Trek Lexington in conversation with Miriam Escofet

I’m not sure you can call painting a career, it is more of an obsession or vocation

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, and how did you begin making art?

Do you remember the moment you realized that this would be your career?

I was born in Barcelona, Spain and lived there until my family moved to the UK when I was 12 years old.

My childhood in Barcelona was very happy and I still have very vivid memories of the architecture, art, sounds and textures of the place that I now realize embedded themselves very deeply in my psyche.

Spain, like all Mediterranean countries, is a very sensory place, the strong light, the hard shadows, the heat, the wealth of old architecture and the drama of the catholic iconography all make for a very powerful mix.

THE GYPSOTHEQUE-oil on linen 107 x 97 cm-Miriam Escofet
“The Gypsotheque”, oil on linen, 107 x 97 cm

My parents were both artists, my father Catalan, my mother from London (but of Irish descent) so creativity was all around me as I grew up. I particularly remember watching my father draw and being completely entranced by his ability. I also remember spending hours pouring through his art books and discovering the world of art in all its manifold expressions. In particular it was the works of renaissance and Gothic painters that captivated me; Bosch, Da Vinci, Van Eyck, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, the magical, mystical worlds their works depicted. In a sense I suppose I learned from a very early age the ‘special’ language of art, which bypasses the intellect and connects straight to the imagination and emotions.

I was always making things as a child, playing around with bits of cardboard and paper. Of course these materials were always at hand and my parents were fantastically laid back, allowing us to get lost in our world of imagination and play for hours on end.

I was good at all subjects at school and that meant that I had to very consciously ‘choose’ which direction to go in with my higher education. It was not easy as I loved math and sciences, but I chose art as my gut was telling me that I needed to do something which allowed for self expression. I’m sure the fact that my parents were working creatively made that choice easier for me, in the sense that it felt ‘legitimate’. I had no idea where it would lead in practical terms, or even what kind of art I would end up being drawn to. Art felt ‘expansive’ and I liked the fact that it does not consist of establishing empirical truths, but rather in engaging in an interesting and constant exploration and dialogue.

It was only towards the end of my time at art school that I realized the commitment to art was for life.

AND DO WE NOT LIVE IN DREAMS-oil on linen 90 x 60 cm-Miriam Escofet
“And do we not live in dreams”, oil on linen, 90 x 60 cm

2. Your father, Jose Escofet, is a phenomenal still life painter. Do you feel like your work and his influence each other? How does being in the same profession affect your relationship?

My father in many ways was my first teacher and he is still the first person I turn to for advice and a completely honest opinion on my work. He is incapable of flattery or favor, so I know I am always getting the truth from him.

I realized I learned so much from him just by watching him work. He has always been meticulous about the ‘craft’ of painting, very self critical, forever seeking out new paints and mediums and constantly informing himself about technique.

When I went to art school I purposely chose to enroll on a 3D design course where I worked with clay and wood. At that time most fine art courses were heavily conceptual and I just knew that was not for me, so I decided to enroll on a course that focused on skills. I have always loved making things and I still find a way of bringing that into my painting process by sometimes constructing maquettes and objects which then become the subject matter for still life paintings.

In terms of painting I am completely self taught, but I always had the guidance of my father to fall back on. He did not teach me how to paint as such, but as soon as he saw me trying oil paints he pointed me in the direction of the old masters and explained the importance of understanding the nature of oils, using mediums and trying glazes. It all felt easy and instinctual to me, but I have him to thank for pointing me in the right direction.

His work is incredibly detailed, as is mine. In terms of subject matter we are drawn to very different themes, but I do think there is a similar sensibility to our work and a very similar technique, although of course no two people ever paint alike!

This connection that we both have to art forms a very deep bond between us. My father is very non verbal about most things really, until he talks about art which is so hugely important to him. It’s very special to be able to share his inner world with him.

JOSE ESCOFET oil on linen over panel 50 x 40 cm-Miriam Escofet
“Jose Escofet”, oil on linen over panel, 50 x 40 cm

3. Do you ever find yourself artistically blocked? If so, what do you do to find inspiration?

I can honestly say that I have never felt artistically blocked. I have the opposite problem, which is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to work on all the ideas that I have. I always have a backlog of projects trying to come through, some more fully formed than others. Because of my technique and the level of detail in my work, my paintings take a few months each to complete. One painting in particular, The Heavens, took a year from idea stage to finish.

As soon as I am at the end stage of a painting, I start to get a very clear idea of the next work. Some ideas are sitting in the back of my mind, being mulled over for years until they suddenly pop through, others are born very quickly. It is almost as if each idea finds it’s own moment to come into the world.

I do sometimes get fatigued from endless hours and days at the easel, it is then time to take myself off for the day and just get out of the studio. Seeing exhibitions, traveling, or generally being out in the world are all refreshing and inspiring. I have to be completely immersed in my work to do what I do, but I also need to come up for air! I have also experienced that is when my brain is most relaxed that new ideas can come in.

4. Is painting your full time career, or do you have a day job? If the latter, how do you balance the two?

I’m not sure you can call painting a career, it is more of an obsession or vocation, but yes it is my full time work.

I was very lucky when I started to paint in earnest, shortly after leaving at school, in being offered exhibitions very quickly. It all felt very natural at the time, but I realize with hindsight it was quite unusual. Before long I had an established pattern of having a solo exhibition every two or three years (in London and Paris), which allowed just enough time to build up a new body of work for each show. I was completely focused and in a bit of a bubble with it all, never feeling I could afford the time or work to offer up for public exhibitions.

When things slowed down with galleries after the crash of 2008 it freed up my time to explore other directions. I had just painted my first portrait the previous year, incidentally a portrait of my father. I entered it for the BP Portrait Award competition in 2007, it was accepted and this was my first experience of showing my work in a public space and I loved it. I have since been selected a few times for the BP Portrait Award and shown with The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, as well as through galleries. Working and selling through galleries can be great financially but you are known only to the gallery’s client list and you can feel on a bit of a treadmill of productivity if you are not careful. I felt it was time to step out of that pattern a little and try new avenues.

Another thing I made time to explore recently was teaching. I had thought for some time that I wanted to put myself in an art school environment again which I missed, I also felt I was ready share some of the knowledge and techniques I had learned over the years as a practicing artist.

Again, teaching was something that felt completely natural as soon as I started doing it. I teach life drawing courses once in a while and a regular oil painting technique class ‘The Alchemy of Oil Painting’ at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in Chelsea, London.

I find teaching incredibly rewarding but very exhausting, so I limit it to one day a week

5. If you had a year, with unlimited time and money, how would you spend it?

I would spend it by working on some of the ideas I have not had time to explore yet. As already mentioned, I have a constant backlog of ideas that are just waiting for the right time to come through.

It would be wonderful to have the space and time to try and push my work in new directions.

I would also spend some time traveling and taking myself to places which are on my must see list but which for some reason or other I have not managed to get to yet. Top of the list would probably be Venice, which I bizarrely have never been to!

But the main focus would be on working through new ideas. I think it’s a fairly universal truth that what most artists crave the most is extra time in theirs studios!

THE WITCHING HOUR-detail-Miriam Escofet
“The witching hour”, Detail, oil on linen, 95 x  80 cm
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