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Introducing Nigel Cox

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Q: How would you describe your work?

I always have difficulty with this and if asked directly, I usually say something like “I paint photorealistic people in empty spaces” which I suppose, on the surface is what I do, but it’s more about how a person comes into their own when removed from the crowd and clutter around them. I work from my own photography. People aren’t aware that they are being observed which keeps it more natural – very personal mannerisms appear and this can give the work a slightly surreal feeling.

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Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

I suppose people, light and movement inspire me more than anything else. Every time I go out in London I see so many amazing people just being themselves. The movement as they walk, their clothes, sunlight brushing skin or hair or shadow…makes me want to paint.

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Q: Your work has a very strong narrative without the trappings of background detail – do you start with the story or does it develop as you paint?

I’m very basic in my approach. I photograph people who catch my attention in a crowd, I put pictures up on my studio pinboard, and gradually see what they can become. Sometimes changing the figure or clothing dramatically and developing it and at other times just painting it exactly as is. I think it is because of the lack of trappings that the paintings work for me. The space is important.

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Q: What similarities are there between you and your work?

Lots really. I dislike clutter, it distracts/disturbs me. I like a fairly ordered study, possibly a touch of OCD going on there! My paintings keep it uncluttered, minimal too but the figures are very detailed. I lose myself in detail. I love space and the idea of being back in vast empty places (Antarctica, the Desert etc), but to be honest, nowadays I am much more comfortable with my ‘solitude’ outside a café in the City. Lots going on.

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Q: What for you makes a good subject for painting?

A natural stance or movement with lots of detail to connect with and sunlight causing strong shadows. “Branded” was great for me with all the text, cigarette pack, phone, tattoo etc.

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Q: Do you people watch all the time?

Absolutely. Always people watching when I’m out and about but you knew that! When out for drinks or meals with friends, I usually have my back to the crowd so that I have less to distract me and can focus on my friends. Otherwise it’s “god, look at how the light is catching her cheek! What a tattoo! And so on which gets a bit tedious for friends.

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Q: How different is it to paint a self portrait?

I don’t do much of portraiture. Usually looking for something with a twist my darkest paintings have been portraits (See John). The painting experience is the same as with all paintings mood, music, shapes, colours, tone etc but when it’s finished I’m genuinely surprised, excited and proud that I have captured my likeness.

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Q: What are you working on at the moment?

Unusually, some portraits. I’ve just completed one of the Cuban ballet dancer, Carlos Acosta. I am working on one of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the Explorer; A tattooed “Reuben Dot Dot Dot” and a couple of larger male figurative pieces. One of my walking away figures, much bigger than I’ve painted before and bringing lots of challenges and doubts along with them, but that’s what helps me to improve pushing myself through my doubts.

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Q: If you could work in any other medium, what would it be and why?

Bronze Sculpture. Many years ago I lived in Hamburg, Germany, next door to an artist. She worked in ceramics. One day she said I could make a piece and she’d fire it for me. It was incredible. I loved the tactile experience of it. Ended up making a 5” futuristic skull with almost angular bone structure. When she fired it, it exploded. So I started painting in watercolour, learning as I went along then discovered oils.

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Q:What made you decide to go on the Transglobe Expedition?

I hadn’t travelled much. I had studied Marine Radio and Radar at college in Liverpool in order to join the Merchant Navy and “see the world”. The Transglobe Expedition coincided with me graduating so I applied for the job of Radio Office straight from college, knowing for sure that I wouldn’t get onto it. When they phoned and said I had the job if I wanted to join I was totally shocked. They gave me three weeks to make up my mind, the idea of being part of an exhibition was any kids dream so I joined. It was an amazing 3 year expedition. I “grew up” on the expedition.

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Q: You have travelled around the globe, what next?

Painting takes up pretty much all of my time. So it will be London with trips for art related things and an occasional break in hotter climes for some sunshine and swimming to recharge the batteries would be good.

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Q: What does your working place look like?

Uncluttered. Good sized studio on the second floor of our house with three north facing windows over looking a quiet street. Great light and a good sound system.

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Q: What is your most treasured possession?

I have lots of ‘things’, but little I would miss terribly if lost, it would have to be my music – a bit of a lifelong addiction for me and something that has helped me to get through some very difficult times.

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Q: What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Lots of good advice has come my way and I have still made every mistake possible! I was however advised some ten years ago, when I was in a low, discontented rut, to start painting again – to help me find balance. That hit the nail on the head.

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Q: Music is a great love of yours – what are your three favourite tracks?

Only Three!!!! It changes from day to day and depends on what mood I’m in at any given time. But three outstanding tracks that I wouldn’t want to be without are

David Bowie : ‘Five Years’ . . .  The first ‘grown up’ music I owned. . .  I was 13 at the time.

Koop:  ‘Beyond the Sun’…gets me into painting mood every time

Gil Scott Heron: ‘On Coming from a broken Home’…hits a real emotional nerve. But not my home.

And I have to have the whole of Carl Orff – Carmina Burana…First ‘classical’ piece I ever really liked.

Check out Nigel’s blog here or view more of his work here Nigel Cox.

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