Artist Brenda Hurley’s loud creative voice
PUBLISHED: 09:48 28 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:48 28 March 2017
You wouldn’t think it, but from early aspirations Brenda Hurley came late to painting. This quiet artist has a loud creative voice
‘I paint because I want to paint. It’s lovely when someone wants your work in their home but as I get older I paint without thinking about selling.’
Brenda Hurley, 72 years of age and one time designer of children’s and women’s clothing for mail order catalogues, is candid and direct. Likewise her art. Large canvases adorning the walls of the generously-proportioned lounge of her 1950s Tring home are testament to an unflinching style which is allied as much to colour as the underlying patterns she identifies in her subjects.
‘I regard myself as a colourist. Artists such as Kandinsky used paint in an emotional way and colour is very emotional to me. I understand when Kandinsky said painting is like music. I see composition, rhythm in art.’
While acrylic paints provide an immediate and two dimensional depiction, there is an underlying, deeper longing to uncover the past in her paintings.
‘I always look for more than what is there. I don’t just want green fields. Landscapes are full of forgotten footsteps, for instance where cattle have trod. I see those patterns. I try to give people a visual experience of a place so they can come back and see something they didn’t spot the first time.’
A reliable visual memory enables this artist to retain views in her mind’s eye for reproducing later. On other occasions she is tempted to ‘go out’ and draws or photographs a scene to bring back to her studio. This range of approaches reflects a need, and a belief, in listening to and trusting her own creative voice.
Her starting point for a work is choosing a ‘colour of the day.’ If she wakes with a passion to paint in, say, pink and red, then the choice of composition evolves from there. On canvas or 300g cartridge paper she might favour a background wash or launch straight in with brushstrokes. There’s no prescriptive element to her methods, though an awareness of how colours ‘change and vibrate’ against each other dictates that each mark is considered.
To begin with ideas are sometimes translated into small sketches, typically 7x7”. Then, when taking that idea to a larger canvas the picture takes on a new life, Brenda says.
‘If you slavishly try and copy what you’ve produced in a small size, it’s stilted with no energy. In a way, the idea of going up a size is you have to think about it as a completely different piece but with the influence of the piece you started with. I try and think of every one as individual.
‘I like to work quickly, so acrylic is the best medium. Very versatile. Good quality paint won’t go off and surfaces are important. My best time is between 11am and 4pm but that’s not to say I don’t get paints out at 9 o’clock at night. I might produce masses of work in a month and then do nothing for three or four weeks because I’ve burned myself out. It’s feast or famine.’
This all or nothing approach manifests itself in other ways. Brenda is quiet yet resolutely ambitious. Further, I sense boldness - possibly rebelliousness - is responsible for her dismissing the idea of pandering to what a gallery thinks will sell.
A member of the National Acrylic Painters Association, Brenda is a popular teacher, enjoying the opportunity to interact with other artists during demonstrations and workshops.
‘Through teaching I have learned more. Paintings need to be thought about. You have to remember the whole thing, not just the pretty bits. I always tell my students that the background is as important as the foreground. I don’t mind what level of ability my students are but most are painters who want to improve.’
From a humble background in Yorkshire (her parents were a bus driver and conductress), Brenda’s early interest in drawing and aspirations to go into the Arts were originally put aside in favour of ‘earning a living’. But how she has made up for lost time. Once settling her family in Hertfordshire, she focussed on fulfilling her ambitions. The result? Her creativity has blossomed, even extending beyond painting to writing poetry and children’s books.
Her first sold painting was a small watercolour at a Tring School fair and in the intervening years her skill and originality have surged on. And continue to do so.
From the dining room to an upstairs billiard room, hallway and stairs, Brenda’s home has many examples of a striking signature style – strong, bright colours with solid, compelling stories. Like the artist, her work is uncompromising.