Featured Artist – Oliver Lovley
If you were a frequenter of the Malt Cross BC (Before Covid) then you will undoubtedly come across posters advertising Oliver’s life drawing classes or indeed the man himself immersed in a bit of live painting as the artist in residence. I can distinctly remember a slender grey jacketed man sketching at one of the pedestal tables, to a lively background of cheerfully chattering people enjoying the architecture and supping their fine ales.
It was great to have the opportunity to catch up with Oliver again in the newly refurbished Greenhood Coffee House this July and talk to him about his recent work, which appears to have gained momentum since live exhibitions have become a thing again. Although we met briefly when Oliver joined the ABC Art Trail back in 2019, recent events have curtailed networking in general so it’s taken time for our paths to cross again despite both of us living in Beeston. He shows me his sketch book of observational figure drawings as we chat over an excellent coffee, and explains the process as capturing just enough information to ‘describe the people’ – the act of studying subjects as his connection to the outside world.
Oliver was born in Grantham but his parents moved to Nottingham when he was a baby. They based themselves in Newark and were living in Keyworth by the mid-80s where Oliver grew up and went to school. Although his degree at Loughborough University was Illustration, his course prepared him well for a career as a fine artist with an almost military regime of daily drawing. Having ‘tried unsuccessfully to be an illustrator’ down in London, following the success of a short animation film described as ‘hauntingly beautiful by Brief Encounters Film Festival judges in 2002, a disillusioned Oliver returned to Nottingham. Although there were signs that he should continue to hone his craft, as the portrait of his father he submitted for the prestigious National Gallery BP Portrait Award that same year made it through to the final exhibition.
Back in Nottingham, Oliver spent his time painting the landscapes around Keyworth and Belvoir Castle. Many of his earlier paintings are small watercolours depicting the natural forms of trees, fields and hedges in muted shades. They are delicately beautiful in their luminosity. Building up a collection of paintings led Oliver to look for commercial opportunities and came across the well-established Arts and Craft Fairs run by Alan Woolley in Beeston and West Bridgford. Growing interest in his work gave Oliver all the encouragement he needed to continue painting and selling at local events, securing commissions as his popularity expanded.
Another great event for him was the rather magical Craft in the City. A festive fair created by Anna French, Oliver felt his work was appreciated and talks about the encouragement he received from Anna and the supportive creative network in Nottingham that he felt lucky to be part of. Rather than competing with each others for the spotlight, there exists always a sense of mutual respect for the talents of other creatives which empowers the whole movement.
Approaching the welcoming team at Malt Cross at the end of 2015 led to a progression from artist in residence to him being invited to exhibit a selection of his work in their gallery space the following summer. Although this was not Oliver’s first exhibition, he felt that he had learned a lot since returning to his old school and exhibiting work in 2011 which was a strange if positive experience and he sold some of his paintings, which was incredibly rewarding.
As a follower of Oliver on social media, I have been noticing his newer work and the much more figurative nature of his subjects. He refers back to what he was taught in his illustration degree about the ‘visual language’ of creating an image – ‘the marks you make are your signature.’ His detailed sketches inform his paintings and he has gathered plenty of material to build up convincing forms. He applies a thick slice of paint with the palette knife first to give the figures substance, then adds in the finer detail with a fine brush, fading them into the background as objects that are further away do in real life. He describes his art as ‘explaining what’s there and talking about the emotions involved.’ He observes the scene and uses his ‘visual language’ to build in the stories. And he builds these beautifully, in textured layers.
Oliver talks through the process of how Football Crowds 2 came into being, an hour or two on Trent Bridge, intently studying the mannerisms and translating them into a serious of meaningful marks on the pages of his sketchbook. Catching glimpses of poses enabled Oliver to recreate the tension in the everyday scene, of football fans impatiently waiting for entrance to a pivotal game – instantly recognised by a football fan as the Nottingham versus Derby match. Despite not being a football fan himself, he totally captured the essence of the passion supporters feel for their team and their club. I particularly like the spectral shape of Nottingham Forest Football ground in the top left of the painting. It hangs in the air, a historical landmark, its heritage etched on the city’s skyline. The slightly contorted figures discomforted and restless and sombre tones belie the nervy anticipation.
You might also be surprised to learn that as well as being a rather accomplished painter, Oliver is also the frontman of the band Dog Explosion – his sidekick being a small but rather formidable looking stuffed dog. Dog Explosion is one of the sound affects on the synthesiser he uses to make music to accompany his generally explosive lyrics. A contrast to the way his paintings slowly manifest before your eyes, he describes his songs as more of an ‘announcement!’ An onomatopoeic assault of words tumbling forth, often an expression of ‘life and its many frustrations’ there is definitely the same resonance of discord in his art.
Described by Left Lion’s Bassey Easton as ‘the kinda sound Sleaford Mods would make if they were middle class executives living in 1984 and singing about ulcers caused by their stressful jobs in the City.” It’s definitely worth a listen!
Oliver teaches classes at Artworks and will be setting up a selection 0f his paintings alongside knitwear designer Oksana Holbrook on Burham Avenue in Attenborough for the Art Trail this year. As well as ABC Art Fair at Attenborough Village Hall on October 10th you will find a selection of his works at Cupola Gallery in Sheffield and at Lakeside Arts in the coming year.
Dog Explosion will be performing with Obi Rudo at The Chameleon in August and will be starring at OXJAM again later in the year.