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Sometimes we like subjects at school which are then forgotten when real life takes over, as we have to hold down a job. And sometimes, these subjects that have been put into the attic of our minds get dusted down some time later, only to give us pleasure beyond expectation.
Gareth Smith is such a case. Born in North-West Kent he quite enjoyed art in the set curriculum at school but then spent all his working life in accountancy in one form or another, working for clients or within a corporate environment. Much later, when he was nearing retirement, art crept into his life again. His wife Sara had started painting and he decided to go to workshops with her – and found he enjoyed it. He bravely joined her group on a painting holiday to Portugal and says that was the moment when his interest in painting moved up a gear.
“Being an amateur painter
does not mean the work is amateurish”
The next major step came in 2002 – he was still working full-time – when he and his wife Sara decided to join the Weald of Kent Art Group.
At that time, WoKAG offered two groups of membership: ordinary members and exhibiting members whose numbers were limited. As luck would have it, when Gareth joined there were vacancies in the exhibiting members group and he took the plunge. Gareth recalls being nervous about putting his work into exhibitions. He was his own worst critic, doubting whether he was good enough. However, the first exhibition in 2003 achieved a sale for him – that was a milestone. Gareth describes himself as an amateur painter who paints as a hobby, not for an income. But, as he points out, being an amateur painter does not mean to say the work is amateurish.
Gareth says he is prepared to tackle anything but, with a good understanding of perspective, he is particularly drawn to painting buildings. His favourite subjects are taken from town, country or coastal landscapes during his travels in the UK and France. The watercolour ‘At the café’ shows a vibrant scene in a square in Aix-en-Provence. The picturesque cluster of figures caught Gareth’s eye and he quickly captured it with his camera. Initially Gareth worked mainly with watercolour and pen and wash – and he elaborates how he found it sometimes frustrating that the colour goes much paler as it dries on the paper. More recently, he has used acrylics – he likes the degree of immediacy that this medium offers. Gareth paints quickly, doesn’t like to spend too long on something for fear of overworking it.
Lowry was an early influence and Gareth likes impressionists like Monet and Renoir for the effect they achieved. Gareth remembers that when he joined WoKAG he made use of a very useful resource that the society provided: a video library where you could borrow videos about artists like Robert Wade, Charles Reid and Hazel Soan.
WoKAG/WoKAS has been a big part of Gareth’s life as an artist. When Gareth joined, the society felt like a broad church housing professional artists and amateur painters under one roof without any hint of cliquiness – everybody was helpful and gave advice. Gareth actively supported all initiatives to keep the society going – workshops, demonstrations, social events, exhibitions.
“WoKAS felt like a broad church without cliquiness”
He says that in the years that he was Chairman (2009-2012), having taken over from Graham Finlay, he tried to create an environment where people could find encouragement and help to progress. As an aside, Gareth reflects that the society seems to be in good hands now, even in these difficult times, with virtual exhibitions and regular challenges for its members filling the void of WoKAS’ traditional activities.
It is evident that WoKAS has given Gareth much, in return for all the time and effort he put in to keep WoKAS going strong. Nurturing talent seems important to him, and so he has a bit of advice to pass on of his own. First: how to overcome ‘white paper syndrome’, as he calls it. The paper is so pristine, where and how do I start? Under pressure to create a ‘work of art’, it is easy to develop a block. The answer is staggeringly simple: just put some paint on a brush, any colour will do, and put the brush on the paper to break the spell. Things will flow from there. Gareth’s second piece of advice: if you are painting from a photograph, you don’t have to put everything in. And you can put other things in! The most important thing is not to overwork your painting – knowing when to stop comes with experience.
“You don’t have to put everything in
– and you can put other things in”
Gareth had been meeting regularly with a painting group in Biddenden. Latterly, because of lockdown, the stimulus from physical get-togethers with other artists has temporarily disappeared. For Gareth, it has been difficult to find the impetus to paint. He puts it down to the fact that he has not been able to go anywhere and therefore has not seen anything he wishes to paint. He misses bouncing painting ideas off his wife Sara as they are out and about or on holiday. Then his sketchbooks are always at hand. He thinks his sketches are probably better than the paintings that result from them. At the moment, until his painting eye can roam again, the pencils and paints are back in the metaphorical attic, waiting to be dusted off again.
Gareth Smith is based in Tenterden.
Gunda Cannon was in conversation with him in February 2021.
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