Simon Bull Reveals the ‘Journeys’ Behind His Remarkable Artwork
Simon Bull‘s creativity knows no boundaries. Not only is he a fantastically accomplished artist, but he’s also an impressive writer too.
Bull has published two books—A Celebration of Life and Journey: The Art of Simon Bull—and both volumes bring together Bull’s vibrant paintings with his thoughtful, almost poetic reflections on his life as an artist.
Similar to how he brings together disparate elements into a single cohesive picture, Bull has a true talent for putting into words the elusive inspirations and emotions that lie behind some of his best-known compositions.
To give you a look behind the canvas, here’s a selection of Bull’s thoughts on his artistic career paired with 7 of his colorful, captivating paintings.
(All quotes are taken from Journey: The Art of Simon Bull.)
Simon Bull: When I was a kid, I used to get out of school as early as I could and go down to the woods to watch wildlife, to photograph everything that moved and to sketch. I would sometimes sit underneath the enormous trees and try to draw every branch.
It turns out that all those times spent studying growing things edged its way into my inner being. As I reached across the paper with my pencil or lay down a mark with a brush, the life growing in the world was also growing through me. My arm became a branch, my fingers were flowering, and the tip of the pen was propagating a new kind of world. A place previously unseen that had been hiding inside of me came out and was wandering around in the open for all to see.
Simon Bull: I can paint flowers from memory, but the more I do so, the more abstract they become. The details fade, only the overarching impression remains. What may once have been a botanically accurate illustration drawn as a teenager is now, years later, rendered as a dollop of red paint, a flicker of something forgotten in the details but remembered in the whole.
Which rendering I wonder is more true? The startling detail that distracts from the whole or the whole that distracts from the details?
Simon Bull: I dip my hand in the paint and flatten it onto paper. The colors that cling to me are now mirrored on this other surface, the same but different, reversed, thinner, flatter.
When I turn the paper, the handprint suggests an angel, something with wings. Hands are wings. Hands write, paint, sculpt; hands craft shapes that convey to the mind what speech conveys to the ear. Because of hands, ideas take wings, angels fly.
Simon Bull: For many years, I have worked out in the landscape in a realistic, traditional way, creating plein air works. I load up the car and head out to spend the day foraging for anything that grabs my visual attention. I also like to make pencil sketches that I bring back to the studio and use as the basis for more imaginary works.
Combining what I see with what I want to say is one of the most compelling aspects of painting. Finding a harmonizing balance between data and the interpretation is where the magic happens.
Simon Bull: When I was a teenager, my friend and I kept a falcon that we trained to hunt by swinging a rabbit skin around our heads on the end of a long leash. It took us months of patience, but the exhilaration we felt as it swung low to catch the circling lure in full flight was more than enough reward for us.
There was something innately noble about this bird—its piercing eyes, elegant wings, and razor-sharp talons—that set it apart from the starlings and sparrows twittering around the branches. No wonder then that we have imputed mythical significance to birds of prey. They have come to stand for authority, courage, action, justice, and protection.
Simon Bull: It’s just possible that the heart thinks before the brain, and that the brain thinks what the heart tells it to think. This is the reasoning of a group called the HeartMath Institute who have conducted tireless research into the infinite variations of heartbeats.
They have demonstrated that every heartbeat is unique and carries a coded message to the body. Like a conductor before an orchestra, the heart commands the body and the mind with each rhythmic pulse.
A wise man once said that we should guard our hearts, because out of them flow the springs of life.
Simon Bull: The arts draw us all into a conversation. A shared life. Thinking, making, showing and telling. Hearing, looking, pondering. Talking, writing, sketching, singing, tapping with a drumstick. Acting, filming, dancing, and loving.
If science is studying the world, the arts help us understand it. If science names the flower, art puts it in someone’s hand and says “I love you.”
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