An Interview with Scottish Artist William Foyle in his Shoreditch Studio.

                                                                    Portrait by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy

                                                                    Portrait by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy

The Scottish artist William Foyle and I met many years ago at a ceilidh in the Scottish Borders when he sheepishly described his first studio in Chelsea, London. Ahead of his second solo exhibition we were reunited within the sobering setting of his East London studio, which is a converted garage with no running water or warmth. William is a young painter who bravely embarked on his 'five year journey of the soul' without any formal training. Since then his atmospheric paintings have been exhibited in both London and Scotland as well as being displayed within private collections in Switzerland, France, Ireland and beyond. His powerful work considers the poignancy of humanity's vulnerability, fragility and capacity for endurance. The paintings explore, 'the horrors of the past, the troubles of our present and the uncertainty of the future.'

In terms of his technique, William applies paint to the canvas without mixing tones and pushes it around with brooms, brushes and everything in between. He often scrapes it all off in frustration like a young Auerbach. He pushes the boundaries of figurative painting as he tackles challenging themes like physical and psychological brutality and forgiveness. As illustrated by the melancholic atmosphere within his paintings, William draws from film, music and the work of  Russian literary greats like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy. Curated by Diane Schiach, his second exhibition 'Second Solo Show' is to be held at the Royal College of Art, London from 1st-5th December. The forty paintings and thirty monotype prints form a series of monochromatic abstract and figurative works. Using multiple shades of a single colour his paintings are both beautiful and deeply evocative. I would urge you to go and see it for yourselves.


                                                                              Head I 

                                                                              Head I 


Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion?

There was no particular moment when I decided to be a painter, because it always seemed to be something I was going to do. Although, becoming an artist's something you grow into as you get older and you come to many realisations along the way. It was never really a matter of choice, because I couldn’t really imagine not painting. 


What piece of your work would you like to be remembered for?

People see different things and are effected differently by certain pieces of work, so you hope there’s a diversity to your work that a diverse array of people can feel a certain affliation with. 


If you could be born in another period of history, when would it be?

I’ve always had a bizarre fantasy of being a Russian peasant in the 19th century, because of reading the work of Russian literary greats like Tolstoy who make it appealing and romantic. To me, it seemed like a simple and easy life, although I know that it absolutely wasn’t.


How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?

Certain fleeting moments in you life when everything seems to make sense all of a sudden. The fact that those moments are so rare and fleeting is what makes them so incredibly beautiful.


Do you have a favourite book, film or painting, which inspires you?

Interstellar, because of the imagery - especially in the last scene – and the film score.


                                                                             Holocaust Figure II 

                                                                             Holocaust Figure II 


What is your greatest indulgence in life?

I think that being a painter is the greatest indulgence of them all.


What fictional character from literature or film would you like to meet?

I would like to meet Pierre from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, because he’s a moral character who has worked hard for what he achieved, yet he’s humble. I think that’s something, which should be respected.


 Do you believe that true creative expression can exist in the digital world?

Despite the fact that my own studio is free from technology, seeing what other artists and innovators can do in terms of photography and film is very exciting.


 What do you wish every child were taught?

I think it’s important for children to learn to be bored, because it’s a great way of learning to understand yourself and the world around you. It forces you to do certain things and keep your mind active.


Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?

Entirely? No. Though, every day in the studio I question what I’m painting. There’s a lot of uncertainty involved in painting and art in general, but that uncertainty allows you to expand and grow in ways you would have never expected to.


                                                                         Head II

                                                                         Head II


What is your favourite museum or art gallery and why?

I would say the Tate Britain, because it’s quieter than the other galleries and the peaceful atmosphere gives you the time and space to reflect. Being totally surrounded by British art as a young British painter rings a lot of bells in terms of the life we lead here in London. It’s easier to connect with.


Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?

I’ve never really thought about it, but I suppose I love the idea of a fusion between art and music. Something like Right of Spring by Stravinsky about the dance of death around a woman whose been sacrificed would appeal - especially having worked on paintings to do with the primitive man for a year or so. Music creates a sound world and paintings create a visual world, so perhaps the two can coincide.


What is your daily routine when working?

I like to start painting early at 8am or 9am, or even much earlier, depending on how enthusiastic I am. Usually I finish around 5pm, but if it’s going well it could be 9pm or 10pm. Like most artists, I like to be out at night to get some release from being alone painting  in the studio all day. Music, the cinema or friends, it’s just good to distract myself. 


What has been your most inspiring travel experience?

Earlier this year I went out for the groceries, but ended up driving to Serbia. Serbia was a world I knew nothing about, but was intrigued by. I was having problems with my paintings at the time, so I felt that I had nothing to lose. Leaving was exciting, because there was nothing behind me holding it back. There was no sense of monotony in the travelling.


What advice would you give to a young person following in your footsteps?

A much older painter once told me that people might say you’re terrible, no good or should stop, but it’s always the strong ones who survive. I totally believe in that, because at the end I think art is all about strength.


Why do you love what you do?

It’s not a question of loving painting, but I couldn’t do anything else except paint so it’s a privilege to be able to do it. If everyone else lived like we painters do then I fear that the world would collapse in a day.


                                            Holocaust Figure V

                                            Holocaust Figure V

Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU. For further information and exhibition enquiries please contact Irina Zaraisky on 07717 453131

Also, see his work on display at the Soho Revue gallery, Greek Street on 3rd December for auction in aid of the Syrian relief charity the Hands Up Foundation. - Monday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm



Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of