On the twentieth anniversary of Andrew Tozer’s first show at Beside The Wave, Erin Sawyer goes to meet him and find out more about what motivates him and how he has found success as an outstanding contemporary impressionist.
Why do you paint? And what drives you?
Why do I paint? Lots of reasons: one is problem solving and working out how you do things; that’s a constant challenge and conundrum was a student I used to cycle from Kilburn to my job in Ikea – all along the way there were these really complicated housing lines and roof lines and I thought how on earth could you make pictures of that? I had this idea that you could sort of take photographs and then – if you had a big sheet of acetate you could draw the outlines of them and I think it was just the challenge of it – working out how best to capture something.
Is that how you work now? Do you stumble across interesting landscapes and think how could I paint that?
I think it’s all about the longer you do it; when you first start of you make mistakes. I did. And you don’t really know what you’re doing. You have all these different methods that you use, and they become a part of your process. So, you ditch the ones that don’t work, keep the ones that do. And then you just keep building on that. For example, in a collection of 10 paintings, initially I might see a part of one painting and think – that’s amazing – and the rest of them I can’t yet stand. As you keep working on them you keep getting these little rewards and then over time, they build up into something – and just keep getting better and that becomes kind of addictive.
I teach at the Newlyn School of Art and I perform painting demonstrations with students. We go to places and analyse it – working out how to make the thing work. What I’ve learnt is the pitfalls of certain practices – so my thoughts are along the lines of is that part of the composition too complicated to get down in the time? Is the light going to change? So, I advise students to choose something simple, because their instinct is to pick something really huge and it always ends badly because you need a direction. The process of each painting differs for me but I am always looking for strategies for each painting to work with.
When you start it’s really difficult and you make lots of mistakes and I think I was lucky because I was painting full time when I was quite young. When I moved back from London I worked with my dad on the farm, but I still managed to paint for most of the day. We were on the farm early in the morning and late in the evening so I found the more time you can spend doing it the better and it was fun!
What do you want the viewer of your paintings to feel? Does it vary?
It’s really interesting and that really is the whole thing. I wanted paintings to say exactly what I felt at that time. I think I’ve found ways to do that. My paintings are subjective up to a point, everyone interprets them in their own way. However, I had to have some form of way of working or style that I could convey what I felt and that was really important.
I start with sketches, as I’ve found it’s a lot easier than painting outside. Some are quite accurate. Back in 2000, (and I know I sound like a dinosaur!) photographs were hard to do, and if you took a film camera out it was complicated. Photographs never worked for me when painting a landscape because I felt figures looked wooden, so I had to draw figures from life to help the paintings have movement – I think all of my style came from drawing – which is instantaneous.
Do you paint one painting at a time?
It depends what it is. With small paintings (and I haven’t worked on small scale in a long time) can be completed in one session. Larger works, I keep returning to. I like to finish smaller paintings in one go, and to bring them to a conclusion. If you’re working towards an exhibition, you have time to think about things a bit more, but I never like things to be over worked.
Having grown up in Cornwall do you feel your relationship to this place has changed? Is there an immunity to the charm of the place?
I don’t think so. If you’ve got away from Cornwall for a while you realise that (well, in my experience anyway) London can be so grotty and it opens your eyes – but without this there’s a tendency to take Cornwall for granted. If you’re trapped in suburbia there’s only so much inspiration you can get.
I longed for the Cornish landscape. I always appreciate Cornwall now and I love being outside with my paints. It feels so indulgent and I just never seem to lose that feeling. Being down at Port Navas at eleven in the morning, painting away, and you think this is just amazing and such a privilege. I just love it.
What is your favourite place in Cornwall to paint?
I prefer the South to North Coast. I always feel like a bit of a visitor on the North Coast! Falmouth is so soft and lovely – I love the light. I have a friend who’s a painter say something interesting to me recently: she observed that if you look at the South Coast painters their palette is always quite silvery, because generally for most of the day they are looking into the light. If you’re on the North Coast, it’s normally behind you – I found that interesting. Ken Howard, Scott-Tuke, Charles Napier Hemy (who’s very own paint box I have) – and I – all love all the creeks of the South Coast.
20 years of Beside The Wave, what does that mean?
I suppose it’s scary on a level because you wonder where the 20 years have gone – and I still remember the first day I had my work at the gallery. When I was taken on that was fantastic – my friend Mike Hindle was working down there and he told me to take my paintings in, so we arranged a meeting, the team liked it and they took it! So, I floated around for a few days on that one! And then I remember coming back from the top fields and on walking in, mum told me that the gallery had sold four of my paintings, and they wanted some more! I thought wow! I had friends still up in London doing their dissertations and I had managed to move home and start actually selling my work!
I suppose I’ve sort of grown up with Beside The Wave, and the Gallery has helped me a lot really over the years. Beside The Wave has always had such high standards when it comes to the people that work there and Ingrid was always very encouraging and inspiring me to do different things – for me to push myself.
That was very good. I think if you’re a professional painter, and do it every day, you have to produce a lot of paintings, but you also have to keep things interesting and keep your inspiration levels up – for yourself and for your collectors who are the people who have invested their money in you over the years. You owe it to them to keep doing what you’re doing, and I feel Beside the Wave has allowed me to do that over the years.