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A Portrait of the Artist as a Yorkshire Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Yorkshire Man

/ Thursday 10th of September, 2015

Yorkshire artist Carl Whitfield is not your ‘typical’ artist. Looking at his work, you can certainly believe he is a perfectionist. What you can’t believe is that he is completely self-taught, never receiving a single minute of formal instruction. But the surprises don’t stop there. He’s also refreshingly down-to-earth, undoubtedly a bi-product of his Yorkshire upbringing. In his teenage years he rescued and played mum to an orphaned fox cub (christened “Foxy”) he kept as a wild pet—not necessarily the sort of extracurricular activity you would imagine for a future professional fine artist.

Carl’s path to becoming a full-time fine artist is a delightfully unconventional one. Never thinking he could make a living from his artistic talent, Carl sampled a number of careers in his younger years, from farming to commercial management. But “apart from farming, I learnt nothing from them—other than I didn’t want to do it”. What he really wanted to do was paint. He therefore took advantage of an opportunity to work as a custom airbrush artist for cars and motorcycles, going on to win various awards and a respected reputation within the motoring community. The role allowed his natural artistic talent to thrive, ultimately giving Carl the confidence to make the jump to becoming a full-time artist committed to the creation of spectacular hyperrealist wildlife art.

This commitment to precision is largely drawn from Carl's fascination with the Victorian and Edwardian painters. Since his first days as an artist, he has ardently admired the work of fellow Leeds artist John Atkinson Grimshaw and Birmingham artists Edgar and Walter Hunt. “They painted with realism and intricate detail; they didn’t just ‘chuck’ paint onto the canvas. They took the time to give accuracy to everything they did, creating real beauty by going one step further”.

When viewing Carl's work, it becomes immediately obvious that he, like his predecessors Grimshaw and Hunt, also goes that one step further. He enjoys the challenge of creating photo-quality detail, particularly with his more intricate subjects. Each individual tuft of fur and blade of grass is painted with intense calculation and purpose. Many of his brushstrokes are so delicate they require a magnifying glass to see clearly. After hours upon hours of toil, a multitude of these brushstrokes harmonise and result in a work of art so realistic you can practically feel the texture of coarse fur or the soft tickle of whiskers. Carl’s work is testament to not only his exceptional talent; but furthermore to his rigorous and religious attention to detail, applied with positively unparalleled devotion.

Yet despite his perfectionist precision, Carl’s paintings remain honest and truthful, allowing nature to speak for itself. “I’m a true Yorkshireman and call a spade a spade. If I then paint that spade and it has muck on it, I’ll paint the muck as well unless it completely spoils the painting. It’s all a part of it”. His genuine love of wildlife and the great outdoors allow Carl to spectacularly capture the natural world in situ, creating magnificent works of art that echo nature’s own beauty and ingenuity.

Today, Carl works from a small studio in the bungalow of his in-laws. “The room is actually utter chaos to anyone who looks in; but I know where every little thing is. Looking at it you would never believe what a perfectionist I am.” And while his workspace may not be convincing evidence of his perfectionism, his long working hours certainly are. Working late into the night by the light of his natural daylight lamp, Carl spends the majority of his time perched at his flat trestle table, meticulously perfecting his masterpieces. “I work very long, unsociable hours, 9am until Midnight 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, only calling home for mealtimes and bedtime. Although I’m lucky that I am free to just nip home to my wife and take a couple of hours for a spot of lunch at our local garden centre or a leisurely coffee, I do have to make up the time by working a little later at night. I’m a ‘one man show’ and I have deadlines to meet.”

Yet despite his rigorous working schedule, Carl still finds time to enjoy his home county. Living in Yorkshire has perks for any of its inhabitants—diverse landscapes, friendly folk and more than our fair share of breweries—but for Carl the best thing about living and working in Yorkshire is the inspiration its secret places bequeath. “I can walk from my house in Barwick-in-Elmet and be in total solitude within 10 minutes, in lovely countryside that has been my home since I was 4 years old.  If I’m looking for inspiration, I can always find it here.”

View Carl's full biography and available work here.