Richard Heys was born in West Yorkshire and grew up on a farm at the foot of the Pennines. Although he graduated with a degree in Fine Art in 1986 life took him on a long looping journey until he came back to painting in 2007. And so, 21 years after graduating, he gave himself permission to pursue a career as an artist.
Richard is a non-figurative painter based in a light-filled studio in Sussex in England, an acorn’s throw from the Ashdown Forest. He paints using print-making tools, brushes and bespoke squeegees. He works to re-mould inner spaces, to invite attention to and engagement with surface and depth, outer picture and inner soul-space. He aims to create the painting as a doorway.
What set Richard on this journey was experiencing one of Ian McKeever’s Temple Paintings at the Royal Academy in 2007. He was astounded and puzzled by how the piece appeared to come off the wall to greet him. He has, since that moment, wrestled with the issue of how to create such a presence. Richard is fascinated by how pure colour can project and recede from the picture plane. This is informed by the frontality of the icon tradition, brought into the Abstract Sublime by Mark Rothko and others
His work is in private collections both nationally and internationally. Solo shows of his paintings have been held in the UK, Germany and Switzerland. In 2017 his work was chosen for the Creekside Open & the National Open Art Exhibition and for the ING Discerning Eye competition in 2015, 2016 & 2021. Richard is a member of FPS (Free Painters and Sculptors artist group) and the Sevenoaks Visual Arts Forum.
'Night Crossing III', acrylic on canvas, framed, h. 35.5 x w. 28 cm
What inspires you?
R: What propels me along my artistic path is coming across something that provokes a strong emotional response, either positive or negative. I read, attend exhibitions and walk in nature with an open mind, looking for those emotional keys. It’s the surprise or serendipity that then inspires me and I work in a way to stalk or create space for surprise.
One example of this is when I came across one of Ian McKeever’s Temple Paintings at the Royal Academy in 2007. I couldn’t understand how the piece appeared to come off the wall to greet me. This was a wonder to me, as I had never had this experience before. I have, since that moment, wrestled with the issue of how to create a painting with presence.
What led you to your current process of working with paint?
R: In 2013 I was excited to visit the Gerhard Richter Retrospective at the Tate Modern and was surprised to discover the experience made me feel ill. Seeing wall after wall of grey or smeared and scraped colours left me without breath. At that very moment I decided to go home, get out some print making equipment and make some paintings that glowed with transparent breathing colour. Now, ten years later, I have collected and created a vast variety of knives, scrapers, squeegees and Perspex painting tools, the smallest of which is 3 cm wide and the largest is 2 metres 20 cm! I utilise these in the creation of my work which ranges from 11 cm square, to 2 meters square.
How does the location of your studio come into your work?
R: My studio is based in the Sussex countryside, up the hill from the River Medway. Often I hear the buzzards calling. I search them out and look across the valley to the Ashdown Forest and appreciate the folding landscape around me. In my current working practice I create many overlapping layers and textures of paint. The colour breaks in a certain way which can give the impression of the surface of water, the texture of bark or a sense of landscape. I create a sense of time in the paintings with multi-layered textures and rich patinas. Friends who live locally have shared with me that they experience the spirit of the place in my work.