Profile – Leo Stevenson

SEEING AND FEELING

I am an artist with a firm sense of the past and a respect for it – but with both feet firmly planted in the present.  Some people know me from my work on TV doing “fakes” or inventions in other artists’ styles but my own work, done in my own style, is different; mostly rural and urban landscapes, seascapes and aviation paintings. My work is unashamedly representational and realistic. Does that make me old fashioned?  I don’t care!  I have to be true to myself.

After many years of studying and practicing the art and techniques of ‘the old masters’ I am now using my accumulated knowledge and skills to explore what is in me as a living artist.  I want to convey atmosphere or evoke a place or emotion – to persuade the viewer to connect with my feelings and memories through their own feelings and memories.  I passionately believe that an artist’s job is to communicate; art that does this well is my definition of good art.  Why?  Because art that says something we can understand and feel has a meaning and a purpose.  These are important qualities – they relate to my desire to make paintings that will last in every sense of that word; physically, as objects, as well as in the value they have in connecting with a part of who we are and how we feel.

My aim is to create paintings that are fresh and interesting but also timeless, just as the best artists have always done.  I hate trendiness and gimmickry; history shows that “cutting edge” art quickly becomes blunt.  So how do I make art that is new and relevant yet also timeless?  By looking within to those emotions that we all have in common and which are both universal and timeless.  A big ambition but worth trying because there is only one thing worse than failing and that is not to try at all.

A PECULIAR ROUTE

I am not a conventional artist because of my background.  I won’t give you a list of my exhibitions and awards on this website, though I have had them, but instead will briefly describe my unconventional career path.

I am a self-taught painter. Curiosity led to me drawing and painting as a child, and ever since then curiosity has driven all of my interests, including history and science. How, why, and when does anything take form? Curiosity always leads to creativity. From this notion I have built my skills and my career.

I have always worked and studied hard but I have also been very lucky.  For a short time I worked as a designer and pattern maker, then I joined the Conservation Department of the British Museum specialising in making high quality one-off replicas mostly for other museums and institutions.  This gave me the wonderful opportunity to handle a wide range of objects from their collections and to work with extraordinarily inspirational and knowledgeable people.  After this I worked at Plowden & Smith, a leading art restoration company.

In 1989 I left to become self-employed, as I am to this day. Initially I combined painting, sculpture, advertising illustration work and occasionally writing work. For many years I also made copies of famous paintings which taught me a lot, technically and historically.  I became good at it and took the next step – to create ‘legitimate fakes’; works which did not copy an existing painting but which used the techniques and subject matter of an artist of the past to invent a new work ‘by’ them. This is far more difficult than copying.  I found trying to inhabit the mind of an artist fascinating, much like an actor taking on a role.

My historical research combined with my practical skills resulted in a unique skills package which led to me becoming a useful expert on a wide range of TV programmes in the UK and abroad.  Over the years I have had features on my work in serious newspapers and publications including the Forbes Magazine and the Sunday Times.  I was once called “the most accomplished art forger in the world”. Interesting distractions, but not what I wanted to be.

Inevitably, the urge to create my own art – paintings in my own style – became stronger as time went on and so this is my focus now.  I think I have something of merit to say in paint using my own voice. Although my career has led me to have many interesting and privileged experiences in places as diverse as the White House in Washington and the Bank of England vaults in London I now get more satisfaction from painting ‘as me’ and want to concentrate on that.  Some paintings have come out pleasingly well.  I am glad to know that there are people out there who feel the same!

“…the only painter in Britain who might attempt such delicacy is Leo Stevenson…”

Art critic and historian Brian Sewell.

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