Steve Graham Painter / Illustrator
Steve Graham, Melbourne, Australia
I don’t seem to get away from commercial art. Not being classically trained as a painter, my design and commercial training can come out in odd and quirky concepts.
Zoneone Arts is delighted to bring Steve Graham to you
Discuss how lemons have been so good to you?
Lemon Coke, 30 x 30cm
One of my first paintings to sell many years ago was a simple bowl of lemons on a textured rendered surface. It sold quickly and I noticed interior magazines often used them as a prop. I decided they were not simply fruit, but opportunities for interior design paintings. Within a couple of years I had sold nearly 200 paintings through my gallery in Sydney. The paintings were all sizes and compositions. Sold them all – reasonably priced and perfect decorator pieces. They are what they are and I still do them from time to time.
Lemon with Berries, 30 x 30cms
How often do you use old trade makes in your work? (Mobil Gas)
I am an Art Deco poster fan. As well, some general design and utilitarian things like petrol pumps. I use these devices because I appreciate the styling that you don’t see these days. Not too many things have been designed with the consideration to style like the Art Deco era. I just like them so I use them whenever I can, usually about half my work will incorporate an old logo or sign. I have a graphic design and illustration background which influences much of my work.
Garage Wall, 122 x 90cm
Do you feel this helps to date the past within a modern work?
Absolutely. Years ago I acquired a book all about vintage Australian logos and preserved signs painted on the side of buildings and fences around cities and country towns. These images translate wonderfully into cityscapes. My way of helping preserve them I suppose.
You are also a book illustrator and have a background in advertising has this influenced your current work, Zebra?
Zebra Crossing, 60 x 100cm
Yes. I don’t seem to get away from commercial art. Not being classically trained as a painter, my design and commercial training can come out in odd and quirky concepts. Besides, I am not a gum tree person but more conceptual in some ways. While not painting in any metaphoric or dark subliminally sub-conscious way, my art is perhaps simply an attempt to capture a moment in time – past or present. Nothing deep. Paintings the buyer can relate directly to.
Give your thoughts on how paintings capture time and place (use 2 or 3) painting to explain this?
Fishing, 92 x 65cm
A good example would be a commission recently where a lady wanted me to paint her two 8 and 9 year sons while fishing, as in an existing painting of mine she had seen. I asked her to send me a photo of the lads viewed from the back as reference. I was astonished when she said a photo was no good as they were now 30 years old. She simply wanted to remember them as they were.
Brothers Fishing, 75 x 122cm
As well, I recently sold an old petrol bowser painting to a retired man who collected vintage cars – perfect addition for the wall of his huge garage.
You have exhibited your work in Canada and the USA how close and how different are the two audiences?
The USA is the best market as it is the biggest. Most internet sales are from there. I really can’t comment on Canada as there has been almost no interest in my art there. Enough said I guess.’
The Bus Stop 92 x 92cm
Discuss the use of light in your work.
When in New York I was encouraged by Bob Heindel, an illustrator and wonderful fine artist who broke it down to me simply… ‘’everything you paint is a matter of how the light falls and shapes the subject. Look at that first’’ Now that may seem self-evident, but years ago helped me to see. I like to use light to dramatize and suggest. Still learning there. A major breakthrough was when a fellow artist suggested there may be other colours in shadows. I never use black in shadows anymore. My viewing of a real life Monet ‘Haystack’ was an epiphany. I could not believe the combination of colours he used to get that result. I am a big fan of impressionism as well. There are still a few painters around that do it well.
The Red Bike, 92 x 122cm
My style originally was as a realistic airbrush illustrator and tight habits are hard to break. Still working on ‘getting those edges blurred’ as Heindel would say.
St Kilda Tram, 154 x 100cm
Briefly discuss on of your book illustration commissions
I have illustrated many books and magazine interiors and covers, but when offered a job to illustrate a version of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk” I grabbed it.
I love children’s book art and have a collection of “Wind in The Willows” books – one illustrated by Arthur Rackham. It is wonderful, but unfortunately only a second, not a first edition. I got hooked on this story when my grade 4 teacher read a chapter a day to the class. ‘
I happened to meet an author who wanted this particular book illustrated and she was delighted with the final result. Knowing the story, it was not that difficult. Divine encounter you might say. I had an almost free hand in the illustrations so the job went very well.
The client often wants to meddle in the process and compromise, but not in this case. There have been a couple more in the works since then. As well, I am working on two children’s books of my own – I fancy my chances here. How hard can it be?
Steve Graham, Melbourne, Australia
Interview by Deborah Blakeley, October, 2016
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