Friday 15 October 2010

The Friday Interview: Heloise Toop

And it’s the Friday interview! (I love doing these). Today’s is with Heloise Toop.
Heloise in front of a self-portrait
Heloise is an artist based in Cambridge who I came across when we went round Open Studios this summer (for those of you who haven’t been following my blog since day one and taking careful note of everything I say, Open Studios is a series of weekends in July when artists open up their houses and you can go and look at their work, stroke their cats and generally bother them. It’s a great idea and you get to see loads of really varied work). Well, by the time we got to Heloise, it was the late afternoon, and we were very tired. We had stroked cats all across Cambridge (and some of them had been quite challenging), we had tried to find thoughtful things to say about a variety of media, and we were arted-out. We were Hardened Art Consumers. Ha! It was going to take something fairly special to impress us! Then we saw Heloise’s paintings and to say we were impressed is an understatement – we were blown away. They were fantastic. I kind of love portraits anyway, and I love colourful, bold paintings, so I was predisposed to like them, but even so I did find them unusually haunting. I think what got me was that they have a kind of hyper-realist quality, but there is something calm, rather than cruel, about the way they expose their subjects. Anyway, I will stop babbling, and we will get on with the interview.

1/ How would you describe what you do?
I paint portraits in Acrylic or Oil aiming for a sense of realism, but also attempting to make them exciting with colour and composition.

I love faces, and I try to create pieces that make the viewer stop and take notice. I sometimes do this by cropping the face, so it is large on the canvas, and the facial features are prominent and engaging, or I work on large scales with lots of colour so they're hard to miss!

2/ Which of the things you’re working on at the moment are you most excited about?
I am in the process of painting a wonderfully gifted actor, Jan Uddin, who has an amazing face and incredible engaging eyes. I have painted his portrait before, but this time I am painting him full length, on a very large scale. It's very different to anything I've ever done. You'll have to wait and see!

I also have a commission to paint Brian Belo, winner of Big Brother 2007 who has an instantly recognisable face and a heart of gold. I will have to try to convey this in the painting. Apart from that I am about to undertake a commission of three beautiful children which I'm very excited about, as it's always nice to paint those big eyes and innocent faces.
Portrait of Jan Uddin
3/ You have a distinctive, and clearly well-developed, style. Do you feel having developed something so effective and coherent relatively early on in your career restricts you or liberates you?
I am very flattered that you think my style is well-developed. I have never thought it was!

I struggle through a lot of paintings trying to find my way as I go, and to me, I'm still attempting and discovering new things all the time.

I am pleased that my paintings could be seen as having a distinctive style. I have never noticed a particular style, but it's incredibly hard to look at your own work objectively. So, in answer to the question, I don't feel restricted, just happy that I know what kind of thing I'm drawn to, and that I'm passionate about it. I'm sure my style will evolve over the years. Experimenting is half the fun.

4/ Is it any more difficult finding inspiration in commissioned pieces than subjects you’ve chosen yourself?
It can be difficult when people have a very rigid idea of what they want, and I'm not allowed any input at all. It's only happened on a couple of occasions but the paintings don't come out looking like mine. Unless a person commissioning an artist wants a piece of the artist in the work, then there is no point in commissioning them.

If I'm allowed a fairly free hand to choose what I think would work best for the commission regarding pose, background etc, it is easy to find inspiration, because it's my vision.

I love painting lots of different people, and there are exciting ways to paint everybody. It just works better if people trust me to make the right decision.

5/ What quality are you drawn to in the subjects of your pictures? What do you see in their faces that makes you want to paint them?
I haven't ever really thought about it, but I suppose I'm drawn to people with strong facial features. Big noses and distinctive eyes. Out of choice I seem to go for people with a slightly ethereal look about them. For my non commissioned work, I often paint my sister, partly because she's free to model, and partly because I love her quirky style and huge blue eyes. She is also willing to put up with me sticking butterflies in her hair and dressing her up as the Mad Hatter. I can't thank her enough.

6/ Do you have other creative interests, or is painting your focus?
I have been playing the flute for fourteen years and I've dabbled in crafty things like sewing and customising clothes and other objects, but my heart truly lies in painting.

7/ Are there any other artists you particularly admire, or are inspired by?
It was the Pre Raphaelites who got me interested in portraiture while I was doing my A Levels, just because their paintings are so beautiful and magical. I love Millais especially, and 'Ophelia' is one of my favourite paintings. I also like Andy Warhol because of the large scale and acidic colours of his work. I always go to see the BP Portrait Award at The National Portrait Gallery, and I think a lot of the artists who are exhibited there are fantastic.
In The Shadows (which features gold leaf. I'm a sucker for gold leaf).
8/ Where do you see yourself and your paintings in ten years’ time?
Haha, where I see myself and what I wish for myself are very different things!

I would love to be in a house with a big studio, painting with the sun streaming through the windows without a care in the world, looking at all my art awards shimmering in the light and a waiting list ten feet long to be cracking on with.

However! What I'll actually aim for over the next few years, is to be exhibited in London, either in the Mall Galleries again, or ideally, in the BP Portrait Award. I would love to be able to make my living purely from my paintings, but that's probably a bit much to hope for.

I hope that in ten years I will still have the support and interest from the people that I am lucky enough to have now, and that others still enjoy my work. Fingers crossed!

Fingers crossed indeed. Thank you, Heloise, you were a lovely interviewee, and I wish you every success with your painting (and so do my mum and dad, who did Open Studios with me, and are big fans). To find out more about Heloise, or to commission a painting, you can look at her website. I’ll also update about future exhibitions (and if I ever sort out the how-to-earn-money issue and we can go a few months without the bathroom exploding or the ceiling falling in, I may start saving for a picture myself. In the meantime, Heloise, if you ever want a free no-strings model, just give me a shout. I'm not sure my face is very interesting, but I have got quite a big nose ;-) ).

Have a lovely weekend everyone!


Picturetalk321 said...

You have listed some reactions I could have 'funny, interesting, useful'. But my reaction is 'excited!!!' This is totally fabulous. I've been planning to interview people but haven't yet done it and feel a bit timid so this is a wonderful post for me. I will bookmark and *study* it. ;-)

Great painter, too. I've just had a look at her website, too. Thanks for sharing this!