Artist Research: Nicholas Herbert, John Virtue and Peter Doig

Nicholas Herbert:

Nicholas Herbert is a mixed media artist and designer. Herbert’s most recent work has been inspired by the Chiltern Hills in High Wycombe and he has named these works ’Silent Spaces’. The series of drawings are small intimate mixed media landscapes that are primarily on paper and are informed by his personal experience of the chalk uplands of the Chiltern Hills. He combines his interest for natural landscape, visual mark making and history. (Herbert, N, 2016)

Silent Spaces:

Herbert says; ‘I use my physical and emotional experiences of this area to capture these works’. He attempts to capture ephemeral qualities of light. He aims to express his own mediative thoughts, personal memories and this subconscious responses that he produces from being in the landscape. There are important concepts related to these works such as; decay, renaissance, permanence versus impermanence, the mythic, the residual and the ancient. Herbert mentions that creating his landscapes are intuitive and carry a visual engagement. He uses processes of mark-making, textural surface layering and monochromes to interpret and reveal the simplicity of nature.

His colour palette is organic and neutral and mainly uses graphite, pencil, acrylic, gouache, chalk and crayon. Herbert finds that when applying the materials to the surface of the paper it becomes ‘scuffed’ which adds to the texture of the drawing and the feeling of the ‘ungracious’ and the ‘worn’. He adds ‘there is a casual rawness that the paper has to survive the creative process’. He mentions that sometimes the paper doesn’t survive, and if it does then, like the landscape, it carries its own physical history. He hopes that the landscapes invite contemplation and deeper engagement. (Herbert, N, 2016)

I really like the ideas and concepts of his processes. The marks and ‘wear and tear’ on the paper are just as important than the drawing itself creating a juxtaposition between the paper surviving and the landscape surviving. I feel that exploring various medias with the surface, invites the viewer to come into contact with the piece and the physical reality of making the art is combined with the landscape as you see it.

Peter Doig:

Doig has a very figurative and conceptual essence to his painting. He combines both traditional methods and his own style in layering his landscapes, with which he creates ‘a world of tropic calm and underlying danger’.

Doig created paintings based on Le Corbusier’s post war derelict apartments. The new apartments in 1961, were considered the ideal living environment. Doig entered the derelict building and recorded the building that was surrounded by woods. The architecture of the buildings were lost and was intertwined with branches from the trees. His paintings reflected this exact scene and conceptually created the struggle for power over the foreground and background. His work reflects the fight between the natural elements, that are always growing larger, and the manmade creations that disintegrate over time. His work, ‘Concrete Cabin’ merges both nature and the building giving a sense of the inevitable power of nature.


fig 4
Fig 4. Concrete Cabin (1994)


^^^^^^ – I quite like this idea of manmade objects being overpowered by nature.

I believe it reflects the manmade world that we live in modern society and that nature will always come out on top and be able to adapt where as humans are very much stuck in the lives they have been given. I think I have gotten a stronger mindset of the importance of nature over time and since being in London and adapting to the fast pace of life. I have been watching a series called ‘Thailand’ and the way of life there is so different but man have been been able to live in harmony with their surroundings, nature and animals to benefit each species. I love this and I think it is sad how we are beginning to loose sight of what the world really is and eventually we, as humans, will destroy ourselves and our world.

Doig seems to tamper with the ideas of foreground and background playing with angles and creating large pieces of work. The clarity of his work creates this uneasy view of the foreground, creating a two dimensional piece that becomes a ‘sea of sickly colour’ to the viewer. (1994 Ski Jacket)


Ski Jacket 1994 by Peter Doig born 1959
Fig 5. Ski Jacket (1994)



Doig also plays with perspective and the perception of how an image should be viewed. ‘Black Curtain’ shows alternative photographic methods, such as shooting a film through a telescope or taking numerous stills. The colours of ‘Black Curtain’ and the abstraction keep the viewer just out of reach of this island. (The culture trip, 2016)


Fig 6. Black Curtain (Towards Monkey Island) (2004)


His exploration between photography and film make me enquire whether this is something I would like to use as a preparatory stage for my drawings. To be able to notice other parts of a scene or drawing. I like that these two artists are exploring through ranges of media and layering but also creating work to make an illusion for the viewer. The process seems just as important as the final product… if not more.

I would like to experiment with photo joiners and working with various thickness of paper and testing the limits of media within the drawing process, picture making. Working at various scales is also important in grasping the viewers attention – something that I learnt when briefly researching Fiona Rae.

David Hockney:

Presence – something that Hockney strives to capture. (Searle, A, 2012)

John Virtue:

Virtue only works in Black and white and his choice of media’s are, white acrylic paint, black ink and shellac on canvas.

Landscape number 624 relates very much to the idea of a sketchbook walk.

This painting is influenced by various drawings that he had made on walks from every Thursday on the southern outskirts of town in exeter. The painting reflects his memory of the walks. The image is hard to read with the depth of monochrome colour and the denseness of foliage contrasting in reflections of the canal. Virtue’s choice to work only in black and white stops him from replicating past paintings and making links to his influences of Constable and others. He wants to make art that is relevant to the contemporary audience. By refusing to work in colour and combining a number of sketches to make one larger painting and working from memory, he never recreates direct transcripts of his subject. (Taylor, R, 2003)


Landscape No 624 1999-2000 by John Virtue born 1947
Fig 7. Landscape No. 624 (1999-2000)




Virtue, John, b.1947; Landscape No.664
Fig 8. Landscape No. 664 (2003)


This is a bit like what I have done for my sketchbook walk. I have used photographs and one continuous line to mark my walk, but I have also added to the drawing from memory. This adds a little more imaginative picture making into the drawing, of which I can also play around with scale and collage.

His works connect to a painting journey of pure mark making back to the figurative, rather than the traditional path from representation to abstraction. He shows a strong link between his emotions and his practice – quote: ‘an armature for the whole psychological area in me’. (Taylor, R, 2003)

^^^^^^^^^ Exhibition works of ‘The Sea’

I wanted to find out more about John Virtue’s ideas and process as an artist. I found a video on youtube about him discussing his series of works on ‘The Sea’.

The video was a discussion in the gallery which contained Virtues new work, with Art historian Andrew Graham Dixon.

Virtue was ‘lost’ as a young man and mentions that his own mother didn’t know who he was. He became a post-man which allowed him to have all afternoon to draw and focus on his art. Virtue said that he doesn’t see himself as linking to any tradition, and feels that it is something to work against. He would use his post round as a point of inspiration and opportunity to sketch. After finishing work he would go out and make more sketches which formed inspiration for his paintings.

Virtue emphasises the importance of simply walking. The key thing for him was to walk. He mentions that to make those walks are to make the work. Some people say ‘well it doesn’t look like the sea, or Nelson’s Column and thats because its my Nelson Column.’ His drawings/paintings are his personal interpretation of the landscape and he does not care if the viewer cant; see what he can see. He goes on to explain there is no such thing as a fixed view of a landscape. When he created pictures using the mosaic/cubist style he would question, what is the world? How do I see the world? His mosaics suggested that he saw it in 72 different views/images.

Walk and draw, walk and draw, as you walk you draw. This could be portrayed as his philosophy in his work. He explains whether its a linear walk on the sea, a circular walk around the city, drawing is a fantastic live way to deal with a specific time. Virtue would work over his mosaics. Dixon makes a comment on the similarities in Virtue’s work and Jackson Pollock’s work. Pollock talks about the fluidity and rhythm of his expression in his work. Pollock is nature. Dixon believes this is echoed in Virtues work.

Virtue considers the universe as energy, as motion, as something we can’t fix or contain or even photograph.

Virtue believes that colour is more in its absence than it is in its presence and his works are about trying to capture engr. rather than creating an appearance. He tries to capture movement rather than detail and these are the reasons he chooses to work in black and white only.

Dixon says ‘ I think essentialising colour in art is quite rare. Tuner’s late works use colour to capture the essence of light rather than focusing on colour itself.’ (Towner John Virute Talk with Andrew Graham Dixon, 2015)

Virtues response is this ‘Turner’s work of the sea, is a complete abstraction from reality.’ (Towner John Virute Talk with Andrew Graham Dixon, 2015)

Both talk about the sea being a powerful, metaphorical being that creates an essence of the ‘end’ and that it is able to put reality into perspective. Dixon asks whether Virtue feels he has been pulled towards the sea as a subject as he’s got older. He talks about the sea as a metaphor being everything and being nothing. Dixon relates to the paintings in how he feels that its on the edge, that something is about to absorb you. Virtue acknowledges his paintings as ‘ones position against the forces’. He talks about the paintings as a mirror. Dixon re-engages Pollock’s ideas of ‘I am nature’. Virtue agrees that this thought process is inevitable. That once you are fully engaged into a painting you are going to create a personal response.

The interview goes onto to discuss the change from his multiple, mosaic works to his now single images and whether virtue is still trying to convey the idea of a section of images, a process or a movement. Virtue excitedly reacts to his. ‘Why would I make an 8 and half mile walk for one picture that any artist could paint a realistic painting’. Throughout his life’s work this is how he has always made drawings and paintings, its a procedure he goes through to create his work. He goes onto say that he is influenced by everything and tries to always be influence by everything. He makes an important remark about his paintings. He never wants them to be seen as telling a story. He believes that visual things should be visual, an interesting thought as although he creates visual and magnificent paintings he is not concerned with it being a realistic painting. He considers himself as a maker of images, which relates to my interest in picture making. He exclaims that each walk and each drawing are a visual diary of his existence. Are his pictures linked to mortality? Is the sea the end? (Towner John Virute Talk with Andrew Graham Dixon, 2015)

I seem to have created, sub-conciously, a re-occuring theme in my work that focuses on tone, using charcoal and black and white but also using marks to create a picture. After researching Jon Virtue, Peter Doig and Nicholas Herbert and developing my own visual and creative interests in quite keen to combine the urban with the rural, focusing on my own developmental passions, i.e. mark making, ink, biro and more. After my drawing of the garage and the light on top I was keen to explore this idea and took some photographs in central London at night. I also like the idea of combing my ‘drawing a day’ project using continuous line and contour drawing. I would also like to keep a prominent visual on varied scale, something I focused on in assignment 2.


fig 9
Fig 9. The Sea (2011-13)


Interesting to see how he sketches and then how the sketches inform the painting. The drawings are simple and organic, there is nothing ‘fussy’ about them. (Lesson 03 – John Virtue, 2014)

Nicholas Herbert. (2016) Chiltern Hills. At: (Accessed on 9 January 2017)

The culture Trip. (2016) Peter Doig: Revolutionising Landscape Painting. At: (Accessed on 10 January 2017)

Searle, A. The Guardian. (2012) David Hockney landscapes: The wold is not enough.  At: (Accessed on 9 January 2017)

Taylor, R. Tate. (2003) John Virtue Landscape No 624. At: (Accessed 9 January 2017)

Towner John Virute Talk with Andrew Graham Dixon (2015) [user generated content online] Creat. Eastbourne, T. 19 Janurary 15. At: (Accessed on 28 December 2017)

Lesson 03 – John Virtue (2014) [user generated content online] Creat. WLC Art History. 5 October 14. At: (Accessed on 28 December 2017)

Figure 1. Herbert, N. (2013) Landscape L671 [graphite, colour pencil, soluble crayon and acrylic on white paper] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 2. Herbert, N. (2013) Landscape L672 [graphite, colour pencil, soluble crayon and acrylic on paper] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 3. Herbert, N. (2013) Landscape L712 [graphite, colour pencil, soluble crayon and acrylic on paper] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 4. Doig, P. (1994) Concrete Cabin [oil paint on canvas] (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 5. Doig, P. (1994) Ski Jacket [oil paint on 2 canvasses] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 6. Doig, P (2004) Black Curtain (Towards Monkey Island) [unknown] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 7. Virtue, J. (1999-2000) Landscape No. 624 [acrylic paint, ink and shellac on 4 canvasses] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 8. Virtue, J. (2003) Landscape No. 664 [white acrylic, black ink, shellac and emulsion on canvas] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 9. Virtue, J. (2011-13) The Sea [unknown] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)



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