Landscape painter Selwyn Leamy


Having graduated with an MA from Wimbledon School of Art, Selwyn Leamy went on to become an experienced tutor and lecturer at diploma level and also teaching all ages, both in the UK and abroad. Selwyn lives and works in London but has exhibited his landscape paintings extensively in the the UK and Italy. A painter with an expert eye for light and atmosphere, Selwyn’s work captures poignancy and beauty in the mundane and everyday landscapes around us.


When did you begin painting?

'As a kid all I’ve ever wanted was to be an artist (I really wanted to play cricket for England but I gave up on that pretty early on). When I was young I was really into drawing and would draw all the time. I used to paint a bit… but it was just watercolour and poster paint, but that was frustrating because even back then I knew what I wanted my work to look like and the paint wasn’t doing what I wanted. I remember the first time I used oil paint though… when I was about 14 or 15, it was brilliant, the whole feel of it, the intensity of the colours, it was amazing. I still think oil paint is the best medium.'

Your work captures the beauty in the ordinary world around us; a flyover, bus-stops, suburban architecture. Was this something you’d always been interested in depicting, or did you happen upon it as a form?

I love atmosphere and light. Light has a hugely transformative effect on any scene. The sky especially, the different time of day, the different quality of light. It effects how we feel, and it can change how we see things. That’s not so much turning the ordinary into the extraordinary more about seeing things that normally get overlooked with fresh eyes… the curves of the flyover, the way the light from a bus shelter in the dark casts an eerie glow, I love things to be evocative. 

East Lepe

Who /what are your inspirations as a painter?

'Wow… I think there are way too many to talk about here, I feel that there is almost always something interesting in every artwork, film, book or anything that has a way of working its way into your head and inspiring you. And I know it’s corny but I guess I would say that the my biggest inspiration is everything around me all the time.

In terms of my painting style one of my biggest inspirations though was definitely an exhibition called Urbasuburba, at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester in ‘97. It showed the work of two artists, Humphrey Ocean and Jock McFadyen. Ocean’s subject matter was suburban and McFadyen’s dealt with the urban, but both showed a world I knew so well, suburban drive ways, privet hedges, a pub in the pouring rain with the yellowy light of the sign glowing in the darkness. It blew me away, it was one of those moments when you just see exactly what it is that you want to do. I still love their work.

Films and photography are also big source of inspiration. Nadav Kander’s stark and beautiful landscapes and recently and the work of a Canadian photographer Todd Hido who transforms the most mundane scene into something hauntingly beautiful.'

The light in the sky is incredible in so many of your paintings – and so real, how do you create this?

'The simple answer is I guess just by doing it a lot. I always work wet on wet, blending the paint on the canvas, this helps create the smooth transitions from light to dark, but also is really effective for creating that feeling of luminescence you get in a bright cloudy sky. Working with oil paint is great for this because it stays wet for much longer, but I also paint with regular gloss paint a lot, which dries and gets tacky quickly so I have to work fast but it gives really interesting effects and stops my work getting too tight. The hardest bit though is knowing when to stop. It’s easy to kill the freshness of a sky by over working it.' 

How long does a painting take you to do, on average? Do you use a photograph to enable more accuracy in the moment?

'Some work can happen really quickly, everything just clicks and it’ll be done a couple of days. Other work can be a nightmare and take weeks or even longer, if that happens I’ll usually just leave it and come back to it … or maybe just leave it. But it is hard to say really because I’ll normally have four or five paintings going on at the same time. The hardest ones are when you are trying to figure out a new idea and it’s just not working.

I take loads of photos all the time, just on my phone which is like a digital sketchbook. All my studio paintings are done from photographs but never really just copying… for a start I usually leave most stuff out, so there’ll just be a couple of key elements left. One of the best lessons I ever learnt was that painting isn’t about what you put in but what you leave out. That’s one of the benefits of being a painter not a photographer. Working from a photo does help with that feeling of a captured moment but it’s not about the accuracy really because you will always change and alter things from the photo to create the effect you want on your painting. I still paint and draw outside though but I don’t really exhibit those because they have a totally different feel about them… it’s just good to get out of the studio sometimes.'

Do you have any tips for budding painters?

'Just keep going. Whatever level you’re at. It can be so frustrating and infuriating but the next day just go at it again. That’s not just the painting itself but if you want to show your work, or if you submit your work for competitions or anything like that, it is gutting when it’s not accepted or if a gallery doesn’t show your work. Again, just keep going, and keep painting the things that you want to paint.' 

Have you got any exhibitions coming up / what are you working on now?

'I’ve actually been writing a couple of books recently on drawing and painting that will be coming out later this year (Read This if You Want To Be Great At Drawing People with Laurence King Publishing and Master Oils with Ilex) so I haven’t got any shows coming up right now. I have, though, been working on a new series called Metronome which are a whole load (I haven’t fixed on how many yet) of suburban landscapes, motorways, carparks, oil on aluminium, all of them 6”x 9” so postcard/ photograph size. The idea is that they’re like little glimpses of all the boring but weirdly beautiful places or moments you see from the window of the train or bus.'

Event Horizon