The Unfashionable Tradition of Romanticism with Guy Denning / Style No Chaser

It is seldom that one is confronted with an artist that embodies unpretentious self-assurance along with a refined world view like Guy Denning.  Guy has found the fountain of creativity but he does not use his gift wastefully.  Guy appreciates art and world history and has fashioned a place in the art world that is uniquely his.  Guy understands what is ultimately important and is not scared of criticism – he uses well informed critique to get better, and fuels his quest to unabashedly express his views with unsubstantiated evaluations.  Guy has no patience for silliness and wants to live in a world where honesty, practicality and equitability drive action.  Style.No.Chaser loves artists that show a sharpened sense of evolution – the introspection that Guy articulates in his work and life makes us want to get even more honest with what we do.

“I used to foolishly say that art was the thing I was – but I was greatly mistaken. Art is not what I am – that’s just pandering …”

Please tell us a little about yourself – your childhood, siblings, where you grew up, what you liked as a child, strange thoughts as a child/now, unique attributes, where you live now, etc.?

My family owned a bakery in a small village in north Somerset. Consequently, certainly through the seventies until the ubiquitous supermarkets destroyed locally owned retailing, we were relatively well off. My father had a love of the arts (I think it probably developed from an unfulfilled desire to do something formally recognized as creative) and my natural ability was fully encouraged. Also my maternal grandmother was a retired local schoolteacher and she had a huge influence on my development in terms of appreciation of literature and the arts generally. I’ve always felt that I ‘belong’ to this area of the West Country which has an enormous historical tradition with the labor movement. From an agricultural origin it became increasingly politicized through mining and then the railways. Though these industries had faded away by the time I was an adult there was still a strong socialist, communist and anarchist base in the area. During the eighties, and the slash and burn politics of Thatcher, the area seemed to become a magnet for the traveler community and these people also informed me politically. You also have to bear in mind that I was probably on a permanent teenage guilt trip as many locals perceived my family as being particularly well-off (incorrectly –  as the business was collapsing). Some of my earliest work that I felt happy with was fairly run of the mill politically informed stuff. I can remember anti-war pieces in opposition to the Falklands affair, another concerning the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja and a piece about the Union Carbide explosion in Bhopal. I can remember various tutors and older artists wagging their fingers and advising me to move away from that kind of subject matter – but I think the dye was cast! I was given my first set of oil paints when I was about ten or eleven. My father used to occasionally knock out little paintings of 1960’s sports cars but he obviously got bored and I ended up with all the kit. That was in the mid-seventies and I’ve used them since. I’ve tried acrylics but didn’t like the feel of them and spent a few years in the nineties working with gouache which I quite enjoyed – but they were always coming a poor second place to oil paint. In 2007 I moved to Brittany in France with my wife and we’ve been there ever since. 

How do you describe your form of art and what tools do you primarily use?

No young artist likes to be defined in terms of ‘old’ work – but when the dawning realization comes that you’re no longer young and that nothing is ever ‘original’ you don’t mind so much. Other people have called my work ‘expressionist’, ‘socially critical’… you can apply whatever label you like to more or less any piece of work by any artist these days. Even Turner gets described primarily in Modernist terms nowadays. Even though I’ve championed the artistic definition of ‘neomodernism’ if anything I’d like to think of my work generally following in the grand and nebulously defined and unfashionable tradition of Romanticism. Labels aren’t particularly useful – especially in the art world where something can mean anything, everything or nothing at the same time. Whatever I do, be it a painting on the street or on canvas, everything starts with drawing. Sometimes it can finish with a drawing so I think that’s what’s at the base of my work – inspiration, thought and then drawing. 

What does your art mean to you?

It’s the way that I express myself most confidently. It’s my primary mode of saying who I am and what I do. I used to foolishly say that art was the thing I was – but I was greatly mistaken. Art is not what I am – that’s just pandering to an outdated artistic cliché. Art is what I do; it is important but it’s only part of me.

Your images are dark, sad, enchanting and ghostly – where does the desire to portray your subjects this way come from and how did you come up with this unique style?

It was never a style of work that I intentionally set out to create. It’s just the way that I work. Twenty years ago I was just coming to the end of a period where my work was predominantly abstract and after I exhausted that avenue I moved back to figuration. The artists that have always inspired me have been those that seemed to focus on portraying what it is to be human in an apparently inhuman world. Perhaps I have sympathy for that position. I think that art should be about the heart and not the head. 

 What is the worst critique you have ever received about your work? What is the best compliment that you have received about your work?

I love criticism. Someone once accused me of being Morrisey with a paint-brush (thinking they were being clever and spiteful) – I took it as a compliment. And vindictive negative criticism just makes me laugh because it shows the critic to be incapable of knocking together a valid argument. It’s the best type of negative criticism to get because you get to vent some spleen and wield a sword of argumentative authority! If I’m getting constructive criticism, even if it’s negative, I enjoy it – it means someone is looking at the work. And I might learn something that I missed myself… I might learn something new and that’s always important. 

Do you ever experience deja vu – where are you usually transported to when it happens?

That has to count as one of the strangest questions I’ve ever been asked. I feel like you may have asked me it sometime before…

Since Style.No.Chaser is a men’s lifestyle magazine, what attributes/items/clothing /etc. do you think define a man?

I can’t stand the western obsession with acquiring stuff just for the sake of keeping up with a corporate vision of consumer fashion. I hate the profligate waste that’s all around us, and the way that responsibility for environmental damage is placed upon the consumer rather than the producer. Consequently my fashion or ‘lifestyle’ choices tend towards buying something for a sensible price that hopefully will last a long time. My footwear has always been Doc Marten boots (now from the British Boot Company) and I do think a man isn’t properly dressed without a hat. Does my Triumph Bonneville count as a ‘lifestyle choice’? Oh… a ‘proper’ razor and shaving soap… None of that ‘best a man can get’ crap with 98 disposable, plastic, vibrating, lubricated, overpriced nonsense.

What is your personal life philosophy?

Trying to treat others as I’d like them to treat me.

What is your favorite color and why?

Well it depends what it’s for. If it’s my DM boots then it has to be red-ox with yellow laces as in the 80s in the UK that was always the anti-fascist boot lace code! When it comes to motorbikes then it’s generally matt black every time and with my suits I’m a sucker for brown. When it comes to painting then my favorite color to use is grey because it’s such a challenge to use well.

Who dead or alive, celebrity or not, artist or not, would you like to go on a two week road trip with and why?

One of the most enjoyable side benefits of my work is that I get to travel more than I could when I was younger and time spent in new cities and countries with my wife is always a pleasure as we both love taking on board new (to us) museum and galleries. If we’re in the arena of imaginary road trips then it would have to be with the Spanish painter Francisco Goya – just to understand a little more about the man that made the ‘Black Paintings’.

What type of music do you listen to (if at all) when working?

I always paint with music and my favorites are a broad church. SWANS, Godspeed You Black Emperor, James, Brian Eno, Franz Schubert, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, The Legendary Pink Dots… the list is endless but I’m generally looking for slow, interesting music. I’ve got a large collection of Requiem Masses that I’m frequently working along to.

How can people learn more about (or buy) your current and upcoming works?

The best place to see images of my work that I consider strongest is the website and Facebook – and it notifies of upcoming exhibitions. There are also links to dealers and galleries that hold a stock of my work.

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