We catch up with the extremely talented British contemporary artist Simon Hennessey.
Through his creative talent and determination, Simon has gone onto exhibit and sell artwork worldwide. Simon talks of growing up in Birmingham, overcoming illness, his inspiration and the resounding passion to create beautiful contemporary art.
Simon, what is your style of painting and creating?
I’ve been labelled and categorised as various things because of my style of painting, such as realist, photorealist, hyperrealist. I can understand the connection to those, because of the level of detail and the use of photography as a source. I’ve been included in many exhibitions that have been themed around those genres and I’m thankful for those opportunities. However, I feel my artwork is broader, I consider myself as a contemporary artist and painter.
So, how did growing up in Birmingham during the 1970’s and 1980’s influence your creativity?
Living and growing up in a vibrant urban city such as Birmingham made me more aware of being surrounded by a diversity of people and environments, these are subjects that I’ve included in my artwork over the years. I grew up in Newtown, a multi cultural inner city area, it was great and has been hugely influential on me as a person and my creativity , it made me really appreciate and celebrate the differences and characters of individuals and cultures within the area, that influenced my earlier works of portraits.
In the mid 1980’s I noticed early graffiti sprayed onto the walls of the city, this intrigued me, and it was something I was instantly keen to emulate. Fast-forward to the present day and my artwork has gone full-circle, the graffiti I created back in the 80’s is now evident in my current series of work.
As a city boy I’ve spent my entire life surrounded by bricks, concrete and glass, I spent many hours spraying onto those surfaces, so coming back to it now feels natural and an obvious choice to use as a substrate to paint onto again.
When did you realise that you could make a career being an artist?
Not to sound too cliché, but art is something I’ve always did and enjoyed from an early age in some form. Where and when I grew up art was never considered as a career option, when you left school you got a job to pay the bills, most people only went to college for a trade, university was never a consideration. I am sure that’s the path I probably would have taken too, if it wasn’t for being struck-down by an illness.
I was diagnosed with Leukaemia and it made me very ill for a few years. After chemotherapy treatment while in remission something just clicked within me, I felt I’d been given a second chance, I had an overwhelming urge to give Art College and University a shot and see if I could turn my passion for art into a career, and not spend the rest of my life thinking ‘what if’. Thankfully I have been painting as a career ever since.
What medium and materials do you use?
I mostly use fluid acrylic paints with tiny brushes and an airbrush - small spray gun. Acrylics are notoriously difficult to seamlessly blend because of their fast-drying times, so an airbrush helps with that. My studio practice though is fairly open ended and I consider anything that can mark make as an artistic tool. I’ve used a variety of media over the years. Including resins, concrete, glass, bricks, spray paint, foam, marker pens and even a tattoo machine to scratch at the surface.
How do you challenge yourself creatively?
I believe that every painting I create needs to evolve from the previous one, so the work doesn’t become static. The challenge for me is to push myself and try to improve my technical process, I often do this by experimenting with different surfaces, materials and techniques, along with developing the conceptual practice behind my works.
Your pieces are exhibited around the world, do you have a favourite show that you have exhibited in?
Two of the book launches and accompanying exhibitions I have been featured in have been my favourite exhibitions to date, ‘Exactitude: Hyper Realist Art Today’ in London and ‘Photorealism in the Digital Age’ in New York City.
I attended both exhibition openings and they were special occasions, with many of the featured artists in attendance. Occasions like these are great to be around like-minded creatives who have the same passion for art as I do. It was also a privilege to have my work hanging alongside and to meet some of the artists that I studied at art school.How do maintain such a high level of detail throughout every piece?
I am very passionate about detail, and get very meticulous about the need to include all information that’s available to me through photographic sources. Digital photography and editing software have rapidly progressed, and the exponential growth of imagery information allows me to include evermore detail in my paintings. The more detail, the more accurate a representation of a person or place I’m then able to document, which is something I strive for within my painting
What pieces are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a sunrise painting that represents a new dawn. The painting is part of my recent series of works and is created on a concrete substrate to represent humanity and the urban environment (which harks back to my childhood experiences in inner city Birmingham). The series was born from the pandemic and the governmental advice to stay at home and be safe. Like many people the lack of freedom was inhibitive and the desire for escapism back into nature to clear my mind and soul was imperative. When restrictions allowed, I took the opportunity to travel in the UK and gather source imagery, this painting is a of the beautiful Watermouth Cove in North Devon.
How have you seen the British art scene change over the past 20 years?
There’s been a lot of changes over the past few years, most notable the digital era which has totally transformed the face of the artworld. For example, the way we communicate instantly through email or messaging apps or being able to digitally edit photographs and then upload and share them worldwide in seconds. You can sell your physical art work online at the click of a button or create digital art in the form of NFT’s and of course Social media, which has made connecting to artists and art galleries even easier. The world has become a smaller place through digital accessibility which has its good and bad points.
When I first started my art career journey, only email existed and was used fairly limited, it will be interesting to see where and how the art world changes over the next 20 years.
If you could introduce one sustainability improvement to society, what would it be?
Although my recent series of paintings are themed around escapism, they also touch upon environmental issues through the use of concrete as a substrate. I’m fully aware of the environmental impact the cement industry causes with the release of CO2 emissions produced directly as a result of large scale mining of materials, and indirectly through the energy consumption needed to manufacture and transport it. Concrete is the most widely used material in existence and is a necessity for modern development and construction, but it also comes at a cost as it’s responsible for roughly 8% of global human made Carbon emissions. So for long term sustainability as a society we all have our parts to play and a responsibility to think about all the materials we are using, with that in mind I am researching new alternatives such as new low carbon cements or synthetic materials that resemble concrete but have less impact on the environment.
As we look toward 2022 and beyond, what does the future hold for Simon Hennessey?
I feel my work will continue to progress and be innovative in its approach, I’m constantly aiming to evolve my studio practice and be experimental in the techniques and processes I use in addition to working with unconventional materials. I hope new opportunities arise with galleries and I continue to showcase my work around the world. To kick-start the new year, I will have artwork included in an upcoming group show ‘Great Painters of Realism’ being held at the Einaudi Palace, Chivasso, Italy, running from 4th Dec 2021 to Jan 10th 2022.
Where can we discover more about you and your work?
You can discover more about me and my work on my web site www.simonhennessey.com
Or on Instagram: @simon_hennessy
My art work is on show at my London representative’s gallery ‘The Plus One Gallery’ www.plusonegallery.com
Simon thank you wonderful to chat with you, I look forward to seeing your new work in the years ahead.