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Hayley Whittingham's Abstracted Landscapes

We interviewed artist Hayley Whittingham and asked her about her current practice, what's inspiring her right now and which resources to look out for in the art community to help us through self-isolation. Enjoy!

Looking into the practice of Hayley Whittingham uncovers a background of figurative painting strongly connected to portraiture and life drawing. Her recent practice has seen a shift towards a more diverse selection of paintings including semi-figurative landscapes and an amalgamation of abstracted shapes, taken from pre-existing compositions in natural landscapes.

Her newest paintings are works that we were instantly drawn to. The carefully considered colour palettes of soft pastels melded with acidic brights abstract the natural environment she is inspired by, detailing how trips to the Pentlands and Loch Lomond have provided inspiration for her most recent works. These unique and distinctive combinations of colour, populated with hints towards familiar symbols of nature, are what make these elevated outdoor scenes so compelling.

Hi Hayley, thanks for letting us interview you! We love your work and would like to know a bit more about your practice. Can you tell us about your artistic background and how you began making art?

This question is so hard to answer cause I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make art. I used to get all the magazines as a child and follow the step by step exercises. I’ve tried everything over the years – even stone carving – but painting is definitely my thing.

We really love your recent abstract 'landscape' paintings you've been posting on your instagram. A lot of your previous work is more figurative, what prompted the change to making more abstract pieces?

The female nude was the subject of my degree show so I didn’t have much time to explore other avenues, but after finishing at art school I enjoyed the freedom to make work about anything without thinking ‘how am I going to justify this?’. (Working with life models is also less practical when your studio is 1.5m wide). I’ve been using my free time to take little trips away, anything from a day in the Pentlands to a week walking around Loch Lomond, making watercolour sketches and taking photos as I go. I bring these back to the studio and begin working them up until the reference is naturally abandoned and the painting takes on a life of its own – what you describe as ‘abstract’. 

What inspired those paintings in particular? What interests you as an artist?

I am drawn to the compositions that exist in nature – it’s not like working with a still life or a model where you have to set it all up from scratch, you just need to select something. I recently got some unusual colours in Michael Harding oil paint, and enjoy playing with the effects of placing different colours side by side or overlaying them. I find it really easy to apply my own colours to the compositions I take from the landscape as the forms can become anything. One of my recent paintings was taken from a source image of a stream running through long grass but ended up looking more like rocks, and I added some evergreen trees to alter the scale of the landscape. I like to keep an element of representation, even if it’s just a small detail like this.

What has been the most exciting thing to happen in your artistic career so far?

On paper it would be the Scottish Portrait Awards 2017, where I was awarded a large commission. But in terms of lasting effects I was really excited to go straight into art teaching when I left art college. It all happened so quickly and now (before social distancing) I’m teaching seven of my own classes a week, including life drawing, portraiture, drawing from the landscape and art history. This means my mind is always engaged in arty things and it flows into my own practice when I finally make it to the studio.

How are you coping being away from your studio and having to make artwork in your home? Do you think your environment changes the way you work?

Because I’m not teaching currently I’ve had to take up a very different kind of job working in security at the National Gallery of Scotland, including night shifts, and have moved some of my classes online. This means I actually don’t have much free time to fill with painting. I’m trying to make a small piece every week using the source imagery I gathered when we were still allowed out, so perhaps it’s a good time for reflection. But I live in a tiny studio flat so I’m finding it hard having to put everything away at the end of each session – I’m usually a messy studio person!

We've noticed that the current situation with self-isolation has created a lot of resources within the art community, such as online galleries and the #artistsupportpledge. Are there any accounts or resources you recommend to look out for?

My good friend and degree show life model Topaz has started online life drawing resources, including a weekly Zoom session. She can be found on Instagram @reconfigure_lifedrawing. They’re always so imaginative and profits are split fairly between everyone involved, including models who are currently out of work. I’d definitely recommend giving her page a look!

To see more on Hayley check out her instagram @hayley.whittingham or go to her website


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blanc is an artist led publication for sharing contemporary abstract painters, creating an online community for current and up and coming artists.  


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