Simon Hennessey interview


By Anissa |  Published on Tuesday, May 5, 2015.

A photographer ? No ! It's the amazing work of the english hyper realistic painter Simon Hennessey!

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

FatCap :  Can you introduce yourself in a few words, tell us who you are, where you come from and why / how did you become a painter ?

Simon Hennessey : I am Simon Hennessey, a Hyper Realist Painter that specialises in meticulously detailed artworks that are predominantly of the human face. I originate and still reside in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

To sound extremely "cliché", I have always been interested in art and I’ve always created art in some shape or form, starting with drawing and painting from an early age through to graffiti in my mid-teens. I decided to concentrate on realist painting as a career after recovering from a serious illness, Leukaemia, which changed my outlook on life. I decided I needed to attempt my lifelong ambition to become an artist and thought about my best options to achieve this. I enrolled onto a college course and then progressed to university studying Fine Art – it was here that I discovered photorealism and the artwork of Chuck Close and Richard Estes which left a lasting impression on me. I have now been a full-time artist for around 10 years.

FC : Can you explain how you created the painting "urban chic" and how did you get this idea ?

S : My painting 'Urban Chic' was a continuation of exploring my series on Lens reflections. This collection concentrates on fusing a duality of imagery together. It portrays the traditional view of the model but through using a reflective surface (the sunglasses) it also introduces elements of the surrounding environmental space which the model sees. Back in the mid to late 1980's I was a graffiti writer, although I wasn't really prolific I was lucky enough to talk myself into and gain a few paid commissions, this was the reason I chose street art as a theme for this painting - it brings my work full circle through visually referencing the graffiti. This is the first of the street art reflection paintings; I plan on doing more of these as I’m keen to show the juxtaposition of genres. I feel the graphical elements of the graffiti combined with the realism of the face produce a complex and unique image.

My technical approach to the painting utilised pluralist techniques, combining 3 different disciplines of art. Drawing, acrylic airbrushing and traditional oil glazes applied with a paint brush. All these media produce their own unique properties and can be visualised within the painting once up close and personal. The main body of application I use though is spraying acrylic paint through an airbrush; these are sprayed over hand cut acetate sheets that act as a mask to build up layers of translucent paint. The method of spray is also in close connection with the spray can and aerosol art, the principles of layering paint and cutting back into the paint to neaten it up is similar, so I thought this process would lend itself well to a graffiti lettering based painting. (I'd like to shout out and credit the street artist who's work is portrayed in the colour side lens, Kesh and also Diva for my other graffiti based painting 'Britannia'. Both of their graffiti artworks were created in Digbeth, Birmingham, UK).

« Urban Chic » work in progress. © Simon Hennessey

« Urban Chic » © Simon Hennessey

« Urban Chic » © Simon Hennessey

FC : Usually, how much time do you need to realise your paintings ?

S : The paintings all differ in time dependent on the various sizes and details, but I'd say the painting process takes anything from 4 to 12 weeks working around 8 hours or more a day, 5-6 days a week. My longest painting to date has been a football crowd scene that took me 7 months of continuous daily work. That was difficult due to the repetition in the crowd and the daily grind was tedious.

FC : Allright, and  what it means to be a realist painter ?

S : For me as a realist painter and in particular a hyper realist painter, the art form is about achieving the highest level of detail and technical skill/accuracy. Couple this with an original concept and a theoretical narrative that takes the work away from a straight forward copy of a photograph and it goes beyond other forms of painting in terms of being challenging. I thrive on that challenge and strive to improve and perfect with every artwork.

© Simon Hennessey

FC : Your work is in fact close to photography. According to you, what do you have more than a photographer ?

S : A photograph is a photograph and a painting is a painting, both have different properties and people visualise and analyse them differently. In my experience viewers tend to over analyse paintings and critique them much more than a photograph which they tend to take on face value. I work from numerous source photographs coupled with my own artistic initiative and inventive process. I intentionally redefine and sharpen up the image which would be lost through pixilation on a photograph within the large scale I work at. My working process of adding or removing detail, altering depth, adding textures, form and colour values and their relationship within the painting, allows me to create an illusion of a reality not seen in any photographic source. My Paintings therefore appear clearer and more distinct than a photograph. This allows me more of an artistic freedom from the limitations of the camera which a photographer has to work with.

FC : So people critisize more than if it was photographs. How do they react ?

S : The Two main responses and reactions I get from people are usually 'Oh wow it looks like a photograph' or ' Why bother ? A camera could do the same in a split second'.

FC : Ha ! Ha ! Your paintings : the realities that last or illusion of reality ?

S : My artworks are an illusion of reality. All the paintings are constructed through an artistic thought process and I am finding that the more paintings I create, the more I move away from staying true to original source photography. I am taking ownership and making up certain elements throughout the work and constructing my own interpretations of a reality, it results in blurring the boundaries between what is real and what is made up, this therefore presents the viewer with an illusion of reality, or a hyper reality.

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

FC : Can you talk more about your relationship you have with graffiti, street-art ? What do you think of that artistic movement ?

S : I was a graffiti artist back in the late 1980's but I still have a keen interest and I like to keep check with what's going on in the scene. I still keep in contact with graffiti artists and some of my friends still regularly paint walls. I go to graffiti meets and recently helped my good friends out (MCA / DZB an Old school crew from Birmingham) with a piece that they were working on. I soon plan to use one of my own graffiti works in one of my hyper realist paintings which will complete the cycle of going full circle and back to my roots. I enjoy seeing modern street art and taking in how it has evolved and how it's became a lot more sophisticated in every aspect. There's some really cool and clever stuff being made and the art market seems to be gathering pace for the street art movement so it's a prime time to be making this type of art especially on a commercial level.

FC : In which direction do you want to change your style ?

S : I want my artwork to evolve naturally without any premeditated influence. Currently my work is moving away from a straightforward photorealist look, it is tightening up and harder lined, more defined than what the camera produces and my confidence in my mark making is growing with experience and is showing through more so now than ever before. I'll continue in this direction and see where it leads me.

FC :  What is your favourite quote ?

S : Those who hold what is unreal to be real, or what is real to be unreal will never know the truth.

Quote by Siddhartha Gautama - the man who became Buddha, but a quote I think is quite fitting to hyper realist art.

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

© Simon Hennessey

FC : Your book ?

S : One of my favourite books is actually an exhibition catalogue I bought off eBay. It was produced in 1973 for the Serpentine Gallery, in London. The print quality is pretty poor but it was for the first ever photorealist group show in the UK. I also got the pioneering artist John Salt to sign my copy so it's a great keepsake and bit of UK art history. Hopefully one day I can meet a few more of the artists involved and get it signed by them too.

FC : I hope you will, and your band ?

S : I have an eclectic taste in music, but I'm a sucker for old school acid house / rave and hip hop, so bands such as The Prodigy, The Chemical brothers, Public Enemy, Run DMC, etc. are usually pumping out in my studio as I work.

FC : Your artist ?

S : Chuck Close, the main influence in my artwork for obvious reasons. In his early realist paintings the way he mapped out and constructed the face is beyond what anyone else can do.

FC : The ultimate face, the most perfect looks like... ? 

S : I am interested in symmetry and balance so any facial structure that has these elements would be perfect for me.

© Simon Hennessey

Auto-portrait © Simon Hennessey

FC : Thank you Simon !

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