Kent Artist Profile: Robbie Graham
Robbie Graham has a fascinating and exciting life – not only does he paint the most exquisite pictures, but he also travels widely thanks to his passion for wildlife conservation (he has raised over £10,000 in support of big cats). He uses these travels – and his love of nature – for inspiration to create ultra-realistic, utterly compelling art.
How would you describe your art?
I have always been a traditionalist when it comes to painting; I have found much inspiration from looking at the work of the old masters. My artwork is best described as photo realistic – I primarily paint wildlife and do so to raise awareness of the nature around us. I always try to create a connection between the viewer and the subject of the painting by ensuring that the eyes are able to portray the fragility of the situation. I prefer to paint in acrylics and gouache.
What is your background?
I had a career in the RAF and then joined Kent police. I thoroughly enjoyed both careers and I guess my highlight was when, as a chief inspector, I was seconded to The South Australia Police Force to manage policing operations in Adelaide. I am a self-taught artist and actually only started painting around fifteen years ago. I guess my art ‘career’ as such, really started when I was approached by Daler Rowney, one of the world’s largest art materials suppliers. They use my painting “Always Alert” as their header board for their Designer Gouache paint range.
Of all your collections, do you have a favourite?
I have several favourites, but I guess “Serenity”, the portrait of a Sumatran tiger, is the one I am proudest of. I feel that in this painting, I have really managed to capture the beauty of these wonderful and sadly endangered, very majestic creatures. I have always had a special place in my heart for the big cats. I always begin my paintings with the eyes and in this painting I believe that I have captured them very well. I wanted to capture a serene look, not unlike a domestic cat; after all, they both have the same characteristics, one is just bigger than the other!
What is the most difficult piece you’ve ever undertaken?
I was commissioned by a very important client to paint their pet peacock. The client wanted me to paint it life sized – the painting was over six foot wide! I paint in close detail so the painting took over three months to complete but I really enjoyed painting all the translucent colours and actually noticed so much more about the uniqueness of this very beautiful bird. I also found it a huge challenge when I was commissioned to paint two cast iron baths for a very well-known company who were planning to use the baths for an ad campaign in a national interior design magazine. I had to paint the baths on forklifts in a bath showroom, which was very interesting!
What inspires you?
I guess I am inspired by all things nature. Beauty and light always play a part in my daily life. I absolutely love going into the countryside with my camera to obtain reference material. I also enjoy spending time photographing wildlife and creating a painting. There are also a number of artists who inspire me including Carl Brenders, whose style is very similar to my own. I have travelled to a number of countries to study and really get to know some of the subjects of my paintings. My last trip took me to Borneo where I spent time trekking through the forest to photograph the very varied wildlife there, in particular the orang-utans. I enjoyed getting to understand the characteristics of these wonderful primates who actually share 97% of our DNA. These highly intelligent creatures are increasingly endangered by the Palm Oil industry which, due to deforestation, is steadily removing key areas of their natural habitat. I enjoyed painting “Last of the Few”, a baby orang-utan.
What has been your proudest artistic achievement to date?
I was very proud to be accepted by an art society called Artists for Conservation, a select group of only 500 artists from 27 countries. The society is based in Vancouver and I am privileged to have my work displayed alongside some of the best artists in the world, and I feel honoured to have my work displayed in collections across the globe. Over the years, I have met many wonderful international clients and it is always nice to have my artwork recognised. For example, this year, my painting of two magpies called “Two for Joy” will be displayed in June at The Mall Galleries in London as a finalist for the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year. The same painting is also being used by The National Exhibition of Wildlife Art to market this year’s exhibition and can be seen as a poster nationwide.
Do you ever get stuck for ideas?
I find that as an artist you will always have times when you get a little stuck for ideas. When that happens with me, I generally spend time looking at my thousands of reference photographs. I also find that visiting the many wonderful art galleries across the county can also provide much inspiration.
Can you tell us more about your fundraising?
I get immense satisfaction from donating pieces of my work to a number of charities throughout the UK and abroad, and at the same time, helping to raise awareness. To date I have helped to raise over £10,000 for charities. My most recent donation of two paintings earlier this month, went to a charity who works very hard to raise awareness of human trafficking.
What does the future hold?
I have recently diversified in some of my subject matter by painting two ballerinas after visiting the Marlowe Theatre to watch the fantastic ballet ‘Swan Lake’. I was inspired by the beauty and grace of the prima ballerina and the lighting. I just had to paint them! Whether I will continue to paint figurative subjects, I am not quite sure, but one thing is certain, I will always paint the many wonderful species of wildlife that we share our world with and I will always do my utmost, however small, to help raise awareness.
Find out more about Robbie and see his work at www.robbiegrahamart.co.uk