Since graduating in 2013, british contemporary artist Ian Rayer Smith has been prolific in his creating and is establishing himself as a highly accomplished and award winning artist, who explores and pushes the boundaries of contemporary painting with his own unique expressive style.
His work is highly charged with emotion, vibrant and energetic. Strongly influenced by the work of the abstract expressionists and the romantic light of the old masters, Rayer-Smith’s large oil and acrylic paintings effortlessly fuse abstraction, the figurative and the surreal. Ian Rayer Smith paints full time from studios in Manchester and in rural North Shropshire, England.
Voted one of Manchester’s Top 10 Artists by Manchester Confidential and Winner of the 2014 Warrington Contemporary Prize, Ian Rayer-Smith has been hailed as one of the North’s artists to watch.
1. Do you consider yourself as an emerging artist in contemporary art?
Ian Rayer Smith : I hope so. As a contemporary painter, I’ve been constantly experimenting and evolving to the point where I have now established my own artistic identity that validates me as an artist. Having said that, in many ways I feel I’m only at the beginning.
2. How would you define your style?
Ian Rayer Smith : I would say I’m a contemporary expressionist, I like my paintings to show a raw honesty and passion in the way the paint is applied. I also want my work to look contemporary, current, fresh and of its time, although there are definitely classical references to be seen in my work.
3. Can you talk about your formative years as an artist?
Ian Rayer Smith : I started painting relatively late in life after a career in business. Initially it was a distraction from the strains and pressures business life. But, slowly, painting began to take over. I wasn’t particularly well versed in technique at first, but I enjoyed it immensely. I gave up the corporate life and went to art school when in my late 30’s. Four years later, after completing my studies, I had established a definite sense of artistic direction, as well as valuable skills. I just knew I wanted and needed to paint full time.
4. Do you remember your first interaction with art?
Ian Rayer Smith : I suppose the most impactful memory was seeing a particular contemporary painting in a gallery which inspired me to start painting myself. I bought that painting, I still have it on my wall.
5. What other artists influence you, both contemporary and historical?
Ian Rayer Smith : There are so many artists that have influenced me. I think it’s important as a painter to know what is happening today in painting and what has happened before. It really helps in contextualising one’s own work and position. I’ve always been influenced by the abstract expressionists – for their passionate paint handling, invention and, most importantly, for the freedoms that come from dispensing with the representational image.
Over the years I have looked further and further back in time, and in particular I’ve found the Renaissance to be a hugely inspirational period. I find the use of light, dark and compositional techniques to be thrilling and strangely contemporary.
I have always been fascinated by the abstract expressionists. Their reputation was made mainly by the masculine, almost macho works of the better known names, but in fact my favourite artists from the abstract expressionist movement are predominantly the female painters. Joan Mitchell is probably at the top of the list. Her paint handling seems so much more vibrant, visceral and passionate than that of any of her male contemporaries. Also, Willem de Kooning and the lesser known Milton Resnick are hugely important to me. I admire many of today’s major contemporary painters, especially Albert Oehlen, Adrian Ghenie, Georg Baselitz, George Condo, Cecily Brown, Eddie Martinez and Philip Guston. However, when I look at these painters, their subject matter almost seems less important to me than the inspiring way in which they handle their materials.
6. How did you first begin to develop your unique style?
Ian Rayer Smith : About three years ago, I hit a ‘block’ in my work, like most painters do at some point. I had reached a stage where I did not know what to paint or what I wanted to communicate, and it felt that the ideas I had may be bogus. The idea of painting something representationally seemed stale. That’s when I became interested in psychic automatism and the work and teachings of Franz Kline. He essentially believed in first ‘pouring out’, then editing. I also became interested in artists whose work is centred around mark making itself. You could say my style combines these systems with my own ideas. Colour is more important to me now than it ever was, and I love the expressiveness and experimentation it can offer.
7. How do you manage to fuse abstraction, the figurative and the surreal?
Ian Rayer Smith : Pure abstraction often lacks passion. Therefore, I feel it’s important to have some figurative element, or the suggestion of one. I want my paintings to have an emotional impact, and so the injection of organic elements can be a helpful tool for me. Yet I’m not interested in the recognisable human or any other figurative form. I lean towards the creation of new forms, that suggest something living in the image. Doing this means that I am not restricted by conventional figurative forms, which gives me far greater creative freedom. I love the element of surprise that this can bring to my work.
8. How do you nurture your creativity?
Ian Rayer Smith : I like (and need) to paint every day. I have two studios, so having one at home and another away from home makes this easier to do. I have a strict routine, and I’m definitely at my most creative in the morning, so I start very early in the day. I draw a lot as well, although generally this is done as a form of warming up, rather than as preparatory work for my paintings.
9. What can you tell us about your painting process?
Ian Rayer Smith : I find it easier to work on several paintings in a series, and I often have many paintings in progress at any one time. For me, that keeps things very loose and free, enabling me to avoid ‘tightness’ in any particular painting, which can stifle the energy in a piece.
I also like working on various scales and surfaces, changing things to avoid get too comfortable or formulaic. I have to have an idea of what I’m going to do, but it nearly always changes and develops during the act and process itself. I find this keeps things energetic and exciting.
Occasionally, accidents will happen, and I will often embrace them and use this creative energy to inform new works and ideas. I need to paint in isolation. I’m at my most comfortable when I’m in my Manchester studio, where I get the buzz of the city around me, yet I’m alone and don’t get distracted.
10. What can you say about the difference between light in a painting and light in nature?
Ian Rayer Smith : Light in a painting can be used to create emotion. In a painting you can exaggerate the light to highlight certain areas or elements in that painting. It helps to bring life to an image and create mood.
11. What are some of your favourite art world hangout spots?
Ian Rayer Smith : From where I have been so far, it is hard to top walking around the Chelsea Gallery District in New York. It is so dense, with literally hundreds of important commercial art galleries. The Broad in Downtown LA is also an amazing building with a very impressive collection of contemporary painting and sculpture. The Louvre and the Pompidou are both breathtaking in their quality. The Saatchi in London is always great fun.
12. What are your future goals and ambitions as an artist?
Ian Rayer Smith : I have always thought of different ideas, goals or objectives for my own future as an artist.
Yet, as many will know, it’s a very difficult world to crack. I like the challenge of that. I’m selling my work, and it’s very humbling when somebody wants to own something that you have made, something which is produced in a very personal way.
Ultimately I want to have some recognition in the art world as a painter of some importance. Being represented by an established gallery can allow me to dedicate all of my time to creating the work.
More info about Ian Rayer Smith : www.ianrayersmith.com