An Interview with the British painter Hugo Hamper Potts in his London Studio.
Hugo Hamper Potts and I met at a Soho exhibition opening before the beginning of Frieze art fair in London 2015. Dressed in an assortment of workman's attire and textured fabrics, his sartorial flare was well aligned with his character. The 24 year-old Chichester-born British painter is now based in West Hampstead, London and works in an Elephant Hotel studio alongside his artistic partner Jack Penny, with whom he exhibited The Strain series in May. The day of our interview, I spent the afternoon photographing the boys in their studio, wiping prussian blue paint from my chin. Coming from a family of artists, writers and musicians, Hugo moved to Italy after being accepted at the Florence Academy of Art. Despite learning a lot, Hugo was dissatisfied with their sight-size technique, finding it unconducive to his creative vision and returned to London after a year to continue painting alone. He now works within the Hampstead-based artists collective Hexen Studio.
A lover of the Modernists as well as the Old Masters, Hugo works with both real life and imagined compositions. When desired, this has enabled him to break out of the habits of academic painting, deploying instead a strong emotive use of colour and abstraction. As illustrated by The Strain series, he's currently interested in depicting the strain and alienation of urban life. His feel for the internal life of his subjects and the atmosphere of sombre situations is particularly striking as the new ‘Reaction’ painting series marks a departure from his more traditional figurative work. He has described them as, “Pure creation. Something that is invented entirely by itself rather than relying on the references taken from observing reality”. His exhibition at Cob Studios in March was met with critical acclaim, check out my interview with Hugo and his artistic partner Jack Penny in the Gentleman's Journal March/April issue.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion?
I never decided to follow it, but art was always in my blood, because my family are all painters.
What piece of your work would you like to be remembered for?
All of it, because my work captures very different times within my small existence. I need to wait until I’m on my deathbed to work that question out.
If you could be born in another period of history, when would it be?
I’d like to be 18 in 1959, purely for the romance of the 1960s, which everyone hears so much about and romanticises. Although, I do wonder if back then it was very different to the nostalgic way we view the 1960s now.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
The most beautiful thing is when the artist has struggled with what they’ve tried to do and has just about missed perfection, but has tried every possible means of achieving it. But, when it comes to beauty in real life? Well, beauty’s when you’re in control of everything, and the rest falls into place.
Do you have a favourite book, film or painting, which inspires you?
I used to relate to a lot of Hermann Hesse books, because his words are like a flowing river. He makes you realise that you as an individual are less important than you think, so you have to try and fill your life with as many interesting things as possible, whilst not taking yourself too seriously.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
It was alcohol, but I felt that things were sliding out of my control, because I was always intoxicated. So, now it’s a lot of coffee and cigarettes, with the odd lemsip in between.
What fictional character from literature or film would you like to meet?
Goldmund from Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermanne Hesse, because I related to Goldmund - as you do when you read those sorts of books. I liked his inner thoughts and inner narrative.
Do you believe that true creative expression can exist in the digital world?
Yes, perhaps even too much so, because now everyone has so much freedom to express themselves. I fear that the really good things are more easily missed.
What do you wish every child were taught?
Children’s characters should be allowed to develop naturally, they should be allowed to chew bark in the forest without being criticised.
Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
No, but I worry about it tremendously. Although, I don’t have any other means to do anything else.
What is your favourite museum or art gallery and why?
I like the Pallant House gallery in Chichester, which introduced me to the painters I admire now like Frank Auerbach and Keith Vaughan. They show a lot of post-war British painters that I think are underrated. In London, my favourite gallery is the Courtauld at Somerset House purely because it’s not too big so I don’t get tired walking around it.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I wouldn’t like to collaborate with anyone on my paintings, but I’m currently collaborating with my friend and fellow artist Jack Penny who is illustrating my short stories for me.
What is your daily routine when working?
I don’t believe in alarm clocks, because as a chef I had to wake up at 5am for a whole year and I felt extremely unhealthy. So now I wake up when my sleep is naturally over at about 9.30am and make sure I have a very large breakfast, normally a full English. Then I catch a tube to Borough and paint for four hours, and only four hours. After that, if I don’t have any social occasions, I come back to West Hampstead and do some writing in the evening, before reading and going to bed.
What has been your most inspiring travel experience?
Going to Copenhagen I would say, because I like the Danes a lot. I feel they’re closer to me in humour and appearance than the English. I went when I was 18 and took an older lover called Christina, who taught me everything I know now.
What advice would you give to a younger person following in your footsteps?
If you’re going to do it, really do it. Don’t sit there and discuss your ideas without following through. You have to work doggedly towards your goals and remember that it’s not an easy path. When I wanted to take up art seriously, I fell into romanticising the lifestyle of troubled artists like Van Gogh. My father took me aside and said that, “you can do it if you want, but it’s a bloody difficult life.” I ignored him at the time, but now realise that he made perfect sense.
Why do you love what you do?
I don’t really think about why I love it. It’s like if you’re with a person you’re in love with, you don’t ask why you’re in love with them, but simply feel comfortable around them. Once you start questioning it, well, that can lead to something disastrous along the way.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com