On the cover: Soft Scoop by Lee Madgwick
Lee Madgwick graduated from Norwich University College of the Arts and went on to gain a loyal following, including writer Sarah Perry, who has praised his work’s “strange capacity to be both moving and unnerving.” He has exhibited his paintings across the UK, including at Banksy’s Dismaland art project.
Rob Orchard: How did you come up with Soft Scoop?
Lee Madgwick: There’s usually a lot of subtext in my paintings but this is quite a literal piece. I was on holiday and I saw an abandoned ice cream van in a car park. I’m drawn to anything that people just walk past, usually overlooked, dilapidated buildings.
Some words recur in reviews of your work: ‘anxious’, ‘eerie’, ‘haunting’, ‘foreboding’, ‘secluded’, ‘derelict’. Are you something of a pessimist?
No, not at all, really. I’m more of a realist. I think there’s a positive vibe that comes through my paintings. You feel that there’s someone still living among the ruins and life going on and there’s still hope in the world somehow.
How did your style develop?
I had done pen and ink drawings for years and it wasn’t until 2005 or 2006, after I graduated, that I started painting. And then I remember painting a dark sky and immediately feeling that it worked. I’m kind of allergic to blue skies, rainbows, pretty things.
How do you set about creating your pieces?
I use water-mixable oils for the skies and at some point I started painting them with my fingertips, I think at the time I didn’t want to see many brush strokes. But as it is oil-based, the canvases need six to eight weeks to dry before I add acrylics. So I get a series of skies painted, the canvases all sit there drying, with fumes galore in my studio and the details only come many weeks later.
So you practise delayed gratification?
I do! That’s a good way to put it.
How does your local area affect your work?
We live in Ely, on the Cambridgeshire fens, and when there are sunny intervals you get a strange burst of light in the sky that I try to emulate in my work, it’s like a breath of fresh air. You get that same thing in the work of my favourite 17th-century painter, Jacob van Ruisdael. His palette was moody, sepia tones with lots of ochre and raw umber and a burst of light that bounced off the canvas. His paintings set up a narrative, which I like to do in my own work – I want it to feel almost as if you just flicked open a page in a book, the idea that something is happening, but you don’t know quite what.
This year has seen lots of publicity about AI models that generate new works in the style of an artist – what do you make of these?
They’re clever, but I think in terms of copyright it brings up a whole new argument. People have come to me asking ‘Where can I find this piece, is it available?’ and it has turned out to be something computer generated, with my name attached to it. It’s a whole new world, I’m still learning about it and I’m not particularly liking any of it.
Slow Journalism in your inbox, plus infographics, offers and more: sign up for the free DG newsletter. Sign me up
Thanks for signing up.