A modern Monet
By Ryan Evans.
The peaceful inner workings of a 66-year-old location artist - and what advice he has for you
“Some people come up and say, ‘that’s a nice hobby,’ coming up to an older person and thinking it’s a hobby, but have to re-tell them – I comfortably make a decent income from the paintings,” says 66-year-old London artist, Alan Lancaster.
Lancaster is a self-described ‘plein air’ – or open-air - impressionist painter who lives and works in north London, who only made the full career change to location artist at age 60.
Training as an artist from a young age, Lancaster went to art college and later taught the subject at Queen Elizabeth’s boys’ school in Barnet. “I gave it up to a better income – went into property development till 60 and then I started painting again.”
At first Lancaster worked as a full-time property manager and did some painting on the side, then made the switch to full time painting. “It basically took over the day job – the success of it is because I can go out and paint a picture in a specific area that people of the area seem to appreciate.”
He now paints on location, from scenic views such as Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath to old houses. He also takes on commissions at customers’ request and has grown to love the areas he covers. “Alexandra Palace, it almost takes your breath away, it’s never the same to the last time that you went, it can be fog, a diluted sun, stormy and dark clouds.”
Lancaster finds his inspiration from 19th century painter Claude Monet – the father of impressionism. “Monet had a dozen canvases on the go at any one time, and every 15-20 minutes he’d swap from one to another and repeated this every day to get the same light conditions.
“I’ll find myself a good view and do it death,” he continues. “If you really want to get satisfaction from it, to paint life and not from pictures” he says, “you would get if you were to paint from memory or from a picture of a location.
“If you’re working from pictures 90% is already gone,” he claims. Lancaster believes that his style and methods almost allow people to see through the eyes of the artist, giving people within a community a view of how his personal view works.
“Gives it much more depth than a photograph. It’s patently obvious,” describes Lancaster about his oil paintings.
With up to four paintings completed each week, Lancaster spends most of his time outside in local communities, which he enjoys. He is becoming a familiar sight, setting up his portable easel outside a Victorian or Edwardian home and getting to work. “These days it’s not particularly common and people will be surprised, I like talking and chatting when I work and it doesn’t put me off.”
The positioning of the sun on each day is highly important to Lancaster. “Primrose Hill toward me in the morning and away from me at the end of the day, will create a light affect.
“The sun and the shadows, it’s similar to impressionism and I’m very interested in observing the same subject at different parts of the day,” he says.
A friend and fan, Wendy Sloane, hired Lancaster to paint two residential locations. “He painted our old house in Hampstead and our new house in Muswell Hill,” she says. “I really like the Hampstead painting, he painted it at a time when a specific tree was not in bloom and I gave him a picture of the tree and added it in. It brought back a lot of happy memories of living in Hampstead.”
Lancaster feels that his in-situ take on painting gives a better feel through the impressionism than you would get if you were to paint from memory or from a picture of a location.
“If you’re working from pictures, 90% is already gone,” he says.
Duncan Knowles received a painting of the outside of his former residence in Hampstead as a retirement gift from his colleagues. Alan had already painted a portrait of his current home for him as a birthday present from his wife.
"It was impressive and the colours were lovely," said Knowles, who planned to hang the two paintings side by side in his living room.