Painter and photographer Chris Bucklow explains why Blake, the Romantics – and a carefully assembled archive of dreams – provide a constant source of inspiration
Chris Bucklow is feeling discomfited. One of his latest works, a silhouette of Eustacia Vye from Hardy’s The Return of the Native, has recently been shipped to a collector in Brazil, leaving him strangely bereft. His studio is not the same without this beautiful “dark, unknown and remote” character who has been the subject of his obsession since adolescence. “They’re clever these collectors,” he says, with a smile. “They always know the best ones to go for.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a private view of his work is taking place in a Sydney art gallery; another exhibition is running in Amsterdam until the middle of October; and in a couple of weeks’ time a show will open at the Riflemaker Gallery in London’s Soho. His work can also be found in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum, and from his silhouette photography to enormous oil canvases, Bucklow’s art has never been so highly prized or in demand.
But for all that, there is only one place Bucklow really wants to be – his Frome studio. “I treat it like an obsession,” he says, simply. “I’ll work all day, break only to make my three-minute walk back home to feed and bathe the kids, and then I’ll go back again to carry on working in the evening. I find being in my studio inspiring.”
Those familiar with Chris Bucklow’s work will be aware of the importance of the subconscious mind upon his art, and his exploration and visualisation of his own dreams. Over the years he has assembled an impressive cast of silhouette characters, each as mesmerising as the last, from a colossal dream archive that he has kept since 1984. In 2004 he even published a collection of them in the catalogue of his exhibition “I Will Save Your Life”. “I dream of people, and I approach them and tell them I want their silhouette. I’ve not been turned down yet.”
His pinhole photographs are the product of a long, painstaking process in which he draws the shadow of his dream subject, transfers it on to a sheet aluminium foil and fills it with up to 25,000 pinhole apertures, randomised so that some are wide, some are narrow. On a sunny day he’ll place the foil on to his 40 x 60 inch camera and expose a sheet of Cibachrome paper to the sun. “I’ll do it in total darkness in an old cowshed in a field, then stagger out into blinding sunlight.” The result is both powerful and captivating.
Born in Lancashire in 1957, Bucklow studied art history at Leicester Polytechnic, before accepting a post as a curator at the V&A in the Prints and Drawings department, where he researched Romantic works of art on paper and early photography. It was here that he also developed an interest in William Blake, whose life provides him with a continued source of inspiration, and whom he regards as “his Jesus”. “I love Blake’s poetry, his epic poems are like the Rosetta Stone,” he says enthusiastically. “They are like hieroglyphics, opaque to understanding, like a puzzle you can never quite finish.”
From the V&A, Bucklow then moved with his wife to Venice, where he took up painting in earnest, and then from Venice to Grasmere, and a one-year residency at the Wordsworth Trust, Centre for British Romanticism. In 2004, he moved to a cottage in Frome, and has lived in the town ever since. “We live on the river – the kids to paddle up in boat to the sweetshop in the centre of town.”
Asked which living artists he admires, Bucklow is characteristically frank: “It’s the job of young artists to either be opposed to something or gravitate towards it. When you’re younger you define yourself by what you like or dislike in contemporary art. As you get older you get more interested in the Great Dead.”
And with that, Bucklow returns to his studio and what he loves doing best – creating art in a space that grounds and galvanises him. Before I leave, there is one thing Bucklow wants me to see: a new painting that he has been working on, propped against the studio wall. And there she is: staring defiantly out of a canvas – the dark, mysterious Eustacia Vye.
For more information about Chris’s work contact Lucie at email@example.com