[EN] “…The artist creates space for people to stop and think about life.” – An interview with Christopher Littlefair, designer and painter
As I worked as a Graphic Design teacher and trainer, I had the pleasure to meet and work with Christopher Littlefair. We became friends from the first glance and exchanging opinions on life and art easily became a joy for us. Exactly as this interview with him:
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Christopher and I am a professional designer and artist.
Why do you do what you do?
I do it because it allows me to revel in my emotions. It brings me great personal joy to create something. It’s strange that the simplest of gestures such as a drawing a pencil across a piece of paper can bring so much happiness. To look at what has been drawn or painted and know that this is the result of your mind’s filter of what is actually there. Once this filter is applied and a result is obtained then you have a tangible connection with what you are viewing and drawing. Painting is an active participation with the subject and I enjoy this engagement.
How do you work?
I work with a lot of passion. Is there any other way to work? I work on an emotional level. I allow myself to be guided by the subject but this is simply a catalyst for my emotional connection which is then expressed on the canvas.
On a practical level I make sketches in situ with oil pastels to establish colours, vibrancy and flows of energy but I also take photos and use these later to build a composition.
What’s your background?
I have a degree in industrial design and have always been involved in the visual design world. This includes periods where I was a technical illustrator, 3D designer as well as creative director. I still work in the marketing communications field but I’m now dedicating myself to my painting portfolio.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
It’s important for me to really connect with the subject matter and to create with emotion and feeling. From this comes passionate art. The meaning in my paintings comes from this emotional reaction I have with my subjects. Bringing forward this emotion and dynamism through various media is key to what I do and the landscapes I portray are driven by this.
What role does the artist have in society?
Artists are essential if somewhat of an anomaly in society. Seen somewhat on the fringe of essential societal activities, I think the artist creates space for people to stop and think about life. It creates a pause in the hectic pace of our goal-oriented days. It’s crucial not to forget the importance of these small moments of pleasure and not be all consumed by the rush of life. Life is fragile and ephemeral and the artist reminds us to pause and take the time to look at things in a different way.
What has been a seminal experience?
My brother died in 2014 then, a year later, my mother died. These cataclysmic events sharpened my desire to paint. In fact, prior to my brother’s death, I hadn’t worked in paint as a medium for 20 years. I don’t know why. Was it that I had been confronted with the fragility of our lives and that I had to seize the moment and accomplish something which had lain dormant in me for so long? Or was it a way of coping with parting with them? I’m not sure but these events had a great impact on me as a person and as an artist.
What artist do you most identify with?
I don’t think I identify with artists. There are some great artists who have influenced me, certainly but I would never say I identified or wanted to be like them or even aspired to be like them. I’m happy to develop my own style and philosophy while being influenced by great artists.
What work do you most enjoy doing?
I enjoy portraying the quiet views in life. Those moments which are still. Those moments which are in between the rush of life, and which often we overlook. Those moments are dear to me and I feel drawn to represent them in colour and line.
What themes do you pursue?
Simplicity, moments in life, passion and energy.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I still work in marketing and the graphic arts and I love, above all, to design logos.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
An artistic outlook is one which engages in the world. Art for me is about an actively seeking the enjoyment of life. Art is not a distant or remote process. It’s an active engagement with the world. When you paint or you draw you create a connection with that which is viewed. This makes it a dynamic process and one which feeds off itself. The more you engage the more you see. More depth, more detail, more composition.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
This is a very good question as creating art is indeed a solitary activity. Even if you’re in a city sketching or painting you are alone in your work. As I mentioned I believe you do have a certain connection with your subject and you can receive a lot of energy from this. It’s a type of flow and energy which is uplifting. I don’t mind working alone as a trip into town for a coffee or a walk to the post office to post off some work gives some human interaction. I have friends and family. I don’t feel alone in general.
What do you dislike about the art world?
Sometimes I feel like I’m in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The scale of pretentiousness can be terrifying.
What do you dislike about your work?
I think all artists have a critical outlook on their own work and I’m no exception. Self-criticism is a positive thing and is what keeps me innovating and looking more closely at life and art. What can be done better? What can be improved? How can I better convey my feelings or my energy in what I do? It’s not that I’m not satisfied with my work, just that it’s good to have a perspective on it. I feel I should develop what is inside me and check, “is this really what I intended?”, “does it bring something to the art?”, “does this piece feel right?”. If not, try something else. Try something new. Try something crazy. It’s good to strive to always try new techniques out or new approaches and see what best fits.
What do you like about your work?
The energy and the passion which I know it contains. The feeling it gives me when I do it. The fact it enriches my experience of life in general by developing a highly acute sense of perception.
Should art be funded?
Art is an important aspect of society for everybody and as such should be integral in any government’s wider policies.
What research do you do?
I sometimes use visualisation techniques to get me in the right stylistic tone. This is a technique frequently used by sports people who go through a process of visualisation exactly the results they desire in their upcoming match. Although I don’t visualise exactly what I want to appear on the page (part of the fun of painting is serendipity!), I do ‘tune in’ prior to commencing a piece to set the tone. At the same time it’s important not to force the creative process but a short period of contemplation or meditation before beginning helps create the right mood.
What is your dream project?
It’s often difficult to dedicate time to a series of pieces on a certain theme dedicated to (and created in) a certain part of the world. In this way I’d be thrilled if I earned a commission to go and paint along Hadrian’s Wall in the North of England. In a certain way this represents my beginnings and I’d love to go back to that and interpret it, see it, feel it again and create the experience it deserves.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“You can’t learn karate from a book (alone)”, (Nakayama, Best Karate, Volume 2)
Professionally, what’s your goal?
I’d like to help others see those quiet moments which I see and enjoy so much.