As this is the first blog of the year, I was going to do a retrospective of the previous year in Art but I went off the idea as with a New Year I always like to look forward and not back. With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the work of Simeon Stafford. This is an Artist I rate highly, his work is very popular among collectors and in an era when art can be reduced to a Banana duct-taped to a wall and sold for $120,000 Simeons work not only make sense but it shows great thought, skill and longevity. This is why his paintings are collected by the Queen, celebrities, and politicians.
In my twenty years involved in art, I've handled a lot of paintings by some very famous artists. I can tell you that there are certain artists and works which give you a feeling of importance with regards to what you are viewing. I get that from Simeons paintings. I had the same feelings with Ken Howard's oil paintings and Mary Fedden oils and watercolours fifteen years ago, and I get the same feeling with Simeons work. It has an intrinsic quality to it, an ability to provoke emotion and they are usually feelings of joy or happiness. I have so many people come to me trying to sell their work and wanting my opinion on it, and so much of it lacks that quality which is needed to propel the work from avid amateur to professional status. 'Naive' artwork can be a difficult concept to understand. The famous throw-away comment made by the ignorant, 'my six-year-old child could do that' can still be heard in galleries today although not as much as it used to be heard. Twenty years ago I used to get it at least once a week but happily, I've only had it once this past year. So what's the difference between 'Naive' and 'amateur' well, it comes down to several factors, but the most important of all is an unquantifiable quality. If the composition, colour and subject are not handled with care and thought, then the painting will show itself to be sub-par, yes even in a Naive style of working.
Simeon Stafford's work is undoubtedly Naive in style but at the same time when I look at it, I see all the influences in his life. I see the North of England, I see the Manchester Art Scene, I see St Ives, I see Patrick Heron and Sir Terry Frost, who Simeon was friendly with when he moved to St Ive's in the late 1990s. All of these factors come into play when creating these joyful paintings.
The painting bug was with Simeon from a young age, his father was a musician and as a child, he was encouraged in two vocations, music and art. Simeon favoured the brush over the piano and from early in his life showed a great talent for his chosen profession. Indeed at the tender age of 11, he was encouraged to enter a national art competition in 1967, he didn't win the contest but he came second. The winner was 52 years old. At the age of 14 he met L.S.Lowry who became a friend to the young painter and encouraged him to work and develop his skills at the easel. This was something he certainly did as Simeon ground out a living through art by knocking on the doors of wealthy property owners and offering to draw or paint pictures of their houses. Simeon has always been a shrewd negotiator, he has on more than one occasion exchanged paintings for cars, although he has very expensive taste, preferring vintage Rolls Royce's.
The characters in his paintings hold familiar sentiments to the artist. The cartwheeling girl and dog are two of his most iconic characters. The Dog is his own 'Trixie' who lived to the ripe old age of 28 years old and the little girl is his Auntie Dot as a child. You will sometimes see a man with red trousers walking with a boy in hand, this is Simeon and his son Alex. What I love about his characters is the interaction between them, he's more akin to Helen Bradley than Lowry in this aspect, as Lowry's figures often felt detached from the world they inhabited. Interaction between the figures in a Lowry painting would usually involve a fight or some sort of public show. With Simeon, the figures interact with one another, they talk, they play, they act as family and friends. This is where the joy comes into his work. Everyone that see's his paintings in the gallery raises a smile, sincerely and warmly. How could you not?
Simeon's career has had some wonderful high's with the Queen buying his paintings, his various inclusions at the Royal Academy Summer Show, his 2010 book which is now sold out and changes hands for around £100 a copy. Not to mention the multiple shows at various galleries all across the U.K. Yes this is an artist to watch he has both National and Northern interest, an instantly recognisable style, and a terrific following of collectors and appreciators.