NS: Are you starting to see [this quality] in the finished product?
CS: I started seeing it in the last painting of Imara [Imara in Her Winter Coat] – there was a slight glow in the face. What I want to do at the moment is I want to keep painting with such an extreme concentration and dedication that hopefully the face, the features of the face would just disintegrate and kind of ignite, or take flight, and you’d just be left with this glow, the thing-ness of a person, whatever it is. I really just want it to, I don’t know, emerge, submerge, disintegrate, ignite, all of these words, so you’re just left with, I don’t know, a shadow? It’s hard, language fails me when it comes to this. That’s why I’m a painter [laughs]! That’s the aim, anyway.
NS: Do you find that you’re able to keep pushing through these things, or are you meeting obstacles?
I think one always meets obstacles, I think that’s the importance of a routine. I could sit here and have theories but then if I didn’t have my routine there would be a day when I’d wake up and think, ‘Well, it was all bollocks.’ Whereas if you know you’re getting up at five in the morning, you’re painting a certain thing at this time. And when you have sitters coming that you book in on a Sunday, no matter what you’re feeling, you are painting, and you have to do it.
But the main thing is momentum – to constantly make sure you’re doing something, even if that’s just drawing, you know? Always make sure you’re doing something.
NS: What drew you to figurative art?
CS: It was mainly through seeing Auerbach, Kossoff, Freud, it was seeing that and seeing what can be done. Because you look at the difference between the three, it’s huge, and it’s all about paint, and it was me realising that Kossoff and Auerbach have painted the same sitters for the last 40 years, without fail, and Freud obviously painted many more people, but it was always about the relationship. They wanted to paint, and there was the game of painting, but it was about the experience of having someone there, of living, of being alive and having someone in front of you and trying to capture that in some way or another, and through trying to capture it it gives you the experience of trying to capture it, so it’s this thing that goes round and round.
And going and seeing things like Rembrandt, and it still being so potent and so alive, it makes me realise that I don’t really care about how the image ends up looking, I’m not painting a figurative thing because I want it to look like a person, it’s just for me that’s my route in. [Rembrandt’s work] has that spiritual sense that it’s got this inner life, this inner thing that connects to the viewer, so it must have this spirituality because you can connect to it. So figurative art, for me, is purely my way in, but I do not think it is the be-all and end-all and I don’t think it works for everyone at all. I love many other types of art as well – Rothko is one of my heroes – I think it’s just whatever allows you to connect to something beyond yourself, I guess, and for me that is figurative art.