Artist Spotlight & Interview: Stewart Geddes

23rd January 2021
January 25, 2021



Stewart Geddes

January 23rd 2021


Born in 1961, Stewart Geddes now lives in Bristol with his family. His work is based at BV Studios, which was originally built to house Wiltshire Printing Works, and is where the Big Issue Magazine was first printed. Since 2010 BV Studios has hosted a thriving and diverse population of over 100 artist, designers and makers. 

Until recently, Stewart was the President of the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, and an Honorary Royal Academician in London.  He is an Honorary Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.

In conjunction with the Albert Irvin Estate and Tate, he curated 'Albert Irvin and Abstract Expressionism' presented at the Royal West of England Academy from December 2018 - March 2019. You can read more about the show, below:

Albert Irvin OBE RA RWA Hon (1922-2015) was one of Britain’s most important post-war painters and printmakers, best known for his large-scale abstract colourist paintings. Albert Irvin and Abstract Expressionism brought together works by Irvin alongside other leading British abstract artists, such as Peter LanyonBasil BeattieGillian AyresJohn Hoyland and Sandra Blow, as well as the major abstract expressionist artists that inspired him, including Jackson PollockWillem de KooningRobert MotherwellBarnett NewmanSam Francis, Adolph Gottlieb, Grace Hartigan and Jack Tworkov. 

Formerly Head of Painting at Cardiff School of Art and Design, Stewart is currently an Associate Lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Gloucestershire and the Arts University, Bournemouth. 

He has work in an array of collections, including the UK Parliamentary Art Collection; Landmark PLC; Royal Collection; Brookfield Asset Management; Royal College of Art; Cardiff Metropolitan University and The Royal West of England Academy Collection. 

Read on for our interview with Stewart, below. 

Stewart's work at BV Studios


January 2021 

BH: What led you to becoming an artist?
I began the Foundation course at Canterbury College of Art in ’79 with the intention of pursuing Graphic Design. At that point it just hadn’t occurred to me that a ‘career’ as an artist was possible. However, as soon as I’d experienced the rotation of options – Fashion, Textiles, Graphic Design, Fine Art etc. – it was clear to me that the subject that fascinated me was Fine Art. I can honestly say that from that point onwards, I’ve never wanted to pursue anything else.

During the 70s and early 80s, Art Schools in Britain were both radical and hugely successful, and if they weren’t producing world leading designers and artists, they were the seed bed for just about every significant rock band to emerge from this country.

The lunatics (artists) really were in charge of the asylum at this time, with very little admin to occupy the staff, and ‘Professorships’, Modules and ‘Learning Outcomes’ somewhere in the distant future. Importantly, because so few artists were able to live exclusively from their earnings as practitioners, many of the higher profile artists of the period contributed to the British Art School culture, and I was lucky enough to encounter some really fantastic artist tutors, which was very affecting.
BH: Were there any pivotal moments in your education or experience when you were growing up that inspired you to become an artist? Perhaps you had a tutor or friend or parent who encouraged you? Or perhaps discovering the life and work of another artist inspired you in some way?
The Art School experience was pivotal for me, and two very different artist tutors had a profound impact on my development as an undergraduate at Bristol Polytechnic. I wish we’d celebrate the term ‘Polytechnic’ more; it means of course, ‘many techniques’, which of itself places less emphasis on the primacy of academia and words, and more on the intelligence of the hand and eye in operation together. One important Art School tutor was head of painting, Alfred Stockham. Alf made very special small landscape paintings, which raise the everyday to the magical realm of Albert Pinkham Ryder or Samuel Palmer. Alf was not only a font of wisdom, but also great fun to be around. The other was visiting tutor Bert Irvin, who many will know made large and gloriously celebratory abstract paintings. I’ll never forget the slide show Bert presented when I was a first-year student, and the subsequent 20 minute tutorial I had with him. Years later in London, we became great friends, and like Alf, Bert was enormously generous with his time, knowledge and beer money. It was not only the specifics of what these artists said to me that was so important; it was their example as people and their philosophical attitude to life which expanded my own idea of what my relationship to the world could be.
BH: What is your favourite Museum or Cultural Institution? Why? Do you have a favourite work of art or object there?
I made three visits to Patrick Heron’s house Eagle’s Nest, near St Ives, during my time at Bristol Polytechnic, and they were as memorable and significant an encounter with the visual arts (and an artist) I’ve had.
Michael Canney – a Cornishman - who was deputy head of the Fine Art department in Bristol at the time, had run the Newlyn Art Gallery in the late 50s, during the heyday of the post-War St Ives abstract school. Through these departmental connections, the new intake of students were taken on a field trip to West Penwith to visit artists’ studios, and this included Patrick Heron’s house, and Terry Frost and Dennis Mitchell’s studios. I subsequently piggy backed on the trip during my second and third years. Although it was memorable to be taken by Terry Frost into his large ‘garden shed’ studio, it was the visit to Eagle’s Nest that tipped it for me.

The whole house and garden were in the service of Patrick’s aesthetic; be it individual modernist furniture pieces, cactuses on window sills or camellia bushes and rocky outcrops in the extraordinary garden. And then there were his own paintings, thoughtfully placed around the white walls amongst faded violet curtains, and the man himself talking with clarity and insight about the development of his ideas, and their relationship to this particular part in the world. Unforgettable.
BH: Imagine that Lockdown 3.0 doesn’t exist for a moment – if you could be in London for a day, what would your day look like? Where would you go? What would you see & do? Would you take the tube, or a black cab, or a Boris Bike, or walk? Is there a favourite café or restaurant that you like to visit when you come to London? Where are your favourite sights? Do you avoid the tourists and hawkers in Trafalgar Square or enjoy being amongst the throng of crowds in Covent Garden?
I’d definitely call by the Chelsea Arts Club toward the end of the day – as the journalist John Simpson has described, it’s the most ‘civilised’ place in the world – but before that I’d grab a temporary exhibition such as Picasso's marvellous recent ‘Works on Paper’ show at the RA. At some point I’d also pay homage to the Sassetta's and the Piero Della Francesca's in the National Gallery. If I had to choose, I’d probably pick Piero’s ‘The Nativity’ over ‘The Baptism of Christ’. I love its unfinished quality, with the sepia underpainting dominating large areas, and a curious instability that the various clusters of figures express, setting up an abstract rhythm analogous to the vitality of a baby child.
BH: What is your favourite work of art in a public collection? Why?
I could say “ditto”, but so as to mention another love I pick Matisse’s ‘The Moroccans’ in MOMA. I’ve not seen it in New York, but I did encounter it at the Tate’s brilliant ‘Matisse Picasso’ nearly twenty years ago. I love its pattern quality of stripes and repeated circles, and the mixture of black in combination with more highly saturated colour.  What I hadn’t realised from reproductions was the thickness of the black. The painting was like a pelt. It had clearly been through many permutations prior to this resolution, but despite the ‘battle’, we end up with a distillation of clarity and simplicity.
BH: What are some of the biggest challenges facing an artist working today?
The price of Real Estate. How any artist (let alone younger ones) can contemplate the idea of a studio in London is beyond me. You have to spend so much time earning money to pay for a studio, rather than being in the studio itself. Buying time is the key.
BH: Have you been involved in the #artistpledge on Instagram? If you have, how has it changed the way you work? Has it focused your work or led you in a different direction that you may not have otherwise have explored?
Yes, but it hasn’t changed how I work. I had planned a studio sale of past works when lockdown 1.0 hit, so the artist pledge was a good opportunity to make available various small landscape studies I’d made abroad and in London during the 1990s.
BH: Are you on Instagram? Do you enjoy using the platform? Has it changed the way you interact with an audience, and do you find yourself tempted to produce work especially for an Instagram audience?
Yes, and I do quite like using it. As well as looking at other artists’ output and musings, I tend to upload images of my studio environment, works in progress and ‘finished’ paintings. I’m always in two minds about showing WIPs – but it seems to me that showing those and the working environment is something people usually don’t get access to. Although I edit iPhone photos of paintings as close to the real thing as possible, images on Instagram can never be the same as the works themselves, so I tend to treat comments with caution.
BH: What has been your favourite ‘series’ or artwork that you have made to date? Why?
Like so many artists I tend to be most engaged by what I’m currently working on. At the moment I’m exploring working on quite large, painterly improvised paintings, and via different palettes, trying to obtain a luminous colour outcome.
BH: Have you been able to get to the studio during Lockdown, or have you commandeered a room in the house as your Lockdown studio? 
For lockdown 1.0 I set up a studio in a bedroom at home, but since the summer I’ve returned to my studio in a warehouse on the other side of the city (of Bristol). The protocols are pretty good, with masks being worn in the corridors and other communal areas etc.

The large studio environment is important to my practice, as is the demarcation between home and the working studio. Lockdown has been such a challenging psychological as well as physical experience, and for a painter this is not all bad. Having said that, it will be wonderful to return to a more open and expansive life once more.
Stewart's studio, set up at home during the first National Lockdown in March 2020.
Work in Progress
Stewart's working studio at BV Studios, complete with comfy chair, and a wonderful floor - full of paint. 
Recent Work by Stewart "KOSTEIN"
Work in Progress
Work in Progress
Stewart Geddes recent work "FLOREVIN"
Work in Progress
Stewart Geddes, RORANSENT, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 50 x 40 cm.
Stewart's working studio at BV Studios,
Recent Work by Stewart "KOSTEIN"
Stewart Geddes, TEZSTORF, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 120 cm x 90 cm.