Questioning the Artist
A Q&A with Liam Symes
Liam Symes is a contemporary painter. Based in the south west of England he develops his ideas through painting: exploring themes which evoke memory, isolation and serenity. A fine art graduate from Plymouth College of Art in 2013 and with a flurry of solo shows in the past year, I wanted to find out his story as an artist and hear his thoughts on his practice and future plans and adventures.
Primarily when I commenced my education within the realm of art, I realised that I had become more intrigued by paintings and painters, than any other medium or genre. Of course, throughout my course we were given the opportunity to experiment with various materials and equipment, such as the use of film, contemporary installation, raw materials etc. However I always found myself coming back to painting. I also like the idea that painters generally always start in the same position, i.e. simply with a paintbrush and a blank canvas.
Where did you study? What was your educational path to where you are right now?
Prior to my degree I had a keen interest in painting, however the degree gave me the opportunity to learn how to think more creatively and to ultimately improve my practice. In the initial stages I was creating installation pieces which explored the use of objects and film, however whilst proceeding through my studies, I found it appealing that there seemed to be a lack of contemporary painters within the city. After leaving in 2013 I continued my practice and became more involved with painting and developing my personal methods. This also led to engaging more extensively with other painters and finding inspiration from successful contemporary artists.
Who influenced you on a personal level?
Growing up in the city of Plymouth, there is a sense of community but there is only a rather small community of painters. This means it can be difficult to find inspiration on a personal level as there is such a variation of ideas and methods within the group. However as my practice developed I began to network a lot more and have subsequently been introduced to various people. It is some of these people whom I would say have provided personal influence, as we have had the opportunity to discuss our methods of practice and found that we often work in a similar manner and can therefore learn from one another.
Which historical artists or creatives influenced you?
My current influences are Adrien Ghenie, Justin Mortimor, Alex Kenevsky, Lou Ros and Michael Borremans.
Is there a social commentary running through your work and if so why?
I would not say there is necessarily a social commentary, however I have somewhat unintentionally fallen into various themes surrounding memory, isolation and serenity. These are some of the ongoing themes present in my paintings today. I have come to prefer working on series’ and projects, rather than individual ‘one off’ paintings – this enables me to focus on a particular subject in order to explore it in more depth.
Neon pink, all the way!
Tea or coffee whilst painting?
Luckily there’s a few really good coffee shops near my studio, so I am definitely partial to a coffee (more specifically, a flat white) whilst painting!
Is your work always 2D or are you planning on exploring other mediums?
My work is currently 2D however I keep an open mind and for some time I have been interested in the medium of film and media. This is an area I will certainly experiment with more in the near future.
What are your inspirations?
I get much of my inspiration from archived footage online and various ‘How-to’ videos from several decades ago. I am also inspired by other artists and young contemporary painters, whom I discover online, mainly via social media.
How do you start a painting?
I’m glad you asked! Up until very recently I have been painting on solid coloured backgrounds, however I have now started painting on top of my old palettes. This is possibly my largest experimentation within the abstract field, as I feel the palette says a lot more than just old dollops of paint. To start a painting I essentially just get ‘stuck in’ as I am quite a fast-paced painter and decide whether or not the work is going well within the first hour or so. There have been occasions when I have not been entirely satisfied after this time, so I put the painting to one side and start on another.
What brushes / paints do you use?
I’ve never tied myself to specific brushes or types of paint, however I do mainly use oils simply because I find them easier to use. I also use a variation of brush sizes and occasionally a palette knife.
Are you sponsored by a brand? Is this something you feel artists need to succeed?
No I’m not currently sponsored by a brand and I do not feel it is something artists need to succeed. I am still quite early in my career as a painter and don’t yet feel the need to seek a sponsor; at this stage I am dedicating much of my time to networking and communicating with others in the art field so as to make connections and continue my professional development.
Do you have a day job?
Currently I do have a part-time position within administration; this enables me to still spend a lot of time in my studio and helps finance my practice.
Where would you like to exhibit?
The Dolby Chadwick Gallery which is located in San Francisco - this would be a huge privilege and is something I aspire to achieve in the future. I would also find it incredible to exhibit in New York, ICA Miami and London at the Beers Contemporary gallery.
Do you feel artists need galleries to make them successful?
To a certain extent, yes; I do think it’s certainly beneficial. However with the rise in social media and the internet in general, I don’t believe it is vital for artists to display work within a gallery.
Are you represented by a gallery?
Not at the moment, but I am hoping to do so in the near future.
What are your future plans?
I plan to continue with my painting as I feel my journey as an artist is still in the early stages. I aim to expand my practice and have exhibitions internationally, on a larger scale. I would also like to achieve more recognition within the art scene in general, to enable me to achieve these goals and ultimately continue to develop my career.
What are you working on right now and what is its story?
I’m currently working on a series of paintings which I’ve titled ‘Exercise and Health’. They’re based upon a short instructional video which portrays a group of adolescents undertaking a fitness lesson. I located the video from archived footage online. There isn’t so much a story in this series, its more that I have always been intrigued by old instructional videos as they have a certain timeless, oddity about them.
Any tips for someone wanting to follow a fine art path?
My main tip would be to be as ambitious as you can and understand that it does take hard work to be successful in this field. Don’t be disheartened if things are seemingly not going your way, just move on to the next goal and keep producing work.
To see more of Liam’s work follow him on Instagram: @liam_symes and twitter: @lsymes1