Interview with an Artist: Ian St John


This week, Jo has been talking to Ian St. John, a fine art specialist who has featured the Dartington Hall estate in several of his works.

J M-L How did we meet?

I St. J We met not long after I emailed you with some examples of my work.

J M-L Yes, I was intrigued by your style and your very unusual subject matter at the time; faceless sepia ladies and a scrap yard as I remember.

J M-L What brought you to Devon?

I St.J I made a conscious decision to try and devote more time to painting and thus moved from London to Devon last year.

J M-L So does Devon hold any particular significance for you?

I St.J Well, I was born in Exeter, so maybe it is significant in some subconscious way! I have always left the South West, returned, left again, then returned again.  It’s almost a cyclical thing.

J M-L How has living in Devon changed or developed your style?

I St. J I have kept my representational style but since moving to Devon I have focused more on natural forms and colours.

J M-L Quite different subject matter then…is this the Devon effect?

I St. J The Devon effect could well be a contributing factor. I think when you leave the city and you have more space and light around you, you have the time to stop and focus and subsequently appreciate the natural world more.

J M-L How long do you spend creating in a typical day?

I St. J This varies hugely; it can be 1 hour of thinking and then doing non-painting activity, or it can be 8 hours of continuous work. I tend not to keep office hours!

J M-L What inspires you?

I St. J Inspiration comes from many places but mainly from the unexpected and the found image or scene.

J M-L I wonder if you could expand a little on this…for example, where might you come across an image that sparks your interest….is this a conscious quest?

I St. J I think you actually start off with it being a conscious quest. Then typically something else happens you don’t expect or anticipate. The moment when say, I take a photo of a view or a tree, or a statue and then something else comes into view and is not foreseen. That becomes more interesting to work from.

J M-L Who inspires you?

I St J The painters of the past.

J M-L Anyone in particular?

I St. J Oh, so many to choose from! But I am always inspired by Flemish painting, English painters such as Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, the German painter Gerhard Richter and more recently George Shaw whose subject matter I am particularly interested in.

J M-L Tell me why you like to work in your particular medium.

I St.J I have always chosen paint as my chosen medium as it has a history to it and it seems to work for me in terms of the sheer flexibility and accessibility.

J M-L Oil Paint seems to have featured largely but how have you found your recent foray into watercolour?  It must be very different to use.

I St. J Yes, the watercolours were a real departure and actually turned out to be very useful. Any artist who uses watercolour knows there is little room for error and I quite liked that aspect of a fine line to tread whilst trying to resolve an image! I did a series of watercolours based on the statue of ‘Flora’ who resides in Dartington Hall gardens. I think they were successful but only after many failed attempts!

J M-L Tell me about your subject matter.

I St. J Currently I am solely focusing on the gardens of Dartington Hall, Devon.

J M-L Why does this particularly appeal to you?

I St. J It was by accident that I stumbled across the gardens. An early morning run revealed a mysterious yet beautiful place.

J M-L Wow! Certainly nothing like London!  So was this a bit of a turning point for you?

I St. J I think in terms of having an actual focus of a particular place (Dartington Hall gardens), yes, it was a turning point. For many artists, I think they need a certain place or somewhere that can breed images almost.

J M-L Where do you go to think?

I St. J I try not to think too much!

J M-L You told me once that sometimes you can spend a whole day thinking, so I don’t accept your answer….I’m wondering whether your running provides time and space for contemplation and the brewing of ideas?

I St. J Hahahaha, well, I strongly believe in doing non-painting activity! I love the story of Leonardo da Vinci who would frustrate his patrons by sitting in front of a painting all day and not lift a paintbrush! Very refreshing from such a great artist. We all have our chosen pursuits I guess. Running is something that gives me some time to think and also cures a hangover!

J M-L Do you see yourself living in Devon forever? 

I St. J This is a difficult question! As I am still in my early stages of transition from London to Devon I see many positives for life in Devon. I think that I will focus on the present and see how things progress. I certainly think that Devon offers much in terms of a better work/life balance.

J M-L Tell me something about yourself that has nothing to do with art…

I St. J I ran a half-marathon this month and got sun-burnt! 

J M-L Ouch!