Sally Trueman is a contemporary English painter of international renown. Her work is featured in numerous collections throughout the world. Her paintings are extracted from elements found in her sketch books along with ideas from drawings produced on site. When you look at her paintings closely, you will see layer upon layer of paint. At first glance, the marks on the canvas seem to be spontaneous, expressive and impulsive. In actual fact, the building up and stripping back of these layers of paint have taken extraordinary lengths of time and great perseverance. This results in the canvas taking on a sculptured look which gives the onlooker the impression of a fleeting, transitory moment captured from the artist’s vision and laid effortlessly on canvas.
The heavily worked brush strokes dominate her canvas, like a calligraphic mark. They are all inherent markings, in the same way that punctuation is inherent to a written page. It can be so delicate that it is hardly visible, veiled under layers of paint and washes, or it can be pulsing in the foreground. These small marks that weave and interlace throughout her canvases pull the viewer into the artist’s world. Usually, an artist painting and re-painting on such a scarred and marked canvas would encounter too many problems to continue. Nonetheless, Sally Trueman’s pastels and drawings show us that this is a talented artist who can afford to bend and break the artistic rules.
Self-taught or art school?
I went to Brighton University to study fine art but spent most of my time exploring the Lanes in Brighton. It was here that I came across “The Pavilion Gallery” in Gardner Street and met the Royal portrait painter, John Hughes-Hallett. I gave up college and continued my education with him, until his untimely death in 1992. For obvious reasons, at this time I focused on portraiture.
If you could own one work of art what would it be?
Paul Delaroche, 1833, the Execution of Lady Jane Grey, in the National Gallery, London.
Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for just 9 days until she was driven from the throne and sent to the Tower of London to be executed. She was beheaded at just 16 years old.
The painting was first exhibited in Paris in 1834. In the painting, she is guided towards the execution block by Sir John Brydges, Lieutenant of the Tower. The straw on which the block rests was intended to soak up the victim’s blood. The executioner stands impassive to the right and two ladies in attendance are shown grieving and in total despair to the left.
This painting fills me with apprehension, dread, fear and beauty all at the same time. It’s absolutely breath-taking, so emotive and beautifully painted. The satin dress is incredibly painted, it’s as if you could reach out and touch it. It is the most dramatic and sensitive painting I have ever seen.
How would you describe your style?
My drawings show draftmanship. In order to paint, I think it is necessary to be able to draw well. Drawing underpins all my paintings and, as with everything, skill comes with practice and lots of disappointments and hard work. Drawing and painting are very different for me but one could not exist without the other.
When I paint with oil, I build layers up slowly (thick over thin rule) to give the painting a sense of depth and a feeling of luminosity. After each finished layer, I slightly scrape the canvas down, leaving the canvas faintly scarred. I incorporate these scars into the next layer.
Some of my finished paintings can have a total of thirty to forty layers that have been gradually built up over a period of eighteen months to two years. Oil is the perfect medium for landscape painting. Building up a painting in layers, is perhaps a metaphor for my interpretation of life, on a subconscious level. The visual experiences that we have throughout our lives, whether good or bad, are insidiously built up in layers, gradually changing the person over time. For me, “my style” is the essence of my experiences in life and my view on the world.
What are your favourite places to view art?
On my own in a museum. I love to take a whole day and go the National Gallery and stand unobtrusively in front of the paintings I love.
The National Gallery, for me, is an escape from a world where things are constantly and rapidly changing. Information transfers faster than the blink of an eye, there is a continual pressure to maintain and struggle with new-found platforms like Social Media, which encapsulates so much of daily existence. Viewing art is my escape from the hustle and bustle of life itself, to slow down, relax and be calm, even if it is momentary.
Who are your favourite artists and why?
I have so many favourite artists from Paul Delaroche to Monet, Bonnard and – although I never thought I would hear myself say this – Mark Rothko. I think if any artist paints with real conviction it will show in their art and it’s this conviction that is transferred to the viewer. I think good art makes you feel and retain something of the art in your soul.
I love Paul Delaroche’s painting of the “Execution of Lady Jane Grey” because he makes me feel vulnerable and in danger and there is nothing you can do to change the situation and with this comes the realization that life is too short to worry! We must just get on with simply living in our own way. I love Paul Delaroche’s technique.
Monet and his “Water Lilies”. I adore Monet’s handling of paint. According to the artist, he painted his water lilies with only six colours, lead white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, red lake, cobalt blue and viridian, which gave him a minimum of eleven different hues. He reduces the oil content of the paint and pulls the paint across the canvas giving the painting a dense relief-like sculptured feeling. However, if you look closer at the edges of his canvases, you can see that he adheres to the rule (thick over thin rule).
I had the fortune to live in Toulouse in the South of France, where the Fondation Bemberg houses one of the biggest collections of Pierre Bonnard in Europe. Whenever I felt my work wasn’t going well, I would pop into the museum and sit in front of the numerous Bonnard paintings. I would feel immediately uplifted. He is a painter who painted with “conviction”. His paintings are badly composed, his perspective is bad or totally non-existent but his conviction is total and his paintings come off as being wonderfully airy, bright and colourful.
I’m not an abstract painter and never will be. I hadn’t much time for abstraction. However, I have always had an open mind and I went on my own to see Mark Rothko at the Tate and was blown away. I loved the way the edges of the strips blur gently into each other. His paintings are full of energy.
What or who inspires your art?
My inspiration comes solely from nature. I think everything boils down to nature. Even if you are a city painter, some buildings have been inspired by nature. Some technology has been inspired by nature. You just simply can’t get away from it.
Where’s your studio and what’s it like?
I’m extremely lucky in that I have two studios, both facing the sea. My main studio is in Kent, directly opposite the beach. It’s around 55 square metres, with all the luxuries, heating, internet, telephone and a bed. I also rent a studio in St. Raphaël which is located on the Côte d’Azur, again facing the sea. This also has the essentials – heating and telephone but minus the internet, which I don’t miss in the slightest.
Do you have any studio rituals?
I’m an early riser. I’m usually up by 5.00 am not because I want to but because I don’t sleep well. I was taking sleeping tablets for a number of years to get a good night’s sleep. However, I decided there weren’t enough hours in the day, so I might as well just get up. I must have a cup of tea as soon as I get up, two strong tea bags and two heaped teaspoons of brown sugar. I always start work by 6.00 am and stop around 11.00 am for a bacon sandwich. I start working again and work until I’m too tired to work anymore. I have invested in daylight bulbs so I can work until 7.00 pm in the winter. I always eat dinner around 7.30 pm. Sometimes I will work even after that. I always take Saturday afternoons and Sundays off.
What are you working on currently?
In February, 2016, Harpers of London commissioned me to paint a series of canvases taking the Côte d’Azur as my inspiration. The work has been commissioned over a three-year period.
Where can we buy your art?
The only galleries that I am working with are McNeill Gallery, Market Place, Pewsey, Wilts SN9 5AA, UK +44 (0)7702 472 326, http://www.mcneillgallery.com
and Galerie de l’Echarpe, 18 rue Peyrolières, 31000, Toulouse.(Agent in France – Jack Lalo)
My websites are http://sallytrueman.com
I have worked with both gallerists for many years.
What are your ambitions?
I really would love to travel more and my ambition is to travel through China and Russia by train. Getting out at certain stops and jumping back, moving on to somewhere new. What a way to see these vast countries. The idea of going to sleep and waking up somewhere different would be incredible.