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An interview with Louise Corke

11 September 2015

You describe needing to feel still in yourself before you before you start painting. Can you describe what that still point is like?

Life is so busy, and we are always running here, there and everywhere, but when I paint it's a special time, because it is tapping into emotions. I need to be quiet within myself, to muse, and think within. Asking myself what am I feeling here in this space, allowing the feelings about the present moment, actually being in that place where you are, to drink it in, understand it, translate it.

What is the difference between that feeling of stillness and inspiration?

Some people are under the misconception that they just have to sit and wait until something really inspiring drops onto them, almost trance like. As though it is coming from some external source and is going to do something amazing within themselves. However my approach is one of searching. Although different things do inspire me, people inspire me, but when it comes to actually painting I can't be inspired unless I am still. It's not so much a concentration, It's just allowing, allowing what is actually happening within yourself. We look at so many things in the world but we don't actually see them. we look at an elephant and say, "Oh that's an elephant!"  But what does that really mean, what is interesting about it, how does it make you feel? It is something deeper than just recognition.

How would you describe inspiration then?

Being inspired by a subject is when you see something and it is just so awesome, just overwhelming. Van Gogh talked about this, that when he saw something that was just so beautiful that he just couldn't match it, so he just painted something beautiful on the surface, to celebrate that moment and that feeling. If I am in a landscape and I might do a 360 degree turn and there is something there, coming to me, I am not looking around trying to find it, it comes to me. I turn in the space and something speaks to me, something beckons me. The inspiration is the answer to a call of what is happening around me. I respond and say, "`Yes, I want to have a conversation with you. I want to tell the world your story."

So something really penetrates you, gets right in?

Yes, you can be looking at a subject and someone ask what colour is it, but I would say to just wait and the colours will come to you when they are ready. You sit quietly and wait for things to reveal themselves to you. Then what you do is true and has integrity.

Do the kind of things that inspire you change over time?

Oh definitely! We grow and change each year. We go through different things in our lives, so we are more receptive to things at different times. I think it is very useful to go through the trials we face in life because its makes you much more sensitive. towards the environment, and subjects. People inspire me by what they go through, seeing their faces,, I want to record it. Sometimes I might just want to be in big open spaces. It is a matter of what I am attuned to at that point in my life. Then I will want to paint it. If I am attuned to colour, then I will unconsciously be thinking of colour all through the day.

Your subject matter is very varied: landscapes to florals, to portraits. How do you choose what to paint? 

It is about not being stuck in a rut. Because part of what I am doing is a lot of teaching, so I like to do a lot of things, because people need to know how to do a particular subject. But whatever I am doing I love the most, so if I am doing landscape I love landscape the most, if it is portrait, I love them the most. If I am working in red, I love red the most, if orange, I love orange the most! 

Have you always worked in pastel?

What is it you love about pastels?

I feel very connected to them. You pick up a pastel and it is in your hands, and you can just dance your hand across the surface. There is not a brush to interrupt! I am very tactile and I don't mind getting my hands dirty. I have worked in clay enough to really enjoy that interaction between my fingers. It is a direct connection between me and my painting and the colours. The colours are just mesmerising, and they just do wonderful things inside me when I paint. They are beautiful and make me feel good.

What are your top three tips for working in pastel?

  1. Learn the art of appropriate pressure – i.e. how firmly or gently you allow the pastel to contact the surface.
  2. Explore mark making with abandonment!!
  3. Explore the many different surfaces available today, to find the one that really marries well with your own unique process.

You do quite a lot of teaching, what is your main concern when you are teaching?

I think my motive for teaching is that I want people to have a wonderful quality of life, because for me, painting opened up a whole new world. It changed me and I want to enable people to have that experience. You can be sitting at home with colours and some paper and the day can be fantastic!. I want others to be able to access that. I used to teach at primary school, so teaching is part of my training, it's something I really love and enjoy.

Is there anything difficult about teaching?

There are always things that make it difficult. Artists' brains are wired differently from the rest of the world, and then we are all wired differently from each other. We learn very differently. When you you say a sentence to a class, everyone can take it in a different way. The challenge is to be able to explain it in as many different ways as are needed, so that everyone in the room can understand. It is important to me that each person understands.

The second challenge is to constantly remain inspired, and be inspiring for other people. If I am not excited and enjoying what I am doing or, not animated, or progressing myself, then this would have an effect on those that come to my studio space. So I need to keep growing as an artist, keep my senses really keen, remain excited.

Also you have to be yourself and that is all you really can be. Then your message can hit home to someone. It is important to be sincere, to be honest about what you do know, or don't know, and to offer encouragement. Some people have really limped through life and it is not until they are in their seventies that they finally feel accepted and that they can actually do something! Those who have had a lot of negativity in their lives need so much encouragement.  For instance, if they finally get great shape in their painting, well that is fabulous. They may need to still work on composition, or colour, but for them to know they have got a great shape in their painting can make them feel so good.

What is your main aim as an artist, separate from teaching?

A painting is my opinion, my feeling, and what I hope is that it might really bless someone, and that they might perhaps understand what I felt. But people can read things into your painting too. I remember one lady buying one of my paintings, saying that she must have it, that the painting would heal her! So a painting can be very powerful. I didn't paint that picture to heal someone, I was just painting the flowers because they were so beautiful. If it makes someone feel good or adds value to their life it makes me feel so good. Paintings have more power than say a print. because a painting carries something of the spirit of the artist, an inner voice. People can be so moved by a piece of art, which defies logic sometimes, but they are. But I guess it is more than just wanting to bless people. I also have a Christian faith, and in talking with God and asking what my purpose was on this planet, I felt he told me that my task was to paint! I remember crying and thinking, how easy is that, how wonderful to have that as my job. For that reason I feel I have a mandate to follow, and it is so easy to follow. This is what I was created to do. But any skill I have managed to accquire, is from my point of view, a blessing from God.

Is there a painting that has had a powerful effect on you?

I saw some of Turner's oil paintings of Venice which I remember really inspired me. I think it was do do with the warmth in them, the soft approach, the delicacy, the emotion. There was a particular piece looking over the water to the Santa Maria della Salute. And I just thought that is just so beautiful. That really did inspire me. 

You have described waiting 20 years to paint the Santa Maria della Salute, how do you know when it is time to paint something?

It is a bit like, how long is a piece for string! I think it is a subconscious process: being somewhere and having felt some incredible emotion and then struggling with how to render that on a surface; tucking it away in the background; refreshing myself with the image every now and again, and revisiting that feeling; loving the subject, not analysing it; just trying to bring into focus and crystallising something; until you feel you are ready to go into the studio and put something down! It is building up a relationship with that subject, and it becomes clearer over time. For instance when I paint flowers, I have them in a jug on the table for a week and I just look at them every day. I love them and talk to them and feel their petals, and get enthralled by them! By the end of the week I am ready to paint them because I have got to know them, they have become my friends. It is like I then have their permission to paint them! I would find it very challenging to just walk into a situation and have to instantly paint something, because I would have no connection. I have got to have feeling, and some sense of relationship. Then there is meaning. Otherwise it would feel like doing it for just a technical reason. I want to go beyond the facts, it is about how I feel about something, and I want to explain that in my painting.



You travel a great deal when you are teaching, how important is travel to you?

It gives me an opportunity to become inspired. Looking at different things, different weather, different light, it is different all over the world. Even in Australia the light is different in the north, to the south,to the west, to the east. People are different too. This arouses all the senses which to me is the key to keeping inspired, and excited in my mind, because I have all this newness. Even when I am not travelling, I like to drive back home a different way, go the long route, the scenic route. So there is no monotony.

Anything else to finish?

I am passionate about what I do. The time when I am at my most vocal is when sharing about painting. I am actually a quiet, thinking person, but when it comes to art it's a different story all together! Life is amazing, and you never know what is around the corner. There are always challenges, but it is good to be challenged.

In May 2016 Louise is coming over from Australia to teach in Scotland. To get in touch with Louise, or find out about her teaching schedule, you can visit her website www.louisecorke.com or email her.  lou2345@bigpond.net.au

 

 

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