The Saveloy Factory - Stuart Pearson Wright

Stuart Pearson Wright is a British painter working in a figurative tradition, living and working in the East end of London. He grew up in Eastbourne, a seaside town in southern England, abundant in the nostalgia of an Edwardian past and brimming with pensioners arriving daily by the coach load to relive holidays of yesteryear.

Born in 1975 in Northampton, Stuart drew with enthusiasm from an early age and after toying with the idea of taking up acting professionally, finally opted for art school. An unhappy foundation course at Eastbourne College of Arts and Technology (where he was the only painter on the course) was followed by four years at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Stuart had dreamt of attending Slade, when at school he had discovered the paintings and drawings of Stanley Spencer. Stuart’s work was received with mixed feelings by the tutors at the Slade, where the current vogue for conceptualism eclipses a grand tradition of British figurative painting.

During his time at the Slade, Stuart won the Travel Award from the National Portrait Gallery as part of its 1998 BP Portrait Awards. With this he set out in a van on a trip around Britain, producing sketches and paintings as he went.

“It was whilst travelling round the country that I really began to learn how to construct a painting. I found myself in the position of arriving in a town, having only a day or two to adjust to the new environment and produce something that was worthwhile, knowing full well that when I returned [to London] I would have to mount an exhibition. Inevitably I discovered that it was impossible to record all the information that I needed to produce a finished painting without compromising, and this meant taking photographs, something which I am very cautious about because of the compulsion to slavishly ‘copy’ a photograph can be overwhelming and the creative decisions about what is in a picture become more arbitrary; they are the result of what was in front of the camera at the time the picture was taken. I wanted to be fully in control of all the elements within a picture. In constructing a narrative painting I see myself as a kind of Director bringing together a set design, actors and props, then lighting the whole thing”

In 1999 Stuart mounted the Travel Award show at the National Portrait Gallery. It was entitled From Eastbourne to Edinburgh-a Painter’s Odyssey. On the whole it was well received by the critics: Godfrey Barker in the Evening standard labelled Stuart “A Hogarth for our Times” (see Press Cuttings) and Brian Sewell was to describe the paintings as “images of such eccentricity and even madness that they fit perfectly the English tradition of the odd man out, the Blake, Spencer, Cecil Collins line, and the largest of them (very large and very mad) should at once have been bought by the Tate” Instead, the painting concerned ‘Tisbury Court 1999- a Tragicomedy’ , an enormous canvas with a predella and a neoclassical proscenium frame made by the artist, and which featured a naked David Thewlis (an actor) running through the streets of Soho, was bought by the now infamous Lord Archer in whose London home it now hangs.

After graduating, Stuart returned to Eastbourne for a year. Working in a studio above his Mother’s antique shop, he began to experiment with gesso on oak panels, producing The Hungarian, Young Maurice and his Father and Eastbourne pier, the last of which took six months to complete. This was due to the elaborate method of construction in which he employed Jan van Eyck’s method of producing an elaborate underpainting in monochrome. Stuart’s niece and nephew posed for the picture, as did his Mother and Godfather. Stuart makes a small appearance himself on the beach with his dog Ethel.

In 2000 Stuart went to London, intending to stay for three weeks to work on some commissions. He has been in London ever since.

A chance encounter with the actor John Hurt in Old Compton Street led to a small portrait on oak which was subsequently bought by the National Portrait Gallery along with a similar sized portrait of the Ballet dancer Adam Cooper. Hurt later commissioned Stuart to paint portraits of his two sons, Nicholas and Alexander, and his partner Sarah and these were all painted over several trips to the Republic of Ireland where Hurt lives. On one of these trips, a scene in a café when Nicholas Hurt sat on his Father’s knee, gave Stuart the idea of painting Hurt as a ventriloquist. On another trip to Ireland in September 2001 Stuart painted Hurt, in make up and dinner jacket, as both ventriloquist and dummy. The actor was performing as Krapp in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tapes in Dublin at the time, so gave his mornings to sitting.

Earlier that year Stuart’s career had taken an unprecedented turn when he won the first prize in the BP Portrait Awards for his painting Gallus gallus with Still Life and Presidents. The painting received an enormous amount of attention as a result of some comments Stuart unwittingly made to a journalist, Nigel Reynolds, prior to the announcement of the prizes. During the course of a telephone conversation Stuart made a flippant and unguarded comment about the Director of the Tate: Sir Nicholas Serota, suggesting he should be sacked. Next day, after the announcement of the prizes this story made the front page of the Telegraph and from then on, numerous journalists rewrote the story, changing the context in which the comments were made. As the story ran, Stuart had made a public announcement as he accepted his prize, calling for the sacking of Sir Nicholas. This is a fiction. In reality Stuart kissed Jerry Hall who was presenting the prizes, and stood silent, and dumbfounded

Stuart is now working on his most ambitious picture to date, a very large street scene set in the East end of London. When this is complete he intends to put together a solo exhibition of work of the last four years.

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