Dorset Lives – Stock pictures
Andrew Stock is one of the country’s most respected wildlife artists, but there is more to his work than just wildlife, as Andrew Headley has been discovering
Published in August ’11
Andrew Stock cannot remember a time when he was not drawing or when he did not have a passionate interest in wildlife. ‘My father was in the Army and there were no other artists in the family. I was born in Germany but my three brothers and I were all sent to school at Sherborne. At that time, art was not taken very seriously there, so I did Art A-level in my own time. I actually studied sciences and was expected to go on and do a zoology degree. My parents encouraged my enthusiasm for art but, like school, felt that I should have “something to fall back on”. However, I was totally committed in my pursuit of art as a career and finally convinced everyone that I didn’t want an opt-out, wary that I might just succumb to it in difficult times. That was why I rejected university.
‘By far my most important experience at this time was the day I spent with Sir Peter Scott at Slimbridge when I was 17. I had written to him and been invited to send some work, and then he asked to see me. He gave me so much advice and encouragement, and it was only later that I found out that he received work from hundreds of young hopefuls but very rarely invited any of them to see him.’ At that time Sir Peter was President of the Society of Wildlife Artists, and the wheel came satisfyingly full circle when Andrew was in turn elected to that office in 2004.
Even as a schoolboy, Andrew was earning money from his art, doing detailed drawings of wildlife. His first exhibition was at the Ewhurst Gallery in Basingstoke, in the November after he had left school. There his work was seen by Malcolm Innes, who had a gallery in South Kensington and took him on. Thus it was that Andrew had his first solo exhibition in London at the extraordinarily young age of 21 and he was to stay with Malcolm Innes for the next seven years, having a major exhibition every other year. ‘I was also doing commissions, but they were all a bit samey, as was the work wanted by Malcolm, whose gallery specialised in sporting and wildlife paintings. By the time I’d painted my ninth “Woodcock in snow”, I felt that there must be something else!’ So he hired the Alpine Gallery in South Audley Street and had two major one-man shows there, exhibiting a much wider variety of work.
By this time Andrew was married and living in Beaminster, where he ran a studio-cum-gallery in White Hart Yard. Like many artists before him, he found that running a gallery and dealing with the public – including those who would come calling even when the gallery was closed – were a distraction from his creative work. He was also doing some illustration work: a poorly paid occupation but one that gained him the honour of ‘Bird Illustrator of the Year’ in 1995. For his biennial London show, he started to hire one of the galleries at the Mall Galleries, where the Society of Wildlife Artists is based. After half a dozen exhibitions there, he was invited back under the umbrella of a commercial gallery and currently shows at Frost & Reed in St James’s. His first exhibition for them was paintings of Antarctica, the result of an invitation from the Royal Navy to paint on board HMS Endurance. The next came from three weeks spent alone on Pabbay, a speck on the map between the islands of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
Both places were rich in wildlife, but Andrew’s work there also reflected a gradual shift away from detailed illustration towards a greater interest in the landscape or other surroundings in which the wildlife is set. This started with a trip to France in his twenties and led to the break with Malcolm Innes, who wanted more of what he knew he could sell. ‘One always needs fresh stimuli,’ says Andrew, ‘and I’m for ever looking to try something different. In keeping with this philosophy, and by contrast with the rather austere landscapes of the Antarctic and the Hebrides, Andrew has paid several visits to India. ‘The colour, the smells, the people, the light are all overwhelming, never mind the extraordinary range of wildlife. It also gave me the chance to do some street painting. The only problem is that the figures in the scene in front of you tend to disappear: suddenly they’re all behind you, looking at the painting and making comments on it!’ A fresh enthusiasm is for the New Forest, which will be the theme of his next exhibition with Frost & Reed in November. Meanwhile, he also has an exhibition at the Jerram Gallery in Sherborne in September.
The change of emphasis in subject matter has led to an evolution in technique, with a freer style and more use of bigger brushes and the palette knife. At the same time, though, Andrew has become more deeply involved in etchings, which continue his early interest in meticulous sharp detail. As a painter, Andrew works in both oils and watercolours, but a work in either medium starts with the sketchbook. ‘I like to put something in it every day,’ says Andrew and, like any artist’s sketchbook, it is a fascinating insight into how he translates what he sees in front of him through the medium of his own creativity.
Today, Andrew is based in Ryme Intrinseca, where he occupies what was the Victorian schoolhouse. His daughter, Phoebe, has inherited his artistic talent, which she is putting to practical use as a student of architecture at Manchester University.
It will have been noted that the one thing missing
from Andrew’s biography is any time at art college, and
he is indeed entirely self-taught. He says modestly, ‘I’ve been very lucky’, but his is a story of talent receiving its just reward.
[To see more examples of Andrew Stock’s work, go to www.andrewstock.co.uk]