Alan Smith lives in a secret world. Aged 11, one of seven children in a small terraced house, he haunted Nottingham Castle Museum, exploring the world of art. Against family advice, he went to art school in the 70s. He’s been making paintings and drawings ever since.
At first Alan also taught fine art and became head of school at Cheltenham School of Art. But after shows in Chicago, London and Berlin, he moved to Paris to paint full-time. In 2013, to be closer to family, he came to Folkestone. He found a warm welcome from the Creative Foundation and an airy first-floor studio on The Old High Street. Alan’s paintings are shown at the Lilford Gallery in Canterbury, and drawings at the Galerie Hus in Paris. Collectors also like to visit the studio, by appointment, to meet Alan and see how his work is made.
Painting ? I’m fascinated by paint, and what it can do. For me, it has to be oil because it feels like a living substance. I like the intensity of a small size, the challenge of making paintings as poignant and polished as a poem.
Inspiration ? I work from memory. Whatever remains in my mind when I’m in the studio is what’s important. Painting and drawing are about adding and taking away, until the image emerges as you want it. I’m always asking myself, ‘What’s the painting doing?’, rather than, ‘What does it look like?’
Drawing ? When I’m drawing, I see my thoughts translated directly onto the paper. But when I’m painting there’s a sense of being slightly out of control. My choice of colours is intuitive. I work obsessively, day after day.”
The Painting Diary ? My latest series The Painting Diary focuses on bowls. The bowl is one of our most ancient artefacts. It’s a magical idea that it can contain water and yet also, as a vessel, travel across water. I want them to represent a fragility, as though they sit on the cusp between being there and not being there.
Daedalus Atelier ? An earlier series, Daedalus Atelier, stemmed from a working stay on the island of Elba, as a guest of the Thyll-Dürr Foundation. They are reflections on being a father. Daedalus was the master craftsman, imprisoned by the King of Crete, making feathered wings to fly to freedom with his son Icarus. I imagine Daedalus trapped in his workshop, painting sky charts for the escape flight. He uses every fragment of memory of the sea and the land and the sky. So the charts end up like a cross between medieval icons and Polaroids.
Secret Postcard Show ? Together with Nikki Tompsett, I curated The Creative Foundation’s first Secret Postcard Show in the Lilford Gallery Studio. More than 60 artists took up an open invitation to make work on the postcards provided, raising almost £1,000 for Folkestone Churches Winter Shelter. The show is on again in 2017. I felt it was important that everybody had an opportunity to contribute on a similar scale. It was a way of putting something back into the creative community and, like the Open Studios, it gives people the chance who live locally, but might not normally be at home with the arts, to see what’s going on and to take part.
Favourite walk ? The Leas, the Zig-zag Path and the Coastal Park. Look out for the stone rat, the mason’s signature, on the Zig-zag Path. I also like walking a little inland, looking at all the different styles of architecture in Folkestone and the different stages of faded and restored grandeur.