Award-winning artist to the Royals Jeremy Houghton is hosting an exhibition of his work in Gallery 8 in Duke Street in November, in support of Hope and Homes for Children. We caught up with in run up to the exhibition.
How did you get into art to begin with? Did you always want to be an artist?
If I’m completely honest my school reports were not the best – apart from when it came to art that is. If I ever had any spare time at school I could be found in the art classrooms drawing. My parents were very supportive of this. I was always surrounded by paintings in the family home while growing up. My mum never pursued a career in art, but she was a good painter in her own right and went to art school. I always dreaded doing a job which I couldn’t enjoy, and so it was slightly ironic that I eventually found myself getting blown off course and pursuing a law degree at Exeter University. I guess sometimes you have to make the wrong decisions to make the right decisions. I knew immediately I didn’t want this to be my future, so I went on to do a Foundation course in art at the Slade. I then spent six years as Head of Art at the International School of Cape Town, in South Africa – an experience that has had a profound mark on my life and art work. For me, it was the real boy to man experience. In fact, it was in South Africa that I first studied the movement of flamingos. This fascination of birds and flight remains a central theme in my work to this day.
In 2009 you were commissioned to paint HM The Queen – tell us about that!
Being in Cape Town, away from the norms and expectations of the UK, gave me the time to work out that I wanted to be a full time artist. But it wasn’t until I hit the big 30 (in 2004) that I took the plunge. It had to work financially, though, so that’s when I decided to come back to the UK. After my first exhibition in London in 2007, I was asked to shadow the Gentleman At Arms, and paint scenes from their 500th Anniversary year. One of the paintings from this residency was of The Queen at St James’ Palace. Fortunately for me, the painting opened up doors at Highgrove and Windsor. I’ve never looked back from there.
You were the official artist at the London 2012 Olympic Games, how did that come about?
By good fortune I happened to be one of a group of artists who were painting for Lloyds Bank as the Olympics approached. They were one of the sponsors of the Games and so I found myself being asked to produce more and more Olympic-themed paintings in the build up to 2012. To cut a long story short, BT also eventually became sponsors, and having seen my work they, and the Patrons of the Games, asked me to document the social and cultural significance of the London Olympics as the official painter in residence. It was a fascinating process – one which allowed me to explore the social and historic relevance of sport. I wanted to humanize the athletes and I hope I achieved that in my work.
How would you describe the style of your work? Are there underlying themes throughout?
Movement, light, space and a real fascination in flight are absolutely central themes of my art. This harks back to my time in South Africa. There’s so much you can paint there – there’s an infinity of options and for me it was the flamingos in the distance that caught my eye. If you see flamingos on the horizon, it almost looks like a mirage. There are thousands of birds and you’ve got the abstract shapes, the water, the colour, ever changing, always moving. It just gripped me. It’s those flamingos that have provided the inspiration for my ‘Flight’ portfolio. My flight studies are all done from my mind’s eye. I’m constantly trying out new ideas. The shapes between the birds it what fascinates me the most. I guess it’s a bit like poetry or music in that sense. Often the pauses are what makes a great poem or song, and that’s no different in terms of my paintings and the spaces between the birds in flight.
Tell us about the exhibition that’s coming up at Gallery 8
I do one London exhibition each year. They are a retrospective of what I’ve been working on in the last 12 months, so this year there will be work on display from my time in residence at the Americas Cup, for the James Hunt Foundation and with Goodwood. There will also, of course, be work from my ‘Flight’ portfolio.
Why have you chosen to support Hope & Homes for Children?
I have a very strong sense of home and a value for belonging. You can see this in my art work, and you can also see it in the projects which Hope and Homes for Children run across the world.
It’s a charity which finds safe, family based care for vulnerable children who would otherwise spend their childhoods in loveless orphanages. I have children of my own and we all live in the same house where I grew up as a child. My kids have dinner in the same room where I had my dinner with my parents, they wonder through my art studio and they play in the same garden where I had hours upon hours of fun as a kid. I have an incredibly strong sense of family and I feel unbelievably lucky to have this. If I can help in any way to give vulnerable children the chance to be part of a family, to live in a real home with a kitchen table and a bed of their own, then I want to do that.
For more information about Jeremy Houghton’s exhibition at Gallery 8, please email email@example.com.