The Studio and Gallery 86 Main Street Kilbirnie KA25 7AA
07963 348934 Opened first of April 2017
Interview with Peter Finnigen, November, 2017.
AM: Did you have much interest in art when you were younger?
Peter Finnigen: When I was young we didn't have much, we were very poor, we had a hard life, as my Dad left us after the war. I used to do all sorts of things to try and make money. I started making wee alabaster moulded figures which I bought in a shop off of Argyle Street in Glasgow. They were little Mexicans with black sombreros and guitars and I would paint them and then sell them.
One time in primary school it so happened that in the art class I did a town scene with roads, people and traffic. I had drawn this man on a bicycle going through the traffic, and the teacher got hold of it and was over the Moon about it and showed it to the other teachers. Not long after I was sent to the Kelvingrove Art Galleries in Glasgow for some art instruction, and I met up with this group of people. I was the youngest there and I was paired off with this older boy. We had to paint either an old woman at a window or a sailing ship. The older boy said he would do the sailing ship even though that was what I wanted to do, because I liked that subject. Anyway we wandered around the galleries looking for inspiration, but this boy was up to no good, causing all sorts of trouble and it ended up us getting thrown out. So I was disgraced by this boy.
AM : So you never took up art as a career?
Peter Finnigen: I was an engineer and was always making things. I had a great eye. I used to see details that other people would miss. Which helped me in my trade, as I could diagnose things that other people didn't notice. I suppose this now helps me with my art. Some years later, after I was married, somebody at work was talking about art and this sparked my interest. I went and bought a large pad of art paper. However, I never did anything with it. Through the years I never did any drawing or painting, but when I retired, my wife bought me a box of painting by numbers. Initially, I tossed it to the side but a few weeks later I found it again and decided to give it a try. I started messing around with it, but I realised I could do better myself. So I found the old drawing pad I had bought 35 or 40 years ago. So there must have been something in me saying 'keep that'. The paper in it was all yellowed with age. I started making some drawings. I found I could picture things, I could see how light came and created shadows. Somehow I had all that understanding. Where it came from I do not know. It seems to be something I have always had. It's always been there.
AM: Was this the start of you painting?
Peter Finnigen: I decided to go to some art classes, a one day a week course in Paisley run by an artist. So I would sit there painting and he would come round and see what people were doing. He would take a glance at my work but would pass me by and go and help the others. Eventually he asked me to do a portrait. So when I was at home I painted an old cavalier on one of the sheets from that old pad I still had. The following week when I went back, I had the portrait there, but he never came to look at it. I was hoping he might have suggested how I should mix colours. I had no instruction in the sequence of colours and just did this intuitively. So he came over and said "Peter, I don't know what I can tell you. I don't think I can teach you anything. My advice to you it to take a day or so and visit some art galleries and look at some of the old masters and I think you will learn more from that." So that was me finished with art courses. I never went back.
AM: So was that the Cavalier you have in the exhibition?
Peter Finnigen: Yes, done on the old pad.
AM: Was this one of the first paintings you created?
Peter Finnigen: Yes.
AM: I am glad we included that. It is very drawn, compared with your more recent work. It is drawn with outlines and is very fine work.
Peter Finnigen: Because of the long gap when I never painted I feel I am still learning.
AM: You did not have time to learn gradually, you had to accelerate your learning. Your style of painting moved on from that very quickly.
Peter Finnigen: I still don't know what I should be doing. I was down South and went into a gallery and talked to the owner who was also an artist and he asked me what did I paint. I said I will paint anything, portraits, scenery, buildings. He said "So you're a nothing painter." He said ,"You can't paint everything. You can't paint them well. You've got to find your niche and stick to that."
AM: You've had some great advice, I don't think! When I first saw your work, I saw you as a jobbing artist, someone who could turn their hand to anything. I see that as your strength.
Peter Finnigen: It's my trade I suppose.
AM: Painting a portrait and painting a landscape is basically the same technical exercise. The same transmission of light into pigment. I think your strength is in your diversity of imagery. Other artists, such as that man you mention who wrongly advised you, often do the same thing over and over again. They can develop a style, but it can get boring and repetitive. You are always coming up with something different.
Peter Finnigen: I like to ask folk what they like. It's not what I like to paint. I like people coming and looking and enjoying what I have done. Whether it sells or not doesn't matter. It's the enjoyment they get from seeing what I have tried to create.
AM: Let's go into the technical details. You paint in acrylic, on different surfaces. You use board, paper and canvas. You don't seem to varnish your paintings. They have a nice smooth matt surface. For many of your works you seem to use photographs as a basis for a painting.
Peter Finnigen: Rather than go out and sketch I take a photograph. It is quicker and I like to have the colours, so I can see the light and the reflections, that you cannot catch on a sketch pad, but you can get in a photograph. I will persevere till I get a good photo. What I see is what I paint, and if there is a wee mouse sitting there, it will be in the painting.
AM: You very much like to explore the detail. The first painting I saw of yours was that of Dunlop House and I was really surprised at the detail and the quality of the painting. Your painting really captures the architecture.
Peter Finnigen: Well I do love architecture and buildings. Coming from an engineering background, I love to look at buildings to see how they are put together, what is holding them up.
AM: Another painting of your I found quite surprising was the painting of the large paddle boat, the Waverley. It is such a well constructed work
Peter Finnigen: That is another early work. I would like to redo bits of that. There are things I see there that I do not like anymore. I have progressed since then. I would alter the sky, for example.
AM: Maybe, you should instead do another version.
Peter Finnigen: The Waverley is a difficult ship to paint. If you paint it straight from a photo it looks flat. The ship is bulky, it's leaning out, it's all different shapes and forms, but if you paint it like that it will look like a bathtub. If I were to do another version I would emphasize the slopes, the shadows, the shapes, to give it more bulkiness, which is hard to create.
I made another version of the Waverley passing the Cloch Lighthouse, between Greenock and Gourock, and I have taken it from the sea looking towards the shore. Behind the lighthouse is a hill with a caravan site. So you've got the Waverley, the shore, the lighthouse, the hill and all the caravans. I put in all the different coloured caravans and cars in the different layers, with people sitting in deckchairs all the way up this hill, and the only way to see them is to get a magnifying glass.
AM: What happened to that painting?
Peter Finnigen: Somebody bought it. I have also given a lot of my paintings away to different charities. I have done a lot of churches and usually gave it to the individual church. One of the best paintings I have done was of Paisley Square, the old municipal buildings, police station and jail. It is way ahead of my Dunlop House painting.
AM: What plans do you have for the future? How do you think your artwork will continue?
Peter Finnigen: I don't know. I am the sort of person who could just stop and move on to something else. I often get fed up with the lack of feedback.
AM: There is a problem for someone like yourself who, not having had an early career as an artist. When you come to it late, because you have done all sorts of other things in your life, and then suddenly you decide to explore this art in yourself, people often denigrate this thinking "Oh it's nothing. He cannot be any good if he only started painting when he retired". But this is not what I see in your work. I see a competent artist.
Peter Finnigen: I am about to finish my series of images of Kilbirnie. I have almost completed the Main Street all the way down to Glengarnock. I have included some paintings of buildings that are longer standing, based on old photographs. I am about to do one of an old factory, which was almost facing the Kilbirnie Library. All that is left now are two pillars. I have a sketch that I got from the Library which is not very clear, so I will have to take a walk down to the river side and look up. I like to see where the building was, so I can pick up the detail of how it sat in the landscape, and I can get my bearings correct. That will complete my Kilbirnie series.
AM: We will look forward to your next exhibition in Kilbirnie during March 2018.