This London-based photorealist artist uses paint to chart his obsessions. And since he first painted his record stack as a private musical memento to take with him when he moved to London, Ian’s work has grown to encompass other people’s passion projects, too. Today, he creates still lifes of book collections, such as Horniman Anthropology.
Moving to study at University of the Arts London and, later, Wimbledon College of Art, he “began to make a connection with museum collections in study rooms.” This painting is a personal response to the subject; an attempt to capture the spirit of the books and the person who collected them. “A lot of preparation goes into layout and composition,” says Ian. He studied them at the Horniman Museum, the former home of the eponymous collector. “I made an appointment and discussed the collection. Historical anthropology and travel books are a large part, due to Frederick Horniman’s occupation as a trader.”
He made a handful of small drawings and took photos, spending a day handling the books. “My goal was to
experiment with colour and lighting, and capture a handful of options on camera. The challenge was the balance between foreground, background and bookstack detail.”
Back in his studio, Horniman’s Anthropology was worked on two days a week and completed in a month. “I work over various underpainting layers as I go,” says Ian. “I begin with still life drawing and, using photographic reference, transfer the drawing to canvas. I like to map the work out in monochrome, sometimes with acrylic colours.” He painted the background blend before adding each book in turn, working quickly with small rigger sign-writing brushes, wet-on-wet. “A mahl stick keeps my hands out of the paint and I even use it to paint lines. I like Old Holland oil paint neutral tint or sepia extra rather than black, usually.”
And with his meticulous approach, Ian builds an image that connects us to the physical history of his subject – the painting is almost an invite to reach in and flick through the books’ crumpled pages, just as their previous owner did. Horniman’s Anthropology is available as a limited edition giclee print. www.ianrobinsonartist.com