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Dorset Artist: The Delight is in the Detail

Harry Bucknall talks to Nicholas Hely Hutchinson

Nicholas Hely Hutchinson in his studio

Tom Hewlett, owner of London’s Portland Gallery, once said that a good artist has to be ‘a little bit original’ and their work, ‘entirely their own’. Given these exacting criteria, it will come as no surprise therefore that the delightful pictures created by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson make the Dorset based painter one of Hewlett’s most prolific and popular exhibitors; his shows are a regular sell out.
Much of Nicholas’s childhood was spent abroad but it was Christmases in County Tipperary that inspired his love of art. Twenty years ago, he ended up moving to Dorset from Shepherd’s Bush purely by chance. ‘I had just about abandoned all hope of moving when we were shown a house in Pimperne. Everything was just right. We suddenly found ourselves in this lovely part of the world, surrounded by wonderful countryside and only ten miles from the coast. We could not believe how lucky we were.’
Greeted at the door to his airy studio by Martha and Olive, his beloved lurchers who regularly feature in his pictures, as does his wife, FiFi, Nicholas apologised for the odd sail and bits of rigging from his boat that were wintering in the warm amongst his work. ‘I love the sea. To walk along the cliffs or explore Dorset’s bays is one of the greatest pleasures in the world.’
He starts to talk about a picture of Bat’s Head that is hanging on the wall. ‘I am always looking for strong images, I want my work to have a narrative and be filled atmosphere so that the viewer gets a feel for what the place is like. That’s why I like to pick out certain elements, like the long blades of grass for example in the foreground of this picture. There is a vulnerability to grass, it is wispy up on the downs and a great way to convey weather’.

Towards Bat’s Head

At any one time, Nicholas can be working on up to three or four canvases, eschewing his easel these days for the steadiness of the wall. Next to Towards Bat’s Head is a scene painted outside his front gate called Quiet Village. ‘Everything must work visually, I like balance in my paintings so here I use the telegraph wire to fill the dusk. It is only in the evening that we have these beautiful hazy pink skies. Getting the colours and tones just right is so important to me. I like to include detail to break up the composition, like the bird in the tree and the man on his bicycle who compliments the line of the wall. And, at times, I may choose to exaggerate the features of a person or animal to give them added life. I don’t like to be restrained by being exactly right, I want the finished picture to be the essence of what I saw. That, for me, is much more interesting, because that’s what life is really like.’
Nicholas’s paintings have been likened to the work of French artist, Raoul Dufy; a comparison he shrugs off with typical modesty. ‘My main interest with Dufy was his bold colouring and the gestures he made with his paint brush to capture something in one stroke. I like to look at other people’s work, to appreciate how they approach their subject and to understand how they achieve effects in a different way. But perhaps Paul Nash or the simplified forms Gustav Klimt used in his paintings fascinate me more now.’

Quiet Village

He had just returned from seeing the Turner exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. ‘I was intrigued how Turner, for example, so succinctly captures the power and sheer majesty of the sea at times. I love nothing more than to go down to Portland in a raging storm. That lighthouse, brilliant white with its broad red band is a wonderful focal point and when the waves are crashing on the rocks with full force, against a deep grey angry sky, it’s magnificent.’
But Nicholas loves the idea of sound in his pictures too. ‘That’s why a painting’s title is key as it helps guide the viewer. See here,’ he picks out a painting on canvas, ‘this is called ‘Blackbird singing and the early morning light’. Instantly you have song. I am always looking for things that make me want to say ‘wow’. No matter how small or large, it could be a butterfly in a window, a flower in a vase or a deer in your headlights as you drive home one evening. It was a technique that the early renaissance artist, Piero della Francesca used with great effect in the 15th century and it gives a picture charm. My paintings are about my life, how I see the world and these sorts of details are around us and with us all the time and that goes for noise too.’

The Roaring Sea at Portland

Hely Hutchinson’s enchanting work, filled with life and character, is increasingly popular. From corporate boardrooms to government art collections and private residences, his paintings have sold across the globe. Dorset, however, is still the subject for most of his pictures. ‘It’s where I live and it interests me’, he says, ‘but when I exhibit I like to include pictures from somewhere else at the same time, as they add another angle. In my last show I painted scenes from a recent trip to the Caribbean. My next exhibition in 2015, I think will have a Southern European feel. In a few weeks, I am going to Cadaqués, north of Barcelona near the French border; it is where Salvador Dali lived in Spain and I will be interested to see what I come back with.’
When we spoke to him, Nicholas was getting ready for Dorset Art Weeks. ‘I took part in the 2010 Art Week and really enjoyed it. Its great to meet people who are interested in paintings and nice to show them what I do.’
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