Boldly abstract in nature, Nick Grindrod’s multi-layered paintings develop rapidly within a short space of time to reveal their ‘truth’. We spent a day with him in his home-town, Sheffield, journeying through the city to his studio to discover his unique process and delve further beneath the painted layers…
Smithson: Hi Nick, it’s lovely to come up to Sheffield and visit your studio – thank you for showing us around! Let’s go back to the beginning, how you were first introduced to painting?
Nick: I’ve been interested in painting for as long as l can remember. As a child I was very close to my Gran, she had a real passion for history and she used to take me on these adventures to castles and stately homes. They were always packed with traditional paintings and used to try and copy them albeit in coloured pencil!
That’s amazing, your Gran sounds like a wonderful creative energy to have had growing up. She must have been a great influence for you?
Yes, she’s definitely a big influence for me. She did so much with her life, she was phenomenal – a real force majeure! After school, college and university I had a few art based jobs but drifted into normal life pretty quickly, working as a painter-decorator. After my wife Sarah and I had moved couple of times we found ourselves, like most people, battling bills and feeling constantly on the go.
In 2014, my Gran passed away and I was devastated. It sent me down a dark hole and I had no idea where or what I was doing. After a lot of regression and looking at what my Gran had done with her life, Sarah and I made the decision to downsize from the family home and set up shop in a flat – best decision we ever made. It freed up time, money and gave me the chance to start making again. Her passing was a catalyst for me getting back into the art world.
Originally, I was a portrait painter but soon found that it didn't fulfil me, and the move to abstraction followed naturally from that. The past five years or so of process and play have really forged what I want from my work.
"You can take it with a pinch of salt and dismiss it and say it’s only social media, but everything that happened to me last year in my career was all through social media. Without that nothing would have happened."
Yes, you’ve carved yourself such a distinct style which we love! It really feels that your work has taken off. Do you credit that to anything in particular?
I think it has started getting that momentum, there’s more interest, more engagement certainly. Either through the galleries, Instagram, both followers and connections and comments which has been really nice. You can take it with a pinch of salt and dismiss it and say it’s only social media, but everything that happened to me last year in my career was all through social media. Without that nothing would have happened, so I can’t say that it’s trivial because it’s not. It has had a profound effect on the direction that I’m going in and the people that I’m working with.
The studio you have here is such an amazing space and resource, too. Do you think the community of the studio feeds into your work in some element as well?
I think definitely. Both the walk into work and the interaction with the other artists is quite important to me. There’s lots of different people in the creative industries here – makers, photographers, fine art painters, illustrators – and we all get together on a Friday, have a cup of tea and a chin wag and see what other people are up to which is really nice. I think that does put your head in the right place to work and create.
So how do you go about starting a piece? What sort of materials do you use and work on?
I tend to come into the studio and get changed, and then just sketch for twenty minutes. I start with initial sketches in black and white, tonally linear. There’s no real texture to it, they’re really quite simplistic.
I was and still do some decorating and a lot of the tools from that trade have migrated across. I'll use anything that will give me the right qualities that I need for a specific work. From emulsion to high-end acrylics, all paints offer unique characteristics in the way that they can be manipulated. Due to my process I do a lot of adding and removing so I tend to work on plywood panels as it has the durability and strength to take a good battering. I’ve always had plenty cut so that I don’t get too precious about having one piece.
"To start with I just make marks and they’re very gestural – just to get something down to break that solidness and indecision."
Is it that you’ve got forms and shapes or ideas already in mind for those initial drawings, or is the process straight from pen to paper?
Funnily enough, my old college lecturer recently got back in contact and comes round the studio a lot, and said to me, ‘Does architecture come into play with your work?’ I didn’t really think anything of it before but because I love to walk in, I questioned that in my own mind and thought maybe there is a correlation seeing and walking in and what comes out. You get a good feel of the city and I think subconsciously things get drawn in.
You’re definitely surrounded by that aren’t you. It seems that you’re very involved not only with the art scene in Sheffield but with the bricks and mortar of the city itself, and the history it holds.
Definitely. I think that the sort of patina that I try and achieve with the work that must be subconsciously there.
So after the initial sketches, how do you do you go about transferring those ideas onto the plywood or canvas? Do you begin with the texture or with the form?
To start with I just make marks and they’re very gestural – just to get something down to break that solidness and indecision. I then build in lots and lots of different layers. Masking off, removing, adding, removing again and kind of get to a stage where I’m happy with how the underpainting has gone and start to incorporate.
Do you see that as two different processes as it were?
I don’t really, because I get so absorbed in doing the making of the piece, they’re made in a very short intense period of time – a day or two from start to finish.
Wow that’s incredible, do you focus on one work at a time then? How many layers will there typically be in a piece?
Yeah I’m completely and utterly involved in the work. I get absorbed in the whole process, the decision making whilst painting.
It depends because after the first base layers I start to rip at the surface and change it, drag it out or draw back certain elements of it. But once that’s taken back, I’ll add some more paint and then I’ll remove it again, and I’ll add a final coat over the top of that. I love what I do, but once I’ve made it, there are very few pieces that I actually fall in love with.
So what is it that makes you love one?
I find that very hard, I think it’s got to be to be the right balance of composition and the right amount of paint on the surface too.
For example, for one of my paintings for all the lines cut, all the tape that was left over was reapplied. You can see there are all the old pieces of tape that have got manipulated by the paint, that’s a bit more soft and bit more malleable. They’re not straight and they’re not true, I don’t want things to be perfect. I love all the things that happen that I can’t control, all the things that happen through not knowing and just playing.
Definitely, your pieces have a certain energy to them in that way. Are there particular shapes, expressions or motifs you're drawn to?
Geometric shape and patterns have become a big part of my work though not without more painterly qualities. I've found real hard-edged abstract work to be a little too clinical but that's just my tastes.
Colour is another element that's really important to me. It goes hand in hand with the geometric composition of my work, it's a complicated thing. Again, due the way the paint is applied and removed it can create its own palette within the composition. I find this way of working, those happy accidents when I'm not fully in control the most fulfilling. It can be both euphoric and disappointing. There's definitely a fight going on, and both sides have to trade blows so to speak.
"I don’t want things to be perfect. I love all the things that happen that I can’t control, all the things that happen through not knowing and just playing."
Yes, that goes back to finding the right balance, a sense of equilibrium between the two sides and with the colour, too. Do you always work within the same colour spectrum?
There is a combination, over time I’ve got used to using certain colours so I have got a palette in mind. I go through lots of mixing of colours on the works trying to match or to juxtapose.
I also love work that has colours that shouldn't work together but somehow do! It's something I try to achieve in my own work. I've got to admit that I've got a love for fluorescent pink at the moment.
Yes, we love the fluorescent details! Colour clearly plays such a key role in your compositions. Thinking about that, is there a particular artist or movement that has particularly influenced you?
For me, when I started moving into abstraction, there were several artists who inspired me. I went to London and the Newport gallery to see the John Hoyland exhibition of his power station paintings which had an incredible effect on me. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how, when, why he made these paintings because they’re so different from his back catalogue. They were incredible, powerful. And then there was the RA exhibition on the abstract expressionist movement. Anni Albers and the figures from that movement, they really did have an effect on me. I also went to see the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican, that was epic. It wasn’t the best show I’d ever seen but the journey from coming right through to the end of it was great.
There’s no real one artist, and it’s interesting because you never meet these people, but you see their work go through different stages and I think that’s one of the things for me, that journey.
So if you could meet any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
Mark Bradford, because of his whole life and ethos. I’ve watched a few videos on what he does and the way he works, watching his processes. He’s such an eloquent speaker about his work as well, it’s such plain English, so forthright but not pretentious. The honesty is so infectious for me to listen to! I think for me he’s the real deal – the way he works and what he does with the community, a real living master at work.
We’ve touched on the role of social media in your progression as an artist. How do you think the online platform and social media benefits the art world and artists?
A very poignant question given where we find ourselves right now. Social media is a monster, but there's no better way of getting your work out there and seen. Websites are great for pinpointing someone or something you're looking for but the likes of Instagram you can't compete.
Then again nothing beats being in a gallery or art fair seeing the work up close. All of the subtleties, smells, and engaging with others who are there for the same reason.
Your thoughts and plans for this year, what would you like to achieve? Is there a particular goal or aspiration you’re working towards?
After last year, if anything comes up I’m happy with it! I think for me, whatever happens, happens. It’s the making of the work, that I don’t get too caught up in it. I had a conversation with myself about not working purposefully, so the opportunities come of their own volition, not forced entities. I’m not going to get emotionally upset if something doesn’t work out, and that seems to have worked for me quite well so far, it keeps me level. Going forwards, I’m just focusing on making work and moving it forwards and keeping that momentum going!