I stared up at the massive painting in the kitchen. It was of a hyena. But this hyena was different. It seemed to have an odd kind of vulnerability to it. The Hyena is a very misunderstood creature, the artist, Peter Pharoah, believes. He always tries to paint the character of the animal or the person he is depicting. “What is “inside” is definitely more important than what’s on the outside.” Ah yes, I thought, this is my kind of artist!
Peter Pharoah is a contemporary artist with an intense passion for Africa. His subject, textures and bold use of colour evoke a strong feeling of our Continent. We sat around his kitchen table, drinking hot coffee, munching gorgeous shortbread and chatting. He is passionate about his art. His aim is to create art that people enjoy, that makes them feel good, but that also makes them look into the subject rather than at it. Yes, he often paints things that are commercial – people, animals, birds. But he interprets them in different, new, exciting ways.
“Come into my studio and have a look at what I’m working on at the moment.”
He pulled various paintings out with relish. They were beautiful, exotic African women’s faces. Each painting contained so much energy, thought and passion. He explained what he wished to capture and impart with each canvas. His colours were rich and bizarre. Vivid green lips, blue cheekbones, a purple shaded forehead. And, I laughed to myself, they worked!
Peter strives to make each painting demand new things from himself. I remember, as an actress, always looking for fresh, different ways to express certain emotions. Peter is that kind of artist. Peter paints “a story” and the viewer completes it. He wants the viewer to contribute too. This is why his pictures are never complete .They are never photographic representations. No, that is too easy. He paints a picture finished by the viewer.
Each painting is a journey within himself. He must keep thinking and moving forward with his art. He is continually pondering: What can I do differently on this canvas? On the one “face” painting he thought: I want this to be super loose. I want it to flow across the canvas. Nothing abrupt or jarring about it so that eyes looking at the painting are continuous, streamlined, flowing and sleek in their movement. Having done that painting, he thought: Right, lets push that looseness further with this one and see what I come up with. On another he tried to be as subtle as possible. He pointed out a nose on one of his paintings. “I was so tremendously thrilled with this nose,” he said, “I’ve had to do so little to make that nose. And yet in this picture it is perfect. Less is more!” he finished in delight. I smiled and he said: “Are you able to come and see my gallery?”
“Right now! There are some different paintings that I think would interest you.”
A totally delicious feast of animal paintings awaited me. I was intrigued by one of a cheetah running. It was a powerful piece only I was not sure about the hoops and coils of spring that he had used to make up the cheetah. As if reading my mind, Peter explained: “This painting is about power. I have painted the cheetah as a series of coils and springs because I want to suggest the curled up ferocity of it’s movement being unleashed and springing into action.”
Oh yes, I could feel the power and force emanating from the painting. He uses the analogy of coils and springs to represent muscles and sinews as they better demonstrate the explosive power he is trying to convey. The second painting I loved was of three wild dogs. As they emerge towards you, one can literally feel the sweltering heat of the dry, dusty afternoon. Peter explained how this painting was a study in depth of field. There was another cheetah that took my breath away. It was running – fast! Through the brush strokes you could literally feel the animal moving quicker than light. One had the sensation that if one blinked, it would be gone!
“Why have you painted them on two or three different canvasses? Why not just one, I enquired? Peter laughed. “It works dramatically. Also it makes it easy to transport to whoever buys it!”
I joined his laughter. “I didn’t think of that!”
In 2010 The Pharoah Gallery was destroyed in a fire. Peter’s entire collection of paintings, prints and photos went up in flames. The building had to be demolished. I remember shuddering in horror when I had heard this tale. I had been in his gallery the week before and had just marvelled at the work that surrounded me. Imagine everything you have strived and worked for going up in flames. Metaphorically those flames can burn you to a cinder too.
But not Peter. He built a new gallery.
“Losing my gallery was initially like losing a close relative in a car accident. But after about a month I found the whole incident became liberating. It was like being reborn. I had no past, I couldn’t look back, I could only move forward.”
Having his own gallery has been incredibly important to Peter and his personal development. “I can paint what I want. I don’t have to pander to other gallery owners commercial requests.”
This enthusiastic man who showed me his new gallery filled with stunning paintings is testament to this.
“Being happy and positive is essential to creativity. I like to begin my day slowly. I enjoy a cup of strong coffee on my deck, spending time taking in the beauty of a Wilderness morning. It’s important to be content within yourself, to have the confidence to try something new, something you haven’t done before.”
I have a beautiful print of Peter’s on my wall. Three African’s walking. The picture is mirage-like and has a hallucinatory effect. My eyes often rest on it, remembering…….