Painting and piecing artefacts

Screen Illuminated by Sunset, gouache on paper by Alan James McLeodAlan James McLeod took a long and winding route to reach the abstract works he’s becoming known for. “I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1990, in applied design, then became a freelance textile designer, producing hand painted fabric and wallpaper designs for companies such as Warner Fabrics, Habitat & John Lewis.”

Following “a long hiatus” during which he set art and design aside, Alan chose to return with a more fine art approach at the beginning of 2014, “but the design background is always there.”

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

The delicious textural look to Alan’s artwork is created by handpainting papers he then collages. The result is an intriguing resemblance to unearthed artefacts or enticingly  weatherbeaten ephemera.

“At college I used to paint on top of oil pastels, then scrape through to create designs,” he explains of his technique. “This developed to layering the paint colours on top of each other, using clear wax instead of the oil pastels. Lots of scraping and washing, leaving out in the rain, anything to reveal what’s underneath.”

He developed his unique style through a balance of “not worrying about the outcome”, embracing “happy accidents to push my work in different directions” and endeavouring to produce individual pieces “that reminded me of something, and that have some sort of resonance or depth. Papers that are too ‘surface’, can be useful in my work as well though, as they can be overworked or gilded to bring them to a level of usefulness.”

Being away from the art world for around seven years was useful in its own way, as it showed Alan how intrinsic art had become to him. “I was missing a big part of my life, and after work I would head upstairs to our spare room and start sifting through old textile designs, found papers and postcards.”

Before long, Alan started making little collages. “This was purely for enjoyment’s sake. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to try a couple of them in a gallery.”

He describes moving house a catalyst for taking his work to a new level. “At the same time as I was taking my art more seriously, my surroundings were unfamiliar, and not giving me the inspiration that directed my work. This is when a more cerebral approach took over, with my imagination coming in to play.”

Alan felt that collage work using found papers, was already a crowded area. “Many artists have mastered college, one of my favourites being Kurt Schwitter.”

To ensure an originality in his own work, Alan decided to focus on creating his own unique painted papers as the medium for his collages.

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

I’m impressed by the beauty of the light Alan captures in his work, and ask how he learnt to represent it so effectively. “Sometimes we need to be shown the light,” he says. “I hope in my work that I’m revealing a little of what may have been hidden.”

The process of developing and completing a work of art can be lengthy and ponderous.
“Often a piece of work will ‘hang around’ for quite some time before finding another paper to marry up with it,” Alan says. “At the onset, I have no preconceived idea of any finished work. The process is just in the doing. I’m thinking about ancient weathered walls, tribal textiles, or a place of cultural interest which has only the decorative architectural features left, with all the precious artefacts removed. Towards completion of the work, I’m striving for depth, hidden meaning, or just something beautifully decorative.”

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Daydreaming is a vital part of Alan’s creative process. “I did a bit of travelling when I was younger, not so much now, so the use of a good imagination helps. Places like Italy and Malta, left an impression on me. The faded colours, layers of history living side by side…”

Alan begins the creation of his painted papers with no fixed plan or vision. “It’s solely about the drive to create an effect or texture that I feel I can use in a finished work,” he says. “How the papers end up influences the direction the piece is going in, be it a more planetary look, abstract landscape, or thinking of imagined shrines, artefacts or architecture. Very rarely is a piece completed using only one paper. I use a combination of techniques, including edge to edge joining for the composition, and collage for the decorative elements.”

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

In his bio on the Lime Tree Gallery website, where he frequently exhibits, Alan states his goal of documenting “emotional responses to music and memory, celestial bodies and changes in the seasons.”

He elaborates: “Abstract work can evoke memories of not just places, but feelings and experiences. I add shapes to the compositions to add focus, hoping the viewer finds enough space within the work to add their own interpretation. Anthropomorphising what is seen happens often, but the attaching of memories and the personalising of the piece is the joy of producing the work.”

Find more of Alan’s artwork on Instagram.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Re-envisioning the world

Rose Temple by Abeer ElkhatebThrough the eyes of artist Abeer Elkhateb, the world assumes a majestic splendour. With Fantastical turreted cities beneath fabulous skies, the scenes look like glimpses from exotic fairytales, a dramatic contrast to his ultra-realistic bronzes of entwined figures.

This contrast of styles takes me by surprise, but talking to Abeer Elkhateb makes it clear that there’s always been a touch of the rebellious about his art.

“As far as I remember I was about 10 years old. For no reason at school, I was just painting and painting and painting,” he says. “It got me into a lot of trouble at that time and it sent me to jail at a later age.”

When he was 16, Abeer’s uncle Abdallah Alkhateb (a PhD Historian and artist) took me under his wing in a way and opened his massive library to my eyes, which allowed me to be introduced academically to the art and art history.”

Following that, Abeer says, art became a way of life,  “or I can say it is my life.”

Abeer has developed a very particular way of working. “Every five years I take a new path and start building everything around it,” he says. “The last project I worked on was based on reverse-ism. I took some well known physical laws like gravity, perspective, fundamental construction and turned them upside-downs, inside-out.”

Observation and imagination both play vital roles in this process.

I love Albert Einstein’s statement that logic takes you from A to Z, but imagination takes you anywhere,” he says. “In many case I’ve wondered about the borders between reality and imagination, wondering if my imagination created the world I’m in or if the observed world by me created my imagination. Do thoughts really become reality?”

Abeer mentions painting places he’d thought were dreamt up in his imagination, but then later coming across those locations in the real world.  “I also have ongoing dreams – when they come they just continue where they stopped the previous time, as if a different dimension of me lives in a different world. I use those dreams as one of the sources of my artwork.”

As a result, many of his enchanting scenes are re-envisions of real places, such as St Michael’s Mount in France, Port Isaac in Cornwall and various parts of Germany.

Transforming a nebulous idea into a work of art is part of the excitement.

“I love it when a new idea is about to come up,” he says. “First thing is drawing or outlining the idea and if I need to perform and film the performed concept, I do.”

Once this is done, he can concentrate on painting or sculpting, according to the form of expression that feels right. “Basically I let the idea grows organically. Many of my recent works are in 2D and 3D alike.”

Lovers No.4 by Abeer Elkhateb

Lovers No.4 by Abeer Elkhateb

Abeer has  been experimenting with materials since the seventies, “from scrap material  found in the streets, metal, wood, clay, wax, plaster and bronze on the sculpted production and oil colour, watercolour, ceramics, textile, etchings and mosaics. I think what I want to say is material and skills are always working side by side and when they don’t, I feel that I’m being challenged and that is exciting because it pushes me into the unknown territory. At that stage I feel there is something to explore. So, I don’t really prefer particular materials – it’s the concept that informs me.”

Abeer can’t imagine his life without art. “I came to England from the war zone in Baghdad,” he says of his struggles to survive as a man and an artist. “I’ve failed in so many things in my life as well as succeeding in many others; I’ve had my ups and downs, been crushed and stood up again,” he says. “But even at the craziest times, paper and pen were always somewhere beside me, either in my pockets or in my bag. Paper and pen act as a reminder to myself that I am an artist. Recording experiences helps me see how every day, every experience, every breath is important. That is love itself.”

Lovers and Child by Abeer Elkhateb

Lovers and Child by Abeer Elkhateb

Abeer Elkhateb’s Imagined Worlds is on at Skylark Galleries 2, Unit 1.09, First Floor Riverside, Oxo Tower Wharf, London until 19th February 2017. Find out more here and

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Rolling landscapes with Relton Marine

Starbotton cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Starbotton © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

I relish paintings that offer a sense of scale and space, with paths that guide the eye to the horizon and skies that could turn stormy without a moment’s notice. It provides the impression of fresh air, clear-headedness and all the pleasure that comes with being somewhere wild, and it’s all captured in the work of Christine Relton and Tom Marine.

Christine studied at Leeds and Lancaster and Tom at Byam Shaw and Chelsea School of Art. Since graduating, they each continued to paint constantly, and after becoming a couple in 1996, they began painting together, “and that’s when it really took off professionally.”

Compares cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Compares © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Working collaboratively like this is unusual, but Tom and Christine take it in their stride. “These days Tom tends to start the paintings by under painting with intense colour and pattern using stencils made from objects collected on our travels,” says Christine.

Tom explains. “Christine uses this under-painting as a basis for the finished piece by making the composition over the top and letting a lot of the under colour and pattern inform the finished painting.”

They say they developed their particular style through “chance, accident, playing around – talking about what to paint and how to make it better. Colour has always been a starting point.”

The pair have the advantage of being able to travel a lot, and often use their journeys to springboard concepts for new works. “Imagery that’s unfamiliar always gets us thinking about how to represent it in a painting so we travel a lot. Asia and India are big favourites for ideas.”

Being based in West Yorkshire, they also draw inspiration from the natural glory of the landscape surrounding them, creating works that appear in collections across the world.

These days they also run their own art gallery, Colourbox, into order to showcase their own and other artists work at art fairs across the UK, as well as join forces with other galleries to participate in art fairs in Hong Kong, New York, Singapore, Seattle, Stockholm, Brussels, Milan, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Toronto.

Above Grassington cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Above Grassington © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

The biggest delights of their lives as artists are reflected in their paintings, especially those depicting the sprawl of Yorkshire hillsides and skies.

“We love having the total freedom to do what we want and go where we like and paint when and what we want, knowing that people love our work and want to have it in their homes.”

And what artist could truly want more than that?

Find more of Christine and Tom’s work at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Karen George’s stormy seascapes

Bracing Stroll © Karen GeorgeAutumn’s rain and wind are definitely enhanced by a coastal backdrop. That raw, reckless energy smashing itself against the rocks – extraordinary.

Karen George manages to capture the feel of this in her seascapes. Far from tranquil, these beach and headland scenes are moody and wild – and I love them.

Unexpectedly, Karen’s interest in art began in far more academic and scientific grounding, as she studied architecture before moving onto product design.

“At school I enjoyed Biology and Art in equal measure,” she explains, “When I was looking at courses to study I found a ‘Landscape Design and Plant Science’ course at Sheffield University, which then led me to an MA in Landscape Architecture.”

Release © Karen George

The leap into product design came about from a practical prompt when she had her second daughter, and began taking her baby with her to the allotment. “I was inspired by necessity to create a sunshade that met my needs,” she recalls. “I was always making things at home so it seemed a natural thing to do. It was only when people stopped me in the street to ask where they could buy one that I decided to launch the BuggySail – so the move into product design was accidental.”

With the product an instant success, Karen embraced product design for a time, before realising she relished “the creating’ more than the marketing. After attending an ‘Experimental painting’ workshop I spent more and more time painting.”

Crofter's cottages © Karen George

These two elements of Karen’s experience feed into her fine art in subtle but far-reaching ways.

“It’s not something I’ve really thought about before, but with Landscape Architecture you have to be able to imagine the end design and transpose that onto paper,” she says. “This really helped with the product design – creating a mock up of the product to create a pattern. How my painting has been influenced is a little more ambiguous. I enjoy leading the eye through a painting with the use of light and capturing an energy into a painting – both aspects of which are important in design.”

Coastal-flats © Karen George

I think that may be why and how Karen’s paintings offer up an almost visceral sense of being close to the power of waves and tides. “In any environment it’s good to give a space a sense of belonging – being a place you enjoy being in and travelling through,” she says. “I hope people enjoy my paintings much the same way.”

For Karen, however, the perfect day at the beach is a lot more serene than you might think from gazing at her paintings. “Not many people.  Not too windy.  Not too hot.  A bit of rock pooling and a good book with the sound of the waves in the background.”

Karen will be exhibiting her artwork at in the Jarman Hall of Totterdown Baptist Church as part of Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2014.

Find more of Karen’s art at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)