As I’ve been digging deeper into my own creativity and returning to my fine art roots, I’ve also been exploring some of the artists who inspire me. I’m drawn to four artists in particular who, on the surface, have very little in common. Three Brits and a Spaniard. Two illustrators and two painters. While each one’s aesthetic and execution appeal to me, the styles that range from incredibly loose to astonishingly precise.
If you look a little closer, though, each one of these painters has a strong, often subversive point of view. Not only does this align with my personal belief in the power of art to make a difference politically, emotionally, culturally and therapeutically, it connects to my professional side as well. The right imagery in the right hands can communicate and motivate in a way that words often cannot.
I thought I’d share a bit more about how these four artists speak to me.
The Enigma of William Tell, Salvador Dali
I first encountered Dali’s incredibly skilled and bizarre work on the day he died. This was in 1989—before the melting clocks of his “The Persistence of Memory” became the poster child for posters. My art teacher at the time couldn’t believe Dali wasn’t on my radar because my own work was somewhat surreal. I abandoned his work not long after, thinking he was just a teenager’s idea of cool. However, upon recently revisiting his work, I’ve been amazed by his storytelling and wonderfully absurd take on life. In this image, “The Enigma of William Tell,” Dali is openly rebelling against Vladamir Lenin, Communism and his father—something 1930s viewers would have had no trouble recognizing.
Left: Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Diego Velázquez / Right: Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Francis Bacon
The pure emotion that falls from every brushstroke is devastating and beautiful. The first time I saw Bacon’s “Study after Velàzquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” I was dumbstruck. I actually cried. This 1950s take on a 17th-century masterpiece was unlike anything I’d seen before. After looking into the further works by Bacon, I became more and more inspired by his ability to express emotion in such a terrible-beautiful way. In 2009, I was fortunate enough to visit his centenary retrospective at the Met. Seen live, his work is even more humbling and awe-inspiring.
Margaret Thatcher Eating Major, Gerald Scarfe
Like everyone, my teenage years included a viewing of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The animation in this movie blew me away—it had the raw emotion and ruggedness of Bacon as well as the intellectual deep dive of Dali. I was hooked. His fearlessness to attack any subject with a strong opinion and a vicious line changed the way I looked at art. Over the years, he collaborated with theater companies, the Royal Mail, BBC and more, never pulling his punches, as in this (one of may) looks at Margaret Thatcher for The Sunday Times.
Donal Trump Porky Pie, Ralph Steadman
Shortly after seeing The Wall, while looking further into Scarfe, I stumbled across Ralph Steadman—not a particularly easy task in the pre-internet world. Friend and collaborator with Hunter S. Thompson and champion of free speech, Steadman’s art is steeped in politics and opinion. The similarities with Scarfe do not end there. They both tear into their art with abandon and the outcome is honest, ugly and beautiful.
Worth More Than a Thousand Words
It can be hard to tease out a connection between these four artists until I look at my own work and the way each affects me. For me, whether you’re creating fine art or a communication intended to promote a commercial offering, when an artist taps into the defining spirit or ideas of the time or an audience, they can motivate, inspire and change minds in a way that words never can.