20 Questions – The Art and Culture of the Herault

abseDavid Abse is an Artist living and working in Les Matelles in the south of France. His work is ever evolving but leans towards the abstract.

“I like how shapes and colors and textures can illustrate what I am doing.”

When did you first realize you were an artist?

I don’t know really. I’ve gone through different phases of my life where I’ve not been sure if I am. To define myself as ‘an artist’ is kind of a weird thing to do. It’s not a proper job, is it? I guess you’re supposed to be able to define yourself as an artist after you leave art college (1983 for me) and then again it could be after the first time I sold anything? 1982 I think. Or best of all when I got official confirmation from La Maison Des Artistes in France last year!

What’s your earliest memory of making art?

My earliest memories are very clear: my grandfather – my mother’s father, Jack snapb00418Mercer, used to sit me on his lap and draw pictures for me. I loved it. I can still remember the fantastic pleasure it gave me, and I wanted to be able to do that. He gave me his sketch book with his drawings in it  – a little postcard size sketchbook – and told me to draw in it. I’ve still got it somewhere. I guess I was no older than 5 or 6.

Would you describe for us your work?

My work keeps changing and I like to keep trying new things. Sometimes this confuses people who see my work – they can’t understand why my work seems so diverse. But my work moves towards the abstract – sometimes more than others. I like how shapes and colours and textures can illustrate what I am doing.

Who has influenced your work?

My grandfather, as I mentioned before, was my greatest influence. He didn’t start painting full time until he retired – before that he was a shop steward at Pilkingtons in Saint Helens. It’s not so much his painting as his attitudes. In terms of artists – I’m influenced I guess by a number of painters: Matisse, Dufy, Picasso, Soutine – as well as some abstract expressionists like De Koonig and Kokoschka, but I’m also influenced by what I read – Paul Auster, Walter Mosley and others and music. I listen to music as I paint – I hope no one comes in and sees me dancing along to Talking Heads songs.

How do you keep motivated if times get tough in your practice?

snapb00419The painting part isn’t usually hard. I spent so many years having to work so hard to pay a mortgage that having time to paint is an incredible luxury I appreciate – and I don’t get stressed by it. Other things stress me. Not painting.

How do you manage the business side of being an artist?

That’s a hard question – the answer is probably “not very well”. I’ve tried a few things -: I offer a giclée printing service for artists and others and push myself on people, galleries and so on. I still have to do other things to bring in money. I do occasional freelance work with charities in the UK (although with all the cuts there this is diminishing) and I have other things like restoring old Mgs. Oh and later this year I’m starting painting holidays.

What are you working on at the moment?

I guess you’re not asking me about the nice  yellow MGB  … no, I’m painting what I want whilst preparing for various things: I’ve got paintings in galleries in New York and London in March and June respectively, and meanwhile I am exhibiting my drawings of animals alongside ceramicist Cherryl Taylor’s bisque animals in April in Lodève (and maybe elsewhere). Also there’s stuff coming up locally – the Les Matelles Artisans’ market and the Fète medieval de Pic St Loup here in Les Matelles– where I hope to sell some t shirts and stuff!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

I want to still be here geographically in Les Matelles in the Hérault. I love it here. To do that I need to be making more money from my art than I am – so by then I hope I’ve managed to do well enough to be able to do that.

What other interests do you have outside of art?

I have lots. I have already mentioned the Mgs, but I am a crazy Cardiff City fan too: and this takes up too much of my life! I hope we actually get promoted this year, but I foresee a horrible end of season where we get beaten in the play offs by Swansea. I am also a big reader: I always have something on the go. I’ve just finished the last Paul Auster and am starting to catch up with George Pelecanos who I’ve recently got into. I love music, and admit a fascination with politics – British, French and American especially. I have a family I adore, my wife, my son, my step-daughter, and we have lovely pets: two cats and a lovely black Labrador. I take the dog out every day and we play Frisbee. She hates the hunters though – so I’m glad the season is coming to an end.

What would you be if you were not an artist?

I worked for 25 years in the voluntary and community sector in London and I snapb00420still do freelance stuff every now and then – I guess that’s it. Otherwise I’m not sure.

How do you structure your day?

Mostly my day is structured around family~ my daughter goes to the local College, and that means an early rise. Mornings I usually reserve for tedious stuff, or non art stuff or work on my PC – updating websites and things. Afternoons I go to my atelier – I have a little gallery/shop attached – and I paint or print or something. Sometimes people come in and I talk to them. VERY occasionally they buy something! I normally finish around seven – depending who’s cooking.

Have you had any unusual experiences during your career as an artist?

Nothing stands out

If you could paint anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I love it here in the Hérault. I can think of places I’d like to visit and paint – the US, Africa but apart from here the only place I want to live is Venice. I think I lived there in a previous life. Except I don’t believe in that sort of thing.

Are you currently making your living from being an artist?

Partly – as I said earlier I have to do a lot of different things, but being an artist is pretty central to everything.

Is exhibiting a motivating factor to you?

Yes, definitely: I’m not sure why, but it’s a target and I guess it’s sort of showing off. On the other hand if people don’t like my paintings that’s no fun!

What advice would you give to a new artist setting out on their career?

Do what makes you happy. Don’t be afraid of failing. You can always chuck stuff out that’s no good and do something else. It’s better to try and fail than to not try.

Did your family encourage your creativity?

snapb00421Yes and no. It’s strange – my father is a poet, very successful, and my mother was an art historian – but they always wanted me to have a ‘proper job’. I guess my dad felt he worked as a doctor too, so why shouldn’t I have to work as well, which is fair enough. The only difference s are practical: he only needs a pen and paper, which I can make do with, but it’s not the same as painting. So despite him being an artist himself, he always thought I should get a job in a bank or something. I guess I disappointed him working for charities! But that comes from my mother’s values, who volunteered for things all her life..

Do you work in a studio every day?

Mostly – I try and stay away from the studio one day a week to give myself a break. And during the winter months its been SO COLD in my studio that some days my working days have been shortened.

Do you work on multiple pieces at a time?

Mostly, yes. I often have two or three canvasses on the go at the same time. Sometimes I’m doing print making at the same time, or drawing.  Occasionally I’ll just concentrate on one thing though.