When Simon Plum graduated with a Fine Art degree he decided to take a brief sabbatical to work within the family business. Ten years later he had produced very little art and was feeling increasingly cynical about the industry. It was only when he located a studio space in Preston and began working alongside other artists that he regained confidence and passion. Since then he has exhibited his work across the UK and in Portugal. He currently has an exhibition of his drawings and prints at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, after going to see Down the Garden Path and seeing his paintings on his website I wanted to find out more.
Who are you and where are you based?
My name’s Simon Plum, I was born in Preston in 1968 and have lived and worked in the area most of my life. I currently have my art studio at Oxhey’s Mill Studios, an artist’s run studio and exhibition space in Preston.
Where did you train?
I studied at Preston College on a BTEC Art Foundation course and Fine Art at degree level at Northumbria University, graduating in1995. Although I was doing painting I had an interest in printmaking and was encouraged to do that as well.
Looking back, both were pretty good courses with a strong emphasis on being able to draw well which is something that has stayed with me.
How long have you been an artist, tell me a little bit about your career?
Art for me is mainly drawing and painting, which I see as a natural way of expressing myself and is something I’ve done as long as I can remember. I’ve never thought of it as a career and I don’t know many genuine artists who make much money from it.
I did, perhaps, think it would be a career whilst at college but after I graduated I returned to Preston and started working in my family’s business (selling antiques, props and themed décor for pubs, restaurants, designers and so on) believing it to be a couple of years sabbatical from art. I found at this time, like a lot of art graduates do, that it’s very difficult to motivate yourself without the support network you have at college, whilst also working full time, and for about ten years I did virtually no art at all. During this time, I found myself becoming extremely cynical about art in general, especially about the sort of conceptual art that gets a lot of media attention.
In about 2005 I did start painting again and this came about through finding a studio space, working alongside other artists, in hindsight something I should have done ten years earlier. Interestingly I became less cynical when actually making art.
I’ve been very prolific since then and have exhibited in a number of places throughout the UK and in Portugal.
What is the art scene like in Preston?
A few years back I wasn’t aware of much art going on in Preston but I’ve found that actually, under the surface, there’s a really vibrant art scene.
Although there’s limited places to exhibit I’ve been involved with a number of groups of people making art and trying to show it.
There’s a really good life drawing group called Preston Life Drawing, for example, that’s been going weekly for about five years and is always well
attended by about twenty to thirty people. Also, I’ve shown work at The Continental over the past few years, and the team at They Eat Culture, which runs from The Continental, are passionate about providing an accessible platform for the arts.
More recently, I joined Artlab Contemporary Print Studio, which is a fantastic group running weekly at Uclan, where locally printmakers can develop their work and find support through being in the group. At Oxhey’s Mill Studios as well we put on exhibitions for local artists.
How did your exhibition Down The Garden Path come about?
I was invited to exhibit there by Steph Fletcher who is the assistant curator at the Harris. Although local artists can put proposals forward to exhibit in the stairway and are encouraged to do so. We met a couple of times at my studio to discuss my work and decide what would make a good show. Although I was originally quite keen to showcase a broader range of my work, including my paintings, I think she persuaded me to exhibit drawings and prints as is sometimes better to show less, and have a coherent theme running through an exhibition.
The title I hope suggests to be misled down (as oppose to up) the garden path through pictures which are at times slightly strange and whimsical.
Do you start with a story or the image in your mind?
I probably start with an image. I try to draw quite freely and randomly in small sketchbooks. Sometimes from imagination and sometimes using references. Occasionally I chance upon an image I think has a lot of potential and will do several versions developing the idea; the narratives are usually the last thing to arrive. I would say my best work comes about instinctively.
Some of your illustrations on display at the Harris depict animals going on a mysterious adventures…where are they going?
I like to leave that to the imagination.
What are you working on right now?
I’m usually working on a few at once, at the moment: a lino-cut of animals and vintage tin cars chasing each other; a painting of a vase of tulips; a drawing of a table in the woods over-laden with dead game.
Simon Plum Down the Garden Path at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston until 14th April 2013 Entry: Free