South East Open Studios Interview: ‘Painting Holds Me to the Earth’

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An interview with SEOS painter and sculptor Richard Ian Heys
Photos by Grzegorz Iwanski
Richard lives and works in Forest Row, East Sussex, on the edge of the Ashdown Forest. He was born and raised on a farm in West Yorkshire, beside Dovestones reservoir and the moors of the Peak District.

What is your practice?
I work in many different media, but I’d principally describe myself as an abstract painter and sculptor. At the moment I am working in acrylics and oils, creating a series called Gravity’s Rainbow, working with different squeegees, diffusers, palette knives, sponges and brushes to build colourful, many-layered paintings. In the works I am constantly trying to find the balance between the poles of light and darkness, between weight and lightness, movement and stillness.
When I’m working, deeply involved in the process of painting, I am passionately focused in the present moment and in the “life” of the art piece; as one colour demands another, for balance, or to vivify, and one movement and intervention suggests another to deepen the piece, or simplify and resolve an unsatisfactory passage. It’s almost as if I am tuning a painting, to balance the tension held in the piece, like a taut wire which will resonate and sing at different pitches, depending on the tightening or slackening of the whole.
In the studio I always have a lot going on – I either work serially on small groups of paintings, moving from one to the other, or focus more intensively on one or two larger pieces, building up the works layer by layer.
In terms of sculpture, over the past few months I have been working on some clay pieces in the studio and now that the weather is improving I am itching to get outside and begin some wood carving again.
What is your training and background? I have a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Backhouse College of Art, Sunderland, 1986. I also have a Diploma in Sculpture from Emerson College, East Sussex, 2001.
How do you fit your teaching career around producing art in so many different mediums?
I am a visiting art tutor and lecturer at various adult education colleges and secondary schools, including Emerson College in Forest Row and Tobias School of Art and Therapy in East Grinstead. This enables me to develop many approaches to different art practices, hones my appreciation of contemporary practice and keeps me fresh and inventive! I don’t tend to teach out of my personal practice as I don’t wish to narrow my students’ skills. Instead I try to offer a wide range of experiences in an inspiring way, and so broaden each student’s base of practise before style and approach can limit their development. As there is so much to draw from it is a pleasure to explore and teach art. I find challenge and change a great key to creativity. On the other hand, repetition and reproduction kill me stone dead.
What inspires and influences you?
I am inspired by nature, literature, poetry, friendships, music and passing time. I experience the present moment as a volatile nexus of fresh influences and memories. Working tensions come about because of the media, tools and surfaces, the quality of light entering the studio, the season. My current questions and the answers I can come to in the creative process, lead me on.
Ian McKeever wrote ‘The greater the question, the greater the answer.’
Some themes are with me for a decade or more, as I explore different ways to create a piece. Working to create an out-streaming quality or a luminosity with different motifs in a painting can obsess me for months. In this search I am processing my life, as the painter Leigh Hyams wrote, ‘Painting holds me to the earth’.
How do you market your Paintings and Sculptures?
Currently my goal is to become better known as an artist in London and the South East. I am represented by Ashdown Gallery in Forest Row, East Sussex . In addition, I sell my work from the studio by appointment and during South East Open Studios and at local art events such as the Ashdown Arts group, the Uckfield Art Trail and by exhibiting in several local businesses.

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Has your Website and Social Networking become an important part of promoting your work?
Since 2013 I have been focusing on building my presence on Facebook and Twitter. Social media is an important part of my marketing effort, offering ways of getting my work seen and giving people insights into my life as an artist and the processes involved in the creation of my work. Some of my pieces are for sale through on-line galleries such as Artfinder and Saatchi Online. I also have a website which is an important showcase for my work. I have sold quite a number of pieces through social media, but the majority of my work is still sold through people actually seeing and falling in love with a piece. Nothing beats that!
How long have you been participating in Open Studios and what has your experience of SEOS been?
June 2014 will be the fourth time I have participated in Open Studios. In 2001 and 2002 I shared an open studio with my brother in law, the sculptor Ken Smith, in Withyham, Sussex, and last year I opened up my beautiful studio here in Forest Row. I sold over 20 paintings during Open Studios in 2013 which I was delighted about, and very much enjoyed the opportunity to talk about and showcase my work.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on panels (board and aluminium panels and a variety of papers) with a view to creating beautiful, spatially challenging and ambiguous paintings. This week I am exploring humble card as a ground for painting. This wonderful, soft surface enables me to develop a rich patina like worn leather.
My current approach to painting was sparked by a sense of frustration I experienced at the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2011. His paintings left me feeling in a trapped state, they had no sense of breath in them – it was like looking at a plastered wall or a badly taken photograph. I wanted to take up the contemporary theme of disguising the hand of the artist but rather to create beautiful paintings with a transparency and depth to them. This aim has led me on a fascinating and enjoyable journey, during which I have explored the use of many tools and squeegees – even designing my own squeegees along the way!


When and where can we see more of your work?
My work is for sale at the Ashdown Gallery, Forest Row. In June2014 my work will be on show here at my Open Studio in Forest Row and from 18 – 19 July 2014 I will be exhibiting work in the Uckfield Art Trail. Studio visits, by appointment, can also be made. Online you can find me at and at or you can follow me on twitter ♦