This week I had the pleasure and the privilege of a visit to the studio of Royal Academician Humphrey Ocean, otherwise known as HO. The experience was organised by The Friends of the RA – very well organised and very enjoyable.
So I took a train all the way from York to London specially for this 2pm – 4pm experience – well worth it.
What can I say?
HO greeted us individually as we entered this huge warehouse-like space hidden away on the outskirts of South London and my eyes took in his familiar muted canvases around the space. I didn’t take photographs – not allowed, of course – out of respect for this private space.
His interest in all things vehicle/transport/functional – ships, planes, cars, chairs – is evident in the work which is expressed in beautiful abstracted forms in opaque paint. And there’s wonderful, bespoke storage, an old press, book cases – everything looks fairly ordered. And loved. He picks up a recent woodcut with intense care and talks about his love of the colour black.
But really, for me, the portraits are the thing. I had seen an exhibition of them in 2013 at London’s National Gallery and marvelled at their seeming simplicity. Created in only an hour of folks who have visited his studio, HO makes these wonderful pieces in gouache on lovely 70 x 50 cms thick paper. He captures the body language of the sitter and his love of a chair which props them up and affects their stance.
In the upstairs ‘attic’ area of the studio, we were treated to tea and chocolate biscuits (generously handed around by HO himself) and I spotted hundreds of perfectly sharpened pencils arranged in mugs on a window ledge. On the floor, white plates with dabs of muted gouache colour tones – deep reds, ochre yellows and that deep dove grey which is a trademark – the colours of the portraits.
HO was easily approachable to each of us and he talked passionately about his work – from woodcuts echoing Munch’s techniques to wooden and metalic sculptures inspired by ships, cars and planes. HO is Professor of Perspective at the RA and a ‘Constable Man’. And he knows where everything is in his studio — at a moment’s notice able to lay his hands on a 1971 life drawing done at art school. I loved the background music playing – seemed African, then moved into some sort of rock, descending chords with a rough male vocal over the top – I always notice music, anyway. I knew he had played in a band – Kilburn and the High Roads. But I didn’t know he’d been in this band with Ian Dury (I’m a fan) who had also been his hugely inspiring tutor at art school.
HO is of OUR era. He is in the NOW. And hundreds of years ahead, we can look back at this interpretation of our world now – the cruise liners, the cars, the technology which shapes our lives. And the people in the portraits. In a chair.
Have YOU visited any studios? I’d love to hear your impressions …