FROM BOOTS TO BRUSHES
RETIRED LONG-TIME Caversham Park resident Phil Alexander has enjoyed painting for as long as he can remember. “I’ve always painted, even as a boy,” he recalls. “There were times when the kids were young, or when I was building our extension, when I didn’t do as much. But it is something I have always done.”
Phil’s obvious artistic skills led him to a career as an architectural technician. “At 15 and 16, I had no ambition, but the youth employment officer knew an architect who was a one-man band, and they sent me in to train, as I was good at art and technical drawing. I ended up gaining an HNC, then built up years of experience in architecture. I always had an interest in buildings, so lots of my paintings include them.”
Phil’s talent for art has allowed him to create an impressive and wide-ranging record of the places that he has visited. His oldest daughter has long been based in Uzès, in southern France. “That has provided a goldmine of inspiration,” he recalls. “As well as the buildings, I am also very taken by French avenues of trees. My son lives with his family in Canada, and we go there once a year. So I have also painted trees in the snow in Canada.”
His other daughter lives in Cardiff, having gained a fine arts degree there. She trained as a teacher and has spent 20 years teaching art in prisons. “She has had some success with this, working with prisoners who are barely literate, who end up gaining art qualifications,” he explains. She has combined her twin interests to complete an MA in ‘the relationship between mountain biking and working with clay’, her proud father reveals.
Indeed, it is the ‘great outdoors’ which has provided Phil’s main inspiration. For the past 30 years he has enjoyed bi-annual get-togethers with three friends. In March the group meet in the Lake District and, while walking there, they plan their autumn trek in Scotland. “We are pals who are based around the UK, so this is our time to get together. The first time, we did the West Highland Way. Since then, we have completed a wide range of walks, mainly on the west coast of Scotland, in the Highlands, as well as some of the islands.
“We carry all our kit and provisions and stay in bothies along the way. Sometimes you can go two or three days, and not see anyone else. If I am out walking, I keep my camera in my pocket. I may do the odd sketch ‘on the hoof’, but mainly I take photos, and do my paintings when I get home.”
For Phil, his paintings are all a personal record of the places he has visited. He is keen to point out that he is not trying to create a perfect replica of the scenes he paints. “None of my paintings are meant to be ‘copies’ – I want to try to create the atmosphere of a place,” he says.
He paints in watercolours and has used acrylics, but nowadays prefers water-mixable oil paints. Ever since the pandemic he has been engrossed in his ‘Scottish project’ – a large body of paintings specifically inspired by his many Scottish walking tours. “Since lockdown, I have done 50 paintings, but I still have a few more to go,” he reveals. “These will be the basis of a book – although this is very much a work in progress”.
Phil has converted a spare room in his home as his studio, and always likes to have at least one work ‘on the go’. “In the morning I like to be out cycling, but I mull over my latest painting, and start working on it in the afternoon.”
As a member of the Reading Guild of Artists, Phil’s work can be seen at the annual exhibition this July which will be held at the Old Fire Station in Henley. “I joined the RGA when I retired, however I couldn’t always exhibit as we are usually away visiting our son in Canada. This year we will be back before the hand-in, so I will be submitting two pieces for the exhibition. It was easier when the exhibition was held at Reading University where there was more space, so we could show more paintings, for example on a particular theme.
“It is difficult to know what to submit, as my paintings are created for me and, although I have sold works, I do them largely for myself. They are my personal record – my memories.”