Have you ever wondered how it is that some people stand in front of a painting and feel an instant appreciation of it - as though it has connected to a part of their inner being previously unknown. I always wanted to be such a person, but it just never happened for me. Until I recently walked into a small local gallery and came upon the work of John Waterhouse. Instantly captivated by the depth of his pictures, I found myself completely absorbed in the imagery. So I took the opportunity to meet the artist and find out about the emotional investment he so generously pours into his work.
In the village of Barton-under-Needwood in Staffordshire, John's studio sits positioned quaintly by the church. A couple of pictures in the front window are the only indication that something 'arty' is occurring on the premises. John is friendly and engaging as I explain to him the wondrous breakthrough that has occurred for me as I set eyes upon his art. "I do get a lot of people say they can see the emotion in the work,” John explains. “It's so fundamental, that people are connecting into my work. People tell me their stories about it. I love that they put their own story into the picture, because I've put my story into it." And his story seems to be one of a natural flow of destiny.
"I didn't do well at school,” he says, “I had no confidence and was always at the bottom academically. But I shone at art, I had a great art teacher and I won the school prize." John believes his passion and interest was always within art. "I was a daydreamer, it's on my school report." But John saw the school prize as an endorsement of his abilities and this encouraged him to pursue the work.
Self learning through great masters
His natural imagination has served him well, because he has diligently studied and learned how to process his vision through his emotions. "I struggled to learn the techniques I wanted to learn, over about seven years." Through studying the techniques of great masters, John reveals he was mentally taking their pictures apart and discovering their layers. "I was going to museums and galleries and looking at art that inspired me. Looking at brush work, techniques, compositions, and I would stand in front of it for so long, edging closer and closer. I've been told off a few times."
John's sheer perseverance saw him through those emerging years. "Doubt was constant when I was trying to break through. I was always beating myself up. The journey has been an emotional roller coaster." John admits he didn't intentionally start as an artist because he wanted to be well known. Speaking about his family situation John says, "we were really hard up, but I wasn't bothered about making the money. I wanted to earn enough just to look after my family. I wanted to earn enough to pay my bills without stressing over it, and to be able to paint."
A trip to London opened opportunity
It was his bold decision to just pick up five of his paintings and jump on a train to London one day, that finally made a breakthrough for him. "I felt so empowered that day, I felt like someone was watching over me. It was almost like a make or break. I stood in Mayfair, didn't feel nervous at all, and I went to several galleries. They were all interested and one took me on." From that point on, John's artwork was more widely available, and it made openings and sales which enabled him to paint full-time in his studio. John continues to explain that even when he was making success through the London galleries, he still struggled with the process of creating the art. "On the times when you doubt yourself, at the back of your mind you say, 'I can do this'. You get strength as you go, and more confidence as you develop as an artist."
On seeing some of the beautiful creations within his studio, the contribution he has made has certainly been worthwhile and worthy of the recognition and success he now has as an artist. "I am content where I am. I am totally content. But I do want my work to be seen more." John paints what he loves, choosing the medium of oils for his work. He says. "I paint for myself, but the fact that my work sells enables me to carry on and continue doing what I do."
The mystery of the flowing mist
One of John's signature elements within his paintings is the presence of a soft lingering mist, which makes appearance on many of his beautiful pieces. It was the Staffordshire countryside that first inspired this. "The inspiration for it came from part of my relaxation - I walked. A lot of times there's a low-lying mist over the fields." John makes the mist work very successfully, explaining "the mist breaks down the composition. It takes the detail out of the work. It allows you to enter the painting more easily."
As I follow John up the stairs to his work area, I am delighted by the presence of some newly finished pieces sitting along the side of the stairway. It’s like being in the presence of newly found treasure. I realise there's something quite wonderful about seeing art before it goes out to the public, before it gets reproduced. Seeing it there in its new form, recently birthed, and having the privilege of being one of just a few who have cast eyes upon it.
John’s painting studio is his own inner sanctum. A somewhat bare room with plain walls, upon which he jots his thoughts and ideas, and some of the feelings he is conjuring about a piece of work. And some reminders also, perhaps to regain his focus from time to time. The light streams through the large window, fully embracing the 20-year-old easel which he made himself in the early years of his painting, and upon which sits his current work in progress.
Composing with light
He is happy to explain to me the process of how the work is progressing, and the concepts and feelings pour out of him about what he is trying to achieve. "I've learned to compose with light, and that's what it's about. It starts cool, and then I go over it with warmth." Reflectively, John explains, "I haven't analysed it, I just seem to do it. It's got to come from the heart. I tap into my experiences. I have to emotionally be in the right place in order to work. I can feel the energy when I'm ready to work on it. That's why it's important to me, because I'm putting the emotion into it."
To the left of the easel is a glass tile palette upon which he mixes tones and colours. Not a broad spectrum of colour on there, a single bright violet blue, a softer shade of blue, some ochre, and primarily a flood of neutral tones of black, grey, brown. The tools of his craft show themselves as well used and well known to him. He mentions what it's like when a brush is new and I realise it takes time for it to blend into the shape of the artist’s hand. To merge itself with the artist’s intent.
"I have to dig deep, it takes a while.” says John. “The initial stages are really fluid. I'm not totally sure where it's going, they evolve. Sometimes it starts out in my mind as something, but then changes into something else completely. Some of the paintings are a battle, I can't explain it. I get the bones of the painting, then the emotion comes in on the upper layers, the subtle things. That's when I start putting a lot of the feelings into it."
Ultimately, the imagery arrives on the canvas. The hidden depths are the base, and then the surface layers are his emotional offering. John's passion for his work is also a testament to perseverance and commitment. And perhaps also courage, for being willing to enter the depth of the emotional process that ultimately creates something which the viewer can deeply connect and relate to. As John says, "You don't need to know technical stuff, it’s fundamental to human nature."
Enjoying the richness of the creation
He offers us a gift. A gift of perspective, a gift of his life experience, and most certainly a gift of his precious art, talent and aptitude. And the strength of that aptitude is in its light, and also not in the movement, but in the stillness that it offers. An offering whereby we enter a part of John’s world. Once inside, there is cause to reflect, an invitation to feel, and the reward of being within a special place that only you will know the meaning of.
John has painted since a child, becoming a professional artist by the age of 26. He admits that he just knows within him that there's something there, and it always has been. Perhaps there is some part of our destiny that we shape and mould to our own life requirements, but there is also part of us that comes born into the life and works its way to setting itself free. I would summarise John as a creator, and once the presence of his creation captivates you, you've been touched and enriched.
John's paintings are available as prints and limited editions from selected galleries throughout the UK. They are regularly displayed at events. You can find out more about him at www.johnwaterhouseartist.co.uk
You can also see more of John’s range of paintings at:
A limited edition book: 'A Place you Know', which shows John's work and methods, is available from galleries. It is also available as a beautiful presentation boxed set which comes with two prints. Contact gallery stockists to purchase.