Bradd Westmoreland has developed a practice that is deeply rooted in routine. His consistent method of sketching, writing and life drawing is the foundation of his art-making. ARTIST PROFILE visited Westmoreland in his Northcote, Melbourne studio to learn more about the intricacies of his practice, his inspirations and motivations.
IN YOUR WORK I SEE A MIXTURE OF WHIMSY, expressionism, abstraction, landscape. Tell me how you see your art; what is it that you investigate or try to portray in your paintings?
I guess you could say they are paintings about painting. It’s about using the actual materials; I love oil paint, the brushes, the canvas. I love all the tangible possibilities, the malleable qualities of the actual materials – they’re always changing and unpredictable at times. In terms of the actual images, I can only say they come from each other. A current painting probably relates to something that happened previously and that’s how they keep evolving in a sense.
You have a strong studio practice that relies on routine. How does this fuel your work?
Daily routine is the foundation of my practice. I rely on routine to keep up some sort of momentum – you can’t just hang around and wait for something to land on you. I like the idea of inspiration coming out of work itself. And that’s important for me mentally, to keep busy and not dwell on the work I’ve already made.
Drawing is a big part of your practice as well. Are sketches or drawings a framework for your paintings?
Not usually, no. And if I do start with the drawing before the painting then it generally shifts quite a bit in the actual painting, anyway. Most of the time I start a painting directly on the canvas and I take it from there and the drawings happen in conjunction with the oil painting.
In starting a new painting, what is the anchor point or launch pad?
You could say the two or three hours of starting a painting is the fun part. I literally just start putting paint on the canvas. Often it will be a drawn image with the brush – something to work on the foundations of the image and then I try to work with that to a point, or sometimes I have to work against it if it’s not working. It’s all this idea of hoping to get into it, hoping that you’re not thinking about what you’re doing and that it becomes a more intuitive process. That comes from regular work, regular practice in the studio. It’s not like riding a bike where if you’ve had a break you can just hop on and ride again – I don’t think painting is like that, art is not like that. You’ve got to work at it to get going.
The role of the figure in your paintings. It seems it is used as a compositional device, as opposed to telling a narrative?
Yes, exactly. My work is about other paintings. And by that I’m implying it refers indirectly to art history, not just my painting. My practice relates to a lot of other painting that I look at, and that goes way back to early Renaissance through to what’s happening now. The figure comes out of my interest in art history. My all-time favourite painter is Matisse. And his use of colour and the figure and the interior and the landscape, I’m just in awe of it all. He was experimental and had a massive influence on art in general, and it’s still influencing me today!
I’m intrigued by the breadth of colour in your work. The paintings in this studio have a distinct and varied palette. How do you approach or think about colour?
The actual paint that I use is very rich in pigment – it’s Michael Hardings paint. He’s an old-fashioned paintmaker who calls himself a “colour man”. It’s very pure pigment and there’s not much filler in there and as soon as you put it on the canvas it is intense and pure. I tend to use primary and secondary colours and not so many of the tertiary colours. And the mixing of colour happens on the canvas, not on the palette so much, which means the colour remains pure and bright. I don’t know what it is but I’ve always used colour to express my paintings. I don’t recognise the colour as bright or bold though. For me, it’s about the composition with the figure or the landscape. It’s about trying to use colour as a way to describe space or form or light in the paintings.
It feels like you have an affinity to the pureness of your materials – canvas, paint, colour – and that once you put brush to canvas, you’re on this quest the enter a trance-like state.
That’s the ideal state to be in but it’s very brief and if it happens at all it passes very quickly; attempting to allow the painting do its thing and to let it happen, hoping it just flows really. And that is the perfect analogy for oil paint because it just flows and breathes and shifts and changes, which is part of its beauty. I do love the materials. I keep it simple and rudimentary in fact. It’s all pretty basic and that is what I love about the history of oil painting. None of it has really changed for a very long time. Stylistically, painting has changed over the centuries but the act of painting is still very similar to the way we work is much the same.