What does it mean to be an Australian artist? Chatting with painter Bernard Greaves
By Vanessa Ocansey
Bernard Greaves is a young artist from Sydney whose luscious oil paintings are reminiscent of Ben Quilty and Nicholas Harding with their thickly applied swathes of paints.
Having trained as an architect, Bernard is once more exploring the realm of painting, something that he first dabbled in when in high school.
When exactly did your love for art become obvious?
I loved art from an early age. My earliest memories of loving art was from getting up early on a weekend when I was 5 or 6 years old and sketching in a book when my sisters were watching TV. When I was in primary school and people asked what I wanted to be when I was older I would say "an artist". Both my parents enjoyed the creative arts and they pushed me to work on my drawing/painting at a young age when I had spare time. From that age I knew that I loved art more than most.
You are inspired by Australia as a whole, what does being Australian mean to you?
This is a very interesting question that I'm not sure I have a straightforward answer to. Having spent considerable time living overseas in a developing country, returning to Australia has given me a different perspective on my own identity as an Australian.
To me, being Australian means I have to recognise how extremely fortunate I am to be living in this country. By reflecting on this, I will understand that I have a duty to help others less fortunate than myself by firstly upholding values of respect, generosity and kindness to my neighbours.
I am inspired by the "great outdoors", the Australian landscapes that give me a reason to share these through art. I am inspired by the Australian people that fight for human rights e.g. Ben Quilty, one of our most well known artists who speaks out against social injustice. Being Australian means I should show gratitude for these landscapes, these people but also the opportunities and freedoms the country has given me to grow.
Being Australian means I must also question and criticise certain values that our Country can head towards, ideas that are fuelled by greed, fear and selfishness. Using Australia as a focus of my painting may hopefully help people reflect and discuss these ideas I've mentioned when viewing my work.
Which skills as an architect have you seen transcend into your art?
Probably learning rules of perspective, scale, composition, balance and ratios in building which can be translated to the artistic field. Architecture sits somewhere in the middle of science and art, and sometimes these principles can be easily transferred further to the artistic end of the spectrum. Understanding when something "works" is a skill that you slowly develop whilst learning these ideas. Creating iterations and pushing yourself to keep improving a design is another skill that can be transferred from the architecture/construction field to the canvas.
What skill do you want to master, that you haven't quite mastered yet?
I still have a long way to go as a painter before I am confident in my skills. I would like to be able to paint with more precision, paint with more flare and create my own identity as an artist. Because of the way I use the oil paint medium in thick strokes, I need to get better at showing finer detail on a smaller scale to avoid looking too messy and amateur.
Also, I need to perfect different colour palettes to suit colour themes, so working on mixing certain types of paints, understanding different combinations and what works together is an important skill as a (thick) oil painting artist that I would like to develop.
What are your top three sources of inspiration to fix a creative block?
I always try and take photos on my phone when I am out and about. If ever I am struggling with ideas I might go through my phone, see something that I liked and try and paint it or some part of it. Could be landscapes around Sydney, people, objects or anything that I think would look cool hung up on a wall.
Music is a great way to inspire me to get up and paint. Because of my style of painting is based heavily on movement and quick, short sessions in front of the canvas, music offers a great source of energy to get up and into a rhythm where I can start to "feel" the process a bit better. I will try and play something energetic, Hip Hop or some House tunes that get me moving around my space and bopping my head. It builds confidence and stops me from pausing and over-thinking my next move, which creates indecision and that shows up in the artwork.
I always try and study my biggest art influencers. Ben Quilty, Guy Maestri, Nicholas Harding, Paul Ryan and Craig Waddell just to name a small few. All of these artists have reached great success in the Australian art scene and they all paint in the thick stroke/palette knife style of oil painting. Looking at their work closely and doing my best to understand their work always inspires me to pick up the knife and start slapping paint on the canvas.
You can see all of Bernard’s available paintings here