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Derbyshire artist Andrew Macara

PUBLISHED: 11:02 10 January 2011 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013

Derbyshire artist Andrew Macara

Derbyshire artist Andrew Macara

Ashley Franklin meets one of Derbyshire's finest and best loved artists

Andrew Macara tells me that a psychiatrist in Harley Street once bought seven of his paintings to hang in his waiting room. I was told they were going to be useful for testing the reactions of his patients, says Andrew.


I can only assume that if any patients had a negative reaction to Andrews pictures, the psychiatrist would have had his work cut out.


I am certainly not in need of any counselling because every time I see a Macara canvas, it makes me smile. Gaze at any of the painting in these pages and you can pinpoint Andrews inspiration in two words: sunlight and shadows.


Whether Andrew has had his easel and oils out in the summery shade of a courtyard in Kos or on the wintery slopes of a sledge run in the Peak District, there are invariably figures, especially children, depicted in play on sun-kissed canvases full of vitality, colour and optimism.


No wonder the distinguished English painter Ken Howard declared that through his paintings, Andrew touches the everyday joy of life.


On a similar note, Nicholas Pritchard of the Contemporary Fine Art Gallery in Eton says that Andrew creates atmosphere and light that take us out of the drudgery of everyday life. He paints places we would love to visit.


According to Jane Wallis, who once curated an exhibition of Andrews work at Derby Museum & Art Gallery: Andrews seemingly simple, brightly-coloured canvases effortlessly capture location, movement, energy, light and colour. But more importantly, they also capture the joy of being alive in this beautiful world. That is a very special skill indeed.


Indeed, behind those seemingly simple canvases is a skill that Andrew Macara developed, crafted and honed over long years. He didnt become a full-time painter until he was 39, though he had been drawing from infancy and painting since a teenager.


Mr Wright, Andrews art teacher at Woodlands School, Allestree, was the first to inspire him, and then at Stanley College on Duffield Road, the headmaster Mr Horridge selected some of Andrews pictures for extra praise.


Although also encouraged by his artist mother and three of his four brothers who were all interested in art, Andrew never had a tutor, aside from the time he studied part-time at Green Lane College of Art and attended a course run by St Ives artist Leonard Fuller. Instead, he taught himself to paint, influenced by the great artists and even learning by copying old masters from art books.


His output was prolific and quite profitable. I only did it as practice, admits Andrew, but I ended up producing 70 or 80 pictures a year, and sold them for 9 or 10 apiece. However, it was a long time before he took the plunge into professional status. Ive never been an overtly commercial artist, states Andrew; I never sold to the marketplace and largely avoided commissions.


Andrew persisted with his own vision while holding down various jobs like caravan salesman and fruit and veg retailer. During this time, he settled down in Littleover, on the outskirts of Derby, in the house where he has now lived with his wife Ann for 38 years.


In 1983, after his work had been selling well at more and more galleries, including the prestigious Upstairs Gallery at the Royal Academy, Andrew moved into his top floor studio full time.


He left the familys caravan business which his elder brother Bob eventually took over and still runs. His younger brother Ian is a talented painter, though he made medicine his career, becoming a world authority on cancer while teaching at Harvard. The youngest of the brothers, Gordon, became a full-time artist even before Andrew but died of viral pneumonia in 1981, aged 27.


Andrews career has been marked by consistent gallery exhibitions and sales. To satisfy demand and feed his own insatiable appetite, Andrew works abroad for several months each year. His pictures continually crave a climate with clear skies and he finds empathetic subject matter in both the golden warmth of Mediterranean resorts and the shade of oven-baked climes like India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Egypt. Mind you, he say, as long as I get an interesting combination of sunlight and shadow, I might as well be in my back garden as Barbados!


That said, his paintings of faraway locations are notable for the vibrant coloured buildings. His wife Ann recalls that even when she and Andrew visited the Taj Mahal, Andrew soon started to hanker for the colourful, humbler and simpler dwellings in another corner of Agra.


Its actually thanks to his wife that Andrew was aware of those other places. Ann has always been vitally important to my work, declares Andrew. She is constantly seeking out locations for me. Not only that, she looks after my accounts and is also a valued critic; she will let me know if a painting is not quite right and spot an error I havent noticed. Many times her judgment has led me to repaint parts of paintings.


Ann is an expert at stretching canvases, too, adds Andrew, and when it comes to exhibitions, she checks all those vital details like frames, sizes, lists and labels. There is more to painting than most people realise.


Indeed, a certain degree of fitness is another requirement some might find surprising: I sometimes have to walk for miles carrying my equipment, he tells me, and it can be tough painting snowscapes at -7 in a freezing wind. Equally, working in 100 or more in India or Africa is not easy going. And you can add to that the crowds of onlookers and inquisitive kids!


Sometimes Andrew can spend hours walking around looking for the right scene to paint, and be left twiddling his brushes if the sun refuses to show. But when the sun comes out, says Andrew, its like a spotlight being trained on to a theatre stage. The sun provides the drama and everything comes alive.


For anyone who says painting is relaxing, think again. Once Andrew starts painting, he is under extreme pressure to catch the light before it changes. Fortunately, he is a prodigiously quick painter with a strong visual recall, too, so if the light does change, he can rely on his memory.
Andrews rapid strokes with a brush appear to have influenced the way his paintings turn out, as he explains: When I am painting spontaneously, I can only see the main planes of colour. I dont have time to do anything else. I try to capture the essence.


This approach was discerned by an art curator of over 35 years, Jonathan Riley, who absorbed himself in Andrews art for an insightful book on the artist. Jonathan opens his book by stating that Andrew Macara communicates with the viewer and, like all good communicators, he appears to make it simple. This is not because his paintings themselves are simple; in lesser hands, such paintings are quite dreadful. He has learned to leave out extraneous detail and paint the heart of the subject.


The aforementioned Nicholas Pritchard speaks of Andrews paintings being naively enjoyable and accessible to anyone, pronouncing him a peoples painter in the true meaning of that modern clich.


Someone even closer to Andrew is local industrialist Will Kenyon who has been collecting Modern British art for over 20 years and has come to be a good friend. Will believes the Macara style is a pleasing reflection of the man himself: Despite his success, Andrew is the most self-effacing and approachable man I know, which is not necessarily the case with artists. The reason for this can be explained by the paintings themselves which disdain any pretence and are as transparent and accessible in their appeal as their creator.


Despite having instant, low-brow, easy on the eye appeal, Andrews paintings never fail to produce a resonance with my visual-spiritual experience of life in the way they capture not only what I see andremember, but what I feel, too: nostalgia without sentimentality, life-affirming, happy pictures, capturing innocence and humanity at leisure; paintings which illuminate your living room on a dull day!


And there is even more to Andrews art than this, Will stresses: No other painter captures so well the weight of newly fallen snow on a branch, the effect of light reflecting on the shallow water of the tide line, or his signature use of strong shadows, which all depend on his rigorous insistence on painting in natural sunlight. So I admire his paintings close up as much as from a distance.


Andrew is currently preparing for a major exhibition at the Red Rag Gallery in Church Street, Stow on the Wold. As Andrew showed me his latest paintings with trademark sights of sail boats in the sun and families frolicking on British beaches he produced some abstract canvases depicting views through smeared windows, and then others showing another recent departure: reflections in water. As an artist I feel I should do experimental work, states Andrew. Its exciting to see where it may lead, and Im pleased to have had better reviews for my reflections paintings than I expected.


This new body of work has caught the eye of gallery owner Phil Tregoning who has been a flag waver for Andrews work for over two decades.


I simply love Andrews what you see is what you get approach to painting, says Phil. He is to painting as great chefs are to cooking. He uses simple ingredients to produce the most extraordinarily atmospheric dish. Movement, space, light and shade are skilfully combined in exact quantities to dish up a distinctive, celebratory concoction that I and many of my clients find irresistible.


I see Andrews foray into abstraction as inevitable, continues Phil. His desire to push boundaries and explore new horizons reveals to us all that the same ingredients, mixed differently, can and do provide a brand new dish. His reflections paintings are a testament to his mastery.


As Andrew passed retirement age recently, he merely waved at it from a distance. The work goes on and, if anything, hes as excited now as he was when the Royal Academy accepted his first painting over thirty years ago.


I still work every day either in the studio or outdoors and, like most painters, will never retire. My ambition now is to create paintings that have a fine balance between abstract and figurative. Many painters do their best work in their 70s and 80s, so I have something to look forward to.


A solo exhibition of Andrews new work focusing on British Scenes runs from 21st November to 3rd December at Red Rag Gallery, Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds. For details contact the gallery on 01451 832563 or view www.redraggallery.co.uk


With many thanks to Jonathan Riley, author of Andrew Macara, published by Construction Arts Ltd, 25, ltd edition, available at www.macara.com and selected galleries.

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