms always interest me," says Voyce. This painting began as thumbnail drawings of a rooftop car park and "nearly all man-made objects other than buildings and roads are removed from my compositions including cars, bikes, road signs".
Oil on primed MDF board, sanded four times using gesso, is how he begins. "I like the firm hardness of MDF. It allows me to move the paint around. The coarseness of the canvas grain and the canvas bounce do not let me use the mark-making tools as I would like."
He feels that "a figure would take something away from the composition" and he's "not too focused on exact likeness" but more interested in capturing the sensation of being there rather than producing "an exact replica of a place". The bright sunshine, the blue sky, the perspectives are dramatic. A car park has never looked so beautiful.
Above all, says Voyce, "the painting must look right as a painting", and he quotes Hopper. "If you can say it in words then there's no need to paint it." The semi-abstract quality of the work, as in the work of Richard Diebenkorn and Ben Aronson, whom he also admires, is deliberate.
Drawn to light and shadow he uses several cerulean blues and a phthalo blue but "I always start with Naples Yellow. This warm tone means I can build up the painting in layers. It creates a 'heat' to the artwork. I then use a bright red stage to plan out the composition with thin, diluted oil paint."
Places of transit, such as railway stations, airports, roads, motorways, interest this young man but trains and roads and planes aren't part of Tom Voyce's life right now.
He lives in a flat with no access to a garden so "the use of my studio kept me sane". During lockdown, he's painted still lifes, interiors, large abstract works.
"I saw a recent poll that had artists at the very top of the non-essential jobs list. Artists do not save lives in hospitals or keep the streets safe and clean but I do think artists and creative types have an important place within society. The virus has affected people's mental health - the arts can be used to help people deal with this positively."
Landscape Artist of the Year changed his life. "I was blown away with the response from people around the world", but "I am my own biggest critic", and "the big challenge for me is the continual indecision and questioning of yourself".
Lockdown has also meant that his stag do, his wedding and honeymoon are all on hold but that doesn't mean that Tom Voyce artist isn't going places. In his paintings, he always is.
Tom Voyce Exhibitions: at School of Art, Aberystwyth until September 30; The Old Truman Brewery, London in October; Affordable Art Fair, Hampstead, November and New Court Gallery, Repton, April 2021 tom-voyce.com Instagram: tomvoyce_art
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