Simon Kenny’s dreamlike semi-abstract skyscapes and landscapes bring Turner’s use of light firmly to mind. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Simon, and he shares with us the details of his inspirations and artistic career, from his invitation to study at Canterbury art college aged just 11, to his formative years in the south of France.

revelation painting by Simon Kenny
Revelation by Simon Kenny

Did you go to art college? If so, where, and what was your experience like?
I was offered a place at Canterbury art college at the age of just 11 years old, which I was told a very rare offer. It would have meant taking my GCSEs early and although I was told I was talented the additional workload scared me off so I didn’t accept. In my early years I saw art as just a hobby and found I only wanted to be creative when the mood took me so 5 days a week or more seemed like a lot of pressure. Silly really but things worked out in the end.

How did your interest in painting develop?
I have a very artistic family and I used to go and stay with my grandparents every summer in the South of France at a lovely little seaside town called St Jean De Luz. It was the ideal break away from life back home which was sometimes a little rocky. My granddad was an artist himself and he was also a good friend and collector of the late famous Spanish painter Uria Monzon.On many of our outings my granddad used to take me around the local towns pencil and pastel sketching these amazing landscapes and old buildings. On a handful of occasions we’d swing by Uria’s Gallery and check out his latest works. Between my family and the amazing artistic holiday locations I don’t think I could have asked for more encouragement.

Summer Rain by Simon Kenny
Summer Rain by Simon Kenny

How do you choose your subjects?
My work is very emotional based so the ideas tend to form with my mind set rather than just choosing a subject. I do sometimes use landscape, seascape and skyscape photos give me a shape or choose colours but that’s about it as I want to keep the paintings as directly linked to my creative vibe as possible.

Could you describe the process you go through in imagining, planning, and creating a painting?
The process really begins with a simple idea, sometimes just a name, or my music will get me moving forward in a certain direction. Then once I have the creative spark I’ll think shape, not just of the image I want to paint but of how it will fit in to what shape canvas. Then I’ll think textures and areas of interest. I don’t lay down colour until I have my shape right, then I may add a few bold colours and start to build the painting up. I always try to leave an area of light in the canvas, sometimes more than one, this kind of draws the eye in and I very gently pull the light areas around creating cloud like effects. This will all normally culminate in an emotionally charged swipe with various palette knives bringing out the 3 dimensional viewpoints I usually try to finish on. Then I sit and stare at the painting for many minutes, sometimes very long minutes, at times even taking photographs to see how things look on camera just to get another perspective. If I’m not happy I’ll highlight or lowlight until things standout as I want.

What are your favourite types of paints to use?
I like oils because of the softness and light blending ability. I use acrylics simply for the vibrancy and fast drying rates. Both are versatile and I often build an under painting quickly in acrylics then finish it in oils softening it down.

Who and what are your main inspirations?
I’m fascinated by people, our emotional responses, our belief systems and the world we live in. I love all the nature and science stuff, and find myself glued to the Discovery channels or normally have my head in a book full of information about the natural world or outer space, so the inspiration is everywhere.  I love weather, especially the moody British weather and often use images of storms to help me create my painting shapes. All that said music also plays a huge part in my inspiration and some songs can really pull my emotions forward getting me creatively flowing.

What other jobs have you had?
For nearly six years I was a director and designer at a bespoke furniture manufacturing company which I started from scratch. Before that I was in the building trade managing a renovations company. Art was more of spare time thing back then but I would still paint on weekends and in the evenings, selling works as and when I could and was actually commissioned twice before I turned professional.

 

Flux by Simon Kenny
Flux by Simon Kenny

Do you every get creative blocks, and if so, how do you deal with them?
I don’t really get creative blocks before I start I painting, it tends to happen more when I’m in the middle of one, which is really more like losing direction and it can be incredibly frustrating. I used to try to force the work through but this rarely worked out for me and I can always see in the finished piece where things started going wrong. Now a day’s I kind of feel  the anxiety building, and when I know I’ve lost my way a little I’ll take a step back, put the canvas on the wall and walk away from it. I try not to look at it for at least half an hour, then, when I re-enter the room I’ll stand back, as far back as I can and then I can usually I see my way forward or least see where to start up from.

What advice do you have to young artists just starting out?
It’s like I advise my kids, practise, practise, practise. Understanding paint is key to how I work so I invested a lot of time and effort into  learning about glazes, textures, maintain light, building colour and so on. I don’t believe you have to be brilliant with a pencil to make a great artist you just have to be confident in what you do and that comes with a full understanding of your tools and how you apply them. I was very good a sketching from a young age but my early paintings were less than desirable so once I wanted to develop this area of my creative ability I simply invested in myself until I was confident enough to move to the next level and I’m still learning today. My artistic journey has so far been a bit of a personal rollercoaster but I can say every second has been worth it.