The coronavirus pandemic has affected the ways in which we all work and one of the few positives for some people is that the so-called ‘new normal’ has actually turned out to be more suited to their way of life.
Nidderdale-based artist Neil Simone can’t simply open the doors of his Chapel Gallery in Glasshouses, just outside of Pateley Bridge, all day as usual to the general public for the time being, but he is finding that allowing people to book appointments is giving him the opportunity to lose himself in his art.
And he certainly needs to keep working on creating his complex, beautiful and dream-like art, as his work is very much in demand. “I was lucky enough to sell three originals to a couple who came this weekend,” says Neil.
If you do book in a slot with the London-born painter, you will find the handsomely converted building filled with all of his current collection of original oil paintings – around 30 of them – framed and unframed signed limited edition prints, gift cards and books about his work. The old chapel itself is a work of art in its own right too, with the original stained-glass windows still intact amongst a host of other features.
Not having to act as permanent creative artist with his own gallery is suiting Neil as he sits down to his easel in the middle of the day. “I find I can focus and concentrate a lot better,” he admits. If people do arrive unannounced, they can find his phone number on the door and can arrange a convenient time to view the gallery.
Neil Simone relishes the opportunity to welcome visitors from Yorkshire and across the world to his quiet corner of the Yorkshire Dales. “I got two really big commissions from Russia recently and this guy who lives up near Richmond – he loves my work. He owns a big country estate and he’s commissioned me to do a few really big pieces.”
Although his roots are in the capital, where he started out as a junior in a commercial art studio, ferrying work from the studio around the city, he has been a Yorkshire resident since 1970. He made his home in Harrogate before moving out to his current location.
He says he finds the countryside inspirational in general, but although he does create landscapes, you would struggle to find the images from his work on the Dales skyline. “Landscapes in my paintings tend to be more ambiguous, almost a memory of somewhere which evokes memories in other people’s minds of places that they’ve been. Because I don’t just paint a painting in a conventional way – like a photograph, if you like – it has other elements. I don’t need to really be there or see it to create it. If they have elements of reality, it’s purely based on impressions I’ve got or feelings I’ve had in places.”
Indeed, browsing Neil Simone’s artwork is like wandering through half-forgotten memories. The sort that flash back to you occasionally and seem based in reality, but with a twist. The giant tree standing proud in the middle of a field that appears to be built using house bricks and which is decorated with a door and windows. Or the twin trees upon a rocky outcrop in the ocean, through which you can spy a luscious green valley heading off into the distance. And then there is the daytime riverside scene with a giant tree shape in the foreground, whose silhouette provides a glimpse into the same location at night.
It seems utterly bizarre that Neil’s career as an artist took a significant blow early on when he failed to get into art school. He admits that he knew he wanted to be an artist but had no real idea how to paint. Undeterred, he taught himself the skills that signify his work today. However, honing them took time, and he was aided by some well-placed words of advice along the way.
When living in Harrogate during his early years up north he was painting “anything and everything” and decided to talk to the town’s Victoria Art Gallery about putting on an exhibition. “The lady there said that they weren’t interested,” Neil remembers, “my wife had just had our son and I was full time and I was obviously taken aback a bit. I said to her ‘can you tell me why?’, and she told me why and it changed my life!”
“She said ‘you need to have an identity – something recognisable as a Simone, and you need to paint something you’re really interested in. What are you really interested in?’ And I couldn’t think of anything but painting. So, I took my work back and I put it around my studio and looked at it. What I could see in it were elements of window reflections – pictures within pictures and how a shadow could change a dimension and make it different to what it was.”
This inspired Neil Simone to pursue representations of what he observed and interpreted, rather than carbon copies. He compares the emotions his paintings evoke to those that music and lyrics inspire.
And the ideas keep on coming. Mostly, he admits, as he is falling asleep. He keeps a pencil and piece of paper close at hand in case one of these concepts hits him, in his words, “like a smack on the back of the head”. He is also very happy creating his work and selling it from his own gallery, particularly after an early experience with the owner of a Cork Street gallery in London who informed Neil Simone that the company would “only take 70% commission”.
“I am my own man,” says Neil, “I’m in control of everything and that’s how I can work. If an artist is with a gallery and a particular picture happens to be very successful, the gallery will say ‘can you do another one like that one?’ and you end up being a conveyor belt.”
“I’m bound to no one and that shows in the work. I think the work I’m doing now is amongst the best I’ve done in many years” he says.
To take a look at Neil Simone ’s work, visit his website neilsimone.com or ring him on 01423 711 795 to book an appointment to view at the Chapel Gallery. Neil accepts commissions to paint artwork that represents elements from your life, having recently incorporated a treehouse and an Aston Martin into his inimitable style!