Simon Carter is an established artist and curator, living and working on the Essex coast. He is co-founder of artist-led group Contemporary British Painting. Best known for his abstract landscapes, Simon tells us what painting brings to his life…

I make paintings based on the landscape of the Essex coast near my studio. As a place, it is not dramatic or even particularly picturesque but it does have a sense of otherness. Fields of cereals and sugar beet gradually give way to grazing marsh and to golf links, to saltings and mud flats, low scrubby cliffs and then the beach. It is a coastline of seawalls and concrete sea defences, a low and sinking land bounded by a rising sea. In winter it fills with migrating birds, in the summer with people heading for the beach.

The Essex Coast is a landscape that approximates to the state of painting: large, open, flat uncluttered surfaces acted upon by weather and tides.

Simon Carter in the Landscape. Photo by Noah Carter.

Simon Carter in the Essex landscape. Photo: Noah Carter.

I like returning to the same places, again and again, learning to mine the familiar and the unremarkable. I tend to like places that have to be arrived at on foot: the walking and the arriving are part of how the drawings are made, finding a rhythm and the uninhibited mental space in which to draw. The fresh air and the walking probably do me good but it is drawing and being in the right state to do it that connects me to where I am and what I see.

Walking slows us down, it makes us aware of our physical selves and the mechanics of how we traverse the landscape. Drawing also slows us down; in order to draw, we have to look, to make decisions, to figure out how to respond with marks on the paper. The act of drawing focuses and concentrates the act of looking. Even with a rapid drawing you have to assess what it is you have seen, begin to understand how you have seen it and then how that might be laid out on the paper, making clear and retrievable your act of seeing.

Drawing is placing your thoughts, ideas, assessments out on paper for contemplation and for later use and doing it in such a way that the trace on the paper remains vibrant and alive. Drawing connects us to the world.

Simon Carter, The Pier and the Beach, 2009. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

Simon Carter, The Pier and the Beach, 2009. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

In the studio, these drawn responses are my guides in the making of painting. The act of painting in the studio is a response to the outside world mediated through drawing. In a sense, the drawings become the subject of the paintings.

I do not want to imagine a life without painting: the record of the excitement of seeing and of making, the community of painters across centuries who have not given up, work seen in museums and galleries that make life richer, make life about living rather than just getting through. The activity of painting is fraught with difficulties and frustrations but the work of other painters helps illuminate the way.

Simon Carter in his studio. Photo by Noah Carter.

Simon Carter in his studio. Photo: Noah Carter.

I cannot say that painting is therapeutic; I often think it would be simpler if I did not have a compulsion to paint. In the studio, if a painting is not proving difficult and demanding then I don’t think I am really trying hard enough. Painting is frustrating, challenging, exhausting and often returns only small rewards. But, when it works, it is the best thing. And a great painting retains and transmits that sense of surprise and achievement; the joy and the complexity of life lived.

Artworks from the Contemporary British Paintings Prize 2018 are currently on show in our Menier Gallery space. The exhibition features twelve shortlisted artists who were selected by a group of practising painters, including Simon Carter, Paula MacArthur, Ruth Philo and Narbi Price. Find out more on the Menier Gallery page.

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Celebrating 60 years of Paintings in Hospitals in 2019

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Find out more about Simon Carter and his work via his website, Twitter (@SimonCarter11) and Instagram (@SimonCarter11). For more information about Contemporary British Painting, visit their website.