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Great Britain

Artist Samuel Hencher uses light to create dramatic effects

CARS speeding beneath an underpass, vegetation at the rear of a row of homes, vans parked in a city street - Samuel Hencher finds beauty in bleakness.

In each scene, the talented artist uses light to create drama, as the sun’s rays catch curves and corners, glistening and sparking.

Early morning winter sunlight reflects off a row of cars; cobalt blue skies form a backdrop to a terrace of houses; shadows cast dark shapes across a road junction.

Peripheral vistas that make up towns and cities across the country are Samuel’s bread and butter. He cleverly captures the edges of urban and rural landscapes that are familiar to all of us as we go about our daily lives - street corners, parked cars, stone walls, shrubby vegetation in suburban gardens.

Playing with light to create atmosphere, he focuses on what we see but don’t ‘see’ - low winter sun on roads, midday rays reflecting from the roofs of houses, dark bushes encroaching on sunny streets.

Many of his beautifully-executed scenes are in West Yorkshire, where Newcastle-born Samuel spent the later years of childhood: sunshine bouncing off the Tarmac in Ilkley’s Brook Street, the River Wharfe, sparkling through undergrowth, sunlight shining on parked cars in Skipton Market Place, the imposing, stone-built villas on Ilkley’s King’s Road.

A painter and illustrator, he has painted locations across Britain and Europe - a wet Trafalgar Square, a hazy Westminster, and a host of street and townscapes in European cities.

His style is fresh, different, and instantly recognisable.

Samuel’s path to becoming an artist was not straightforward. His interest in art began at school in Ilkley, where he attended both the former middle school and Ilkley Grammar School. He went on to Bradford College of Art for an art foundation course.

“I really enjoyed it and felt it gave me a thorough understanding of the different fields open to me,” he says. “But I’m not sure if I came out with a better knowledge of where I wanted to go than when I started.”

Like many students, he initially opted to go travelling. “I met a Swedish girl who led me to Stockholm where I worked in an Irish pub and started to sketch and paint portraits on the street,” he says. “While doing that I was spotted by someone who worked with TV and animation, who offered me a job.”

He went on to work on music videos created by Grammy-award winning producer Jonas Akerlund.

After five years he moved to London, working in the same industry, while painting in his spare time. “Working in the film and advertising industry distracted me from pursuing painting as my primary career, but I always painted as a hobby,” he says.

In 2000 Samuel moved to South Africa, working in film and TV for around eight years, before returning to Sweden.

“It was then that I began to consider painting professionally and began to focus on that more and more,” he says.

His work in visual effects led him to Berlin - where he now lives - and at the same time he began to have some success with his painting in England, with a series of shows that attracted attention.

Last year he was thrilled to be shortlisted on the Landscape Artist of the Year programme run by Sky Arts. “That was a great experience and gave me a good push towards getting my name out there,” he says. “Now I am painting pretty much full-time.”

Samuel prefers painting outdoors, and in particular in the familiar surroundings of the Yorkshire towns he knew as a teenager. “Yorkshire is one of the few places where I actually paint en plein air and it makes a real difference. It is difficult to open an easel on the streets of London and in other busy towns and cities so I work more with sketchbooks that I can refer to later.

“I sketch and take photos, but only use the photos at the end, if I need to, for small details.

“I try to catch an impression of the scene - working from memory and sketchbooks achieves a looser, less laboured effect which, I believe, makes for a better painting.”

Certain light conditions lend themselves well to the way he works. “Without wanting to sound too cliched, it’s all about light,” he says. “I like things that are generally backlit - I like the sort of blindness that you get walking into the sun down a street at certain times of day.

“To be honest I don’t really care about the place itself - it can be a car park or a housing estate - I try to rather make the light the subject matter.

“I often find that a scene that is quite ugly is best - the light transforms it into something beautiful and then the fact that someone has bothered to paint it and frame it makes it special.”

He adds: “I try to keep the scenes quite generic - I don’t particularly want to record an actual location - more to give a feel of English streets and countryside.

“I like the idea that anyone in England can relate to these everyday scenes, like a walk home from school or a stroll along to the local shops.”

He paints cars not because he wants to, but because they are often integral to the scene. “They interact well with the light so can become the focal point,” he says.

“My aim is to convey a feeling or emotion that the viewer can relate to without worrying too much about the actual subject of the painting.”

Texture is important in his work. “I mix thin and thick paint,” he explains. “I studied for a while at the Florence Academy of Art and I like classical composition and application.

“I try to mix that with modern scenes and a more cinematic aspect, and frame them with classical black wooden frames.

“I think the mixing up of both things makes the paintings modern, but with the feel of the classics.”

Samuel is influenced by the impressionists, in particular the 19th century American expatriate artist John Singer Sergant and the Swedish painter Anders Zorn, “but also I like a lot of contemporary painters. The artist that inspires me most today is the Bristol-based painter Peter Brown,” he says.

He also enjoys figurative work, producing a varied selection of thoughtfully crafted portraits and nudes.

He generally works on three or four paintings at a time, spending a couple of hours on each every day, building up layers.

“But this can change from day to day - when it is sunny I try to go out and paint and then there is also often a lot of preliminary work priming, varnishing and packaging.”

He exhibits mainly in London, where he has been chosen three times to show at Saatchi Art’s The Other Art Fair, showcasing the UK’s best emerging talent .

This year he had his first major exhibition in England - a solo show at Castle Fine Art at the ICC in Birmingham. Samuel also exhibits occasionally in Stockholm. In Yorkshire, his work can currently be seen at Redbrick, The Mezzanine, in Batley.

He also takes on commissions. “Quite a lot of my work comes from commissions, with contact being made through Instagram and Facebook.”

Samuel combines his art with his work as a visual effects artist and commercials director, which he enjoys.

Whenever he can, he returns to Ilkley to visit his family, who still live in the market town.

“They are all quite creative, especially my grandfather and my mum, who have painted all their lives.”

l For more information visit samuelhencher.com and ownart.org.uk

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