An alternative viewpoint

Take a look at the image on this page. It looks like a photograph of a famous view of Venice. But peer closer and not everything is as it seems. The pictures have not been taken with a camera, but painted with a brush.

Successful full-time artist Christian Marsh is a graduate of the University’s School of Art & Design. His paintings are ultra realistic, so much so, that is hard to believe they are not photographs. Still based in his home town of Wolverhampton, Christian spends around three months on each painting, carefully re-creating the scene using photos he has taken.

"Most of the time I have an idea of what I would like to do, maybe I have seen a city in a film or magazine, but this is only a loose idea because you can never really know exactly. It is only by going to a location that you are able to decide what you want actually want to paint," he explains.

"When I arrive in a city I usually only have a short period of time to take photographs. Out of hundreds of photographs there may only be one or two that really stand out and capture the image I want to paint, usually because of the right balance of composition, light and detail and where everything just comes together."

Developing skills

Christian graduated in 2002 with a BA (Hons) in Illustration and then went on to complete an MA in the same subject in 2004. He says his studies gave him the chance to develop his skills in drawing and painting and composition in particular.

"Studying Illustration helped me to introduce narrative into urban scenes, as well as boosting my self-confidence, developing a better understanding of what to expect in being a self-employed artist."

On location

The 30-year-old explains that he always visits the locations and takes the photographs himself, as this ensures the scenes are more personal and he has a greater understanding of what makes that particular scene stand out. He then starts by drawing out the composition onto a canvas, putting in as much detail as possible from the start, working across the canvas from left to right. He completes the first layer of painting and then works back into it with two or three more layers to give a greater depth and sharpness.

Having just finished an oil painting of a busy San Francisco Chinatown street scene including a trolley bus, he is now working on a new painting of Shibuya in Tokyo at night.

"It is a great challenge with a lot of neon signs," he says. "I visited Tokyo in January this year and the colours as you walk around at night were amazing. It’s the first big night scene I have done and I am enjoying the challenge of replicating the glow of the neon."

In print

His work was recently featured in a book of hyperrealist art titled Exactitude, by John Russell Taylor. The book is held by the University’s Learning Centres, a fact that Christian is pleased about as it may help to inspire younger artists.

"It’s great to know that the University has the book because it gives other young artists the knowledge that they can do it too."

Of course, being a full-time artist has its challenges, which Christian recognises. But he has some pearls of wisdom and words of encouragement for talented art and design students wishing to follow in his footsteps.

"Being a full-time artist can be difficult. From my point of view I am doing the job that I always felt was right for me," he says.

"I think for a student interested in going into creative arts they need think about what field they are going into and how they would approach getting feedback or advice. For me, it was getting information using the internet but most importantly talking to people face-to-face.

"Being a self-employed artist it is not always easy to become established or get recognition but it is important to have self-belief and to keep working to learn and to improve your technique. You should never be afraid of constructive criticism. It is important because it gives you an insight in to what other people may think. I have also found the value of a good family backing for advice and support."

* Christian is represented by Plus One Gallery in London, which is dedicated to the development and promotion of British and International contemporary hyperrealist art.

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