Capturing the buzz in cities

Some of Brendan Neiland's works include Muse, 2013, acrylic painting on arches paper and Madison (above), silkscreen. -- PHOTOS: GALERIE BELVEDERE
Some of Brendan Neiland's works include Muse, 2013, acrylic painting on arches paper and Madison (above), silkscreen. -- PHOTOS: GALERIE BELVEDERE
Some of Brendan Neiland's works include Muse (above), 2013, acrylic painting on arches paper and Madison, silkscreen. -- PHOTOS: GALERIE BELVEDERE
Some of Brendan Neiland's works include Muse (above), 2013, acrylic painting on arches paper and Madison, silkscreen. -- PHOTOS: GALERIE BELVEDERE

Urban artist Brendan Neiland's colourful, vibrant and energetic works depict the complexity of architecture in places he visits

Most artists prefer isolation and quiet, but British artist Brendan Neiland thrives on the sounds of a city. He likes the buzz, vibrancy, chaos and sheer energy that only cities can offer.

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Neiland, whose paintings are found in major galleries and museums worldwide, including London's Tate Modern and the Boston Museum of Fine Art, says he would be "lost" if he could not paint cities.

City Portraits, his solo exhibition, held at Galerie Belvedere till April 19, is proof that he is quite the urban artist.

The 33 works on display are dynamic reflections of buildings, representing cities on the move.

Prices range from $950 for the silkscreen works to $3,000 for acrylic paintings.

Colourful, vibrant and energetic, several of these works portray steel and concrete structures with reflections on glass. Even when people are part of the artworks, the forms are fluid.

The chatty and witty Neiland, 72, tells Life! that he loves "cities that live". New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai top his list of cities that inspire him with their sheer energy.

"I am very happy in cities. Artists often talk of escape. I do not want to escape. I want to go there and I want to feel a city," says the artist, who spent some time in Singapore in 2001 when Capital Tower in Robinson Road commissioned 12 of his artworks.

He says he is "gobsmacked by the changes in Singapore" since then, but the city still attracts him. "I like to walk in cities and I like the beautiful walkways here. I am also drawn to the complex architecture as well as the efforts to keep many of the buildings the way they are," he adds.

Studying the architecture as well as how people respond to and embrace the cities they live in, he has developed a distinctive style that relies heavily on the buildings and architecture of the places he visits.

A painter and print-maker, his painting style is unconventional. He does not use paint brushes; instead his preferred technique is spray painting. Adapted from industrial applications, he says it helps him in the layering effect he is after.

He says: "I have always been after subtle gradations to capture the complexity of architecture and cities. Such effects were not possible with a simple paintbrush. Some of my works have as many as 20 layers of sprayed-on colours."

His interest in this, he says, goes back to his time as an art student at Birmingham College of Art. He was not interested in figurative studies or portraiture and was drawn instead to "actual surroundings". He spent time walking around the industrial town of Birmingham, studying materials and textures.

On weekends, he worked as a guard at a factory where he spent a lot of time observing the "subtle relationship between the facade, its environment and how people embraced that space".

The city became to him what the countryside is to landscape painters.

He started transforming them by capturing the reflective surfaces of one building on another or reflections on water bodies. In his solo show, this dynamism is evident as he draws on his visits to various parts of the world, including New York, Las Vegas, Havana and Costa Rica.

Neiland has received numerous honours. He was elected Fellow of Britain's Royal Society of Arts, appointed Professor of Painting at the University of Brighton and Loughborough University, and is also a Keeper of London's prestigious Royal Academy of Arts.

Some corporate collectors of his paintings include CapitaLand in Singapore, international motoring firm Rolls-Royce and London's Heathrow Airport.

None of this would have happened had he decided to become a Catholic priest, which he very nearly did at the age of 18, he adds.

Married with two grown-up daughters, he says there is not too much difference between the life of an artist and a monk, as they both require the same sort of discipline.

Being an artist, he adds, is "a privilege" and something he would "not trade for anything else in the world".

deepikas@sph.com.sg