Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with painter, Jethro Buck


Edgar Degas’ statement; “Art is not what you see, mind medicine but what you make others see, viagra 100mg ” pre-empts the paintings of Jethro Buck. Whilst Buck and Degas’ individual work relates to painting’s ability to convey emotional expressions by their manifold, their similarity lies in an ability to push the audience’s understanding of what it is to see the world.

Jethro Buck’s most recent paintings explore the geometry and non-linear perspective employed within Indian and Persian Miniatures in the creation of multiple narratives on a single picture plane. Subsequently Buck asks the audience to reconsider Western Perspective’s reliance on a single point of vision (or a single point of view) to create a static narrative within the illusion of 3D space.

What drew you to painting, as a medium?

Paint is an amazingly versatile material that can be turned, pretty much, into anything you want. It is pure pigment mixed with a binding medium, but when you squeeze it onto a palette, you have a little colourful blob of potential. Sometimes I’m quite happy just to leave it at that!

The rock where the pigment comes from is like a caterpillar, the manipulation of paint in the studio is the chrysalis and the painting is the golden Butterfly. What was a blob is transformed! Whereas, the art historians and the critics of the world are interested in the butterfly, the painters are more interested in the miracle of the chrysalis.

Whilst painting I find myself thinking in the language of paint. When visiting a museum, you’re meant to step back and think about the painting and its subject and ideas. I am always getting told off in galleries for looking so closely at a painting that my nose scrapes the surface! The closer I am to the painting, the closer I am to the world of the studio and artist’s thoughts as they mixed, diluted, scraped and brushed.

Do you find yourself follow traditional rules when constructing a painting?

Inevitably, through painting a lot, established rules are learnt and knowledge is acquired and the more of these rules you discover. However, in order for me to think differently and follow a creative process beyond a known craft, I think rules need to be broken. It is however, a good practice to learn as many rules as you can, so you know which rules to break later.

It has occurred to me that I really do not know the many rules of Indian miniature painting; For example, the relation between symbolism and the meaning of colour. The upside is that I am free to do whatever I want. However, I would like to know what rules I am breaking, as I don’t know what I’m missing. Ideally, I would like to return to India and study as an apprentice.

What is it that interests you about the possibilities of the surreal?

When a painting becomes surreal I am no longer confined by the rules of physics and therefore there are more possibilities.

I think I became interested in experimenting with the surreal after returning from India. It can feel surreal being in a different culture. What’s real to you is surreal to someone else and vice versa.

Pink and Grey

Does the subject matter of your painting change depending on the scale of the canvas?

It does, slightly, I tend to paint really big or really small. I like art to be removed from the everyday and the medium –to me- represents the everyday. I like the extreme ends of spectrums. I like the sense of intimacy produced by a small painting, as the viewer has to engage in a one-on-one level with the piece. Which is not to say big paintings cannot be intimate, when a subject is large in scale; it feels as if, it is perceptively closer to you.

Which leads to the inevitable question: Who or what are you artistic inspirations?

Nature, Matisse, Marrakech, India, miniatures, rugs, textiles, old natural history prints and TED lectures. I am interested in the relative, cyclic and none dualistic nature of Indian mythology, there is no definite yes or no meaning to my paintings.

What do you think enables a single painting to tell 1000 words?

Henri Matisse once said:

“The only valuable thing in art is the one thing that cannot be explained, to explain away the mystery of a great painting would do irreplaceable harm, for whenever you explain or define something you substitute the explanation or the definition for the image of the thing.”

The Fall

With this in mind, how do you approach the process of titling your work? For instance with a work such as “Fall” What’s the story behind this title?

I paint and then I write the first thing that comes to my head. ‘Fall’ comes from a photo of a really happy scene – some boys in India were jumping and flipping into a river. As the river can’t be seen in my painting, the image of a falling figure can become a metaphor for taking a leap into the unknown. The fall can be a weightless, disorientating and scary experience or an amazing, life-filled, liberating one.

‘Bird carpet bird’ was inspired by various world textile patterns and colours. ‘Oxford’ was painted in November and the colours appear muted compared to the Indian ones, because it’s a response to the sandy colours of Oxford. ‘A Zebra, on the moon?’ is less about colour and more about a zebra on the moon.

A Zebra, on the Moon

Which leads me to ask… How did A Zebra on the Moon develop? What is the story behind the image?

Zebra on the moon was born out of a conversation with Lilly (4) and Daisy Palmer (7). One day I asked Lilly what I should draw, and she replied.., “a flower eating a lorry!”

Children often possess the divergent thinking skills considered a sign of genius in adults. As we grow up, we unlearn this way of thinking, but my conversations with Lilly and Daisy have engaged this part of my mind.

As an English painter you must find yourself negotiating incredible rapid weather changes, do the differing quality of light impact upon your work?

The quality of light definitely affects my paintings. Whilst getting off a train in India, the boy sitting next to me asked, “what is your favourite thing about India?” In a hurry I said, “the people and the light“. The quality of light changes everywhere you go, in India, the sky would turn an amazing shade of red in the dusty light.

Generally, as an English painter it’s great to go to sunny countries with lots of light. The more light there is, the more vibrant colours become. I don’t think there is anywhere more colourful than India. Leaving a grey wintery England and landing in India is like suddenly discovering you have a colour saturation dial – on what you thought was only a black and white TV. On my return, my work, has unquestionably become more saturated.

Creative Goose

What impact do you think the development of Western Perspective has had on narration within paintings?

With the invention of perspective came the ability to create illusionary 3D space on a flat plane. These days’ cameras create this illusion all the time on our behalf. Photography and perspective rely on a similar principle, for the illusion to work; you have to have a single point of vision. A camera has to be still, in one place and in one time, in order to capture what is in front of it. Essentially what you end up with is an image representing a singular frozen moment – for me, perspective stops time.

This development created a way of representing the world, which –as an example- was very unlike the Bayeux tapestry or a Persian miniature, where lots of temporal events are represented simultaneously in one piece of work. It is easier to fit a wider time range on a non-perspective piece of work.


Have you found this secondary impact of perspective as a time ‘freezer’ constraining as a painter?

It’s not a constraining idea, because it doesn’t really come into mind during the process of painting. Painting at its best is an action that happens in the here and now. I find the less thought there is usually the better a painting goes.

Does your interest in the possibilities of representing ideas of universality through geometry, stem from your own interest in biology and nature?

In a way, yes, there are many organic forms and occurrences in nature that have a flowing sort of chaotic order. I love the cracked, sun-baked earth ripples, clouds, cracked paint, the braches of a tree and the similar shapes of veins in the leaves, nerve cells and lung alveoli when looked at under a microscope. The forms repeat themselves in seemingly disparate areas of nature but there appears to be a common blueprint networking its way through everything; acting as a record of the flow of energy. Geometric patterns found on carpets and tiles are similar to these occurrences; they just happened to be straighter and neater versions.

Bird Carpet Carpet Bird

Which in turn – it could be said- relates to your long running interest in decoration and pattern?

I’ve always been drawn to pattern and if you walk around the Ashmolean or any museum, it will appear that most of humanity always has. Pattern seems to occur in cultures across all of time. It’s beautiful. Recently, my patterns have become more organised due to an increased interest in geometry. I’ve only scraped the surface of a vast discipline, but the first time I saw truly breath taking geometry was when I visited the Alhambre in Spain. As the Islamic world has studied geometry more deeply than any other culture, it makes sense –if one is interested in pattern- to study the magnificent geometric patterns of Islamic palaces and mosques.

The more I look at nature, the more geometry I see in it and the more I look at geometry, the more of nature I see in it. An obvious example of geometry in nature is the Romanesco cauliflower. I like to notice strikingly similar formations in widely different circumstances; such as the branches of trees, arteries, ripples and clouds.


An exhibition of Jethro Buck’s most recent paintings are currently on display at the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford.
The gallery is open from 11am – 4pm Monday to Saturday and the exhibition runs from the 6th to the 18th December 2010.

Categories ,Alhambra, ,Degas, ,Falling, ,India, ,Jethro Buck, ,matisse, ,Oxford, ,painting, ,Persia, ,Port Meadow, ,spain, ,Summertown, ,Ted Lectures, ,The North Wall, ,Western Perspective

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