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When you meet Clive Dand for the first time, you are struck by his gentle and yet confident presence. His business achievements root him firmly in the present but there is something about Clive that seems to transcend the here and now, almost like a connection to centuries past. For a brief second an image flashes through your mind of Clive robed in the clothes of an earlier period, the perfect Renaissance man. And in a way he is.
“Life drawing is one of the most important
exercises for training the eye”
Born in Essex, Clive knew from a very early age that he wanted to work in a creative environment. Always painting, he started exhibiting with his local art society in his teens and at 15 attended his first life drawing class, standing shyly at the back. He remembers at the time the desire to paint was almost a compulsion, with him going out on his bike with a canvas under his arm. After studying graphics at art school, Clive took further courses at The London School of Printing and The Central School of Art before starting a job as a designer in a London design studio. Clive’s sister worked as an air stewardess and he says having accompanied her on many trips to Europe and further afield gave him the confidence to uproot himself – so after some time working in London he made a series of career moves, first to New York and then Toronto.
Gradually the feeling grew that he needed to go back to England, his real home. Clive had always wanted to be his own boss and on his return set up a corporate design and marketing company in London’s Covent Garden which, over the following 25 years, garnered an impressive client list that included the Victoria & Albert Museum and Boots. Clive says design means basically solving your clients’ problems and you get the sense that he found the challenge of providing a complete package of design solutions for a wide range of major clients extremely satisfying.
ART TAKES OVER
All the while he was working as a designer, be it in London, New York or Toronto, Clive was being creative in the private sphere too, exhibiting his work and getting involved in art societies. In 2004 this creative seam got its big break when Clive moved to Somerset and converted an old farm into a residential art centre. People came from far and wide to attend art courses or join the monthly painting holidays with destinations such as Italy, Greece or Morocco. Having retired from graphic design by then, Clive fondly remembers this heady period when art took over. He says it was an inspiring time, with the buzz of many artists living in the neighbourhood, the natural beauty of the Blackmore Vale on the doorstep and his active involvement in the Art Committee of The Bath & West Show and the Bruton Art Society.
In Somerset, Clive was not so much involved in the teaching but did run life classes. ‘Life class’ is a subject that will often crop up in conversation with Clive. He considers it one of the most important exercises in training the eye and giving you confidence to decide on composition and tone. Yes, it is intense and exhausting, always a struggle, but also rewards the artist with a feeling of accomplishment. And, of course, to be any good you have to practise regularly. This 2020/21 period of lockdown will be the first year, Clive adds on a reflective note, that he has not been able to regularly paint the figure from life and he fears it will take some practice to regain confidence and visual accuracy.
“It is important to be part of an artists’ society
and contribute your bit”
In 2015 Clive moved closer to London again where most of his children and grandchildren live. He was attracted by the artistic vibe of Rye but found a property in Tenterden which appealed to him – its large garage could easily be converted into an airy studio. And it is in Tenterden that Clive then made contact with WOKAS. He still recalls the first meeting he attended. Two years later, in 2017, he was asked to join the WOKAS committee and in 2019 became the society’s Chairman. He admits he was initially reluctant to accept the position, knowing from experience with the Bruton Art Society how time-consuming this can be. But at the same time, he feels very strongly that it is important to be part of an artists’ society and contribute your bit to establishing a thriving and enthusiastic group – a group which appeals to all the artists in the area, regardless of ability. And it is exhibitions, he says, which normally play a great part in getting people involved.
“Exhibiting commits you to finish your painting
and to present it properly”
Clive has exhibited his work all his life, from a very young age onwards. He is adamant that it is crucial to see everybody’s work on display. Exhibiting commits you to finish your paintings and present them properly. Selling is secondary for Clive – although it is of course gratifying to have the validation and selling is useful to cover the cost of artists’ materials and framing.
Even a cursory look at the body of Clive’s work shows that he expresses himself mainly in oils yet he is reluctant to call this his favourite medium. He says all mediums have their merits. Over the years he has enjoyed using etching and litho printing, watercolours, oil, stone sculpture and modelling in clay. He prefers charcoal for fast dramatic figure drawing and watercolours are convenient for painting when travelling. With oils, he likes the plastic quality of the paint pigment and the range of effects that you can achieve. Working with stone or clay is necessarily messy – it takes a while to clear up afterwards to make sure the rest of your work is not covered in dust. Clive mentions being inspired by Michelangelo’s unfinished ‘Slave’ sculptures – Clive, too, looks to see a progression, an emotional experience in his own work. Happy with his own company, he can work and experiment for days on end in his studio. By his own admission, he still struggles and rarely feels the results are satisfying.
“You need to imbue the landscape
with emotion and drama”
As far as motifs are concerned, Clive finds inspiration everywhere although seascapes, landscapes and painting the figure seem to abound in his work. He says he paints what is in front of him, where possible in the open. His oil ‘White mountains, Crete’, measuring over one metre in width, was first completed as a watercolour sketch in situ and the oil version came into being on return to the UK. He thinks it is important to express how your own mind is interpreting the scene in front of your eyes. You need to imbue the landscape with emotion and drama. Clive is always looking for colour in the landscape, like Turner and Ivon Hitchens before him. Does he see an evolution in his style? Well, he muses, he was getting more abstract about 10 years ago and now he would like to loosen up again a bit more!
One thing Clive is certain of: he has had some very good teachers. He names Huxley Jones for sculpture and Francis Bowyer with whom Clive painted for some time while he was living in Richmond. Of the non-contemporary artists that have inspired him the French artist and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla get a mention. And Rembrandt, especially for his self-portraits. There have also been a number of courses that Clive attended and one remains a vivid memory in particular. Clive had booked a painting holiday in Provence with the British painter Ray Garvey, only to find that he was the only person on the course and that his tutor regularly disappeared to leave him to his own devices. The thing that struck Clive most was Garvey’s habit of looking at the landscape and then turning his back on the scene – in fact painting the impression in his mind.
When you talk to Clive you are left in no doubt that he clearly is not a Sunday painter. He has a natural ability for the creative arts and his love for painting and sculpture has found expression in all the phases of his life. What have the highlights been? He is proud of the large dove he sculpted from Portland stone for a peace garden in London. It was a challenge, he recalls, he even went to the quarry to select the stone himself. And the highlights continue to this day. The hill towns of Provence are still a wonder to behold and paint, every time he goes there. He loves Greece with its inspiring mountains. Highlights are really like cocktails: a mixture of the place, the weather, the moment.
Clive has found the past year difficult in the sense that the social aspect of painting with others has been missing. He is hopeful that all the various regular painting related activities will resume before too long and so he is looking forward to opening his studio for the ‘South East Open Studios’ again – he has taken part in the scheme in the past and found the experience very interesting.
Is there something that has eluded him in all these years? An unfulfilled wish that may yet come true? A one-man show somewhere perhaps, he muses, but then he admits he is not aggressive enough to push his work, in contrast to his daughter Nadia who is a successful professional artist. And a large sculpture of a figure, cast in bronze – to accomplish that would be something says Clive but probably not likely to happen as it is prohibitively expensive.
Any advice for fellow artists? “Keep practising”, says Clive. “Stick with it and produce as much as you can. Join an art society”. And of course: “Go to life drawing classes.”
More than once in the course of the conversation the word ‘luck’ crops up. Lady Luck has smiled on him – Clive is aware he has been lucky with his artistic ability, opportunities along the way and good health. Would the 10-year-old Clive have imagined that he would be where he is now in life? Clive’s response comes without hesitation. The most important thing, he says, has been to enjoy the experience, the journey. He never wanted to be a commercial artist with the pressure to produce paintings. Instead, art has remained a pleasure. Every day, every week.
Clive Dand is based in Tenterden.
Gunda Cannon was in conversation with him in February 2021.