Cork-based artist: Nature is the inspiration for my works of art

Cork artist Tobias Hodson tells CHRIS DUNNE how he tries to bring the great outdoors indoors in his work, which can currently be seen in Ballymaloe Grainstore
Cork-based artist: Nature is the inspiration for my works of art

AT ONE WITH NATURE: Examples of the art of Tobias Hodson which are on display the Grainstore in Ballymaloe for the month of June

TALENTED artist Tobias Hodson is presenting a collection of his recent paintings at the Grainstore in Ballymaloe.

His exotic tropical birds, exquisitely detailed botanicals, and lush landscapes will be on display for the entire month of June.

Working from his studio in Ballyandreen in East Cork, Tobias’s work is inspired by nature and natural history.

The exhibition offers a mix of large water-colours and less traditional images in oil painted on glass. In addition to 30 original paintings, a selection of high-quality prints in a variety of sizes are also available.

“It is good to get out,” says Toby of his work.

“Trees, colour, and air are good for the soul. Through my painting, I try to bring the outside in.

“I want my subjects to look as decorative as possible from the external world,” says Toby, who moved to East Cork from his native UK almost 30 years ago.

“Living with beautiful paintings that pay tribute to the natural world reminds us to slow down and helps us reconnect with nature,” he explains.

“Nature is my inspiration and subject matter, whether it is a traditional landscape, a bird, or a flower painting.”

How did Tobias start painting?

“I always drew and made stuff,” he says.

“It was my mother who taught me how to do a wash with watercolour - before I was 10, when on holiday in Suffolk.

“My dad was a cartoonist; he didn’t encourage me to go to art college. He could be a bit of a silverback. Maybe it threatened his territory. I used to go drawing with him. He told me to draw what I see.

“He was colour blind and used to get me to draw cards for people’s birthdays, so it seemed he encouraged, but actually he sabotaged stuff!”

Toby gets his inspiration from the natural world.

“Yes, from the natural world, first and last,” he agrees. 

Art by Tobias Hodson.
Art by Tobias Hodson.

“I have some understanding of natural history. But it is the way that three dimensions can be translated into two dimensional representation that gets me. It’s a puzzle that gets easier as I get older. The turn of a petal, one stem passing behind another, how a coloured surface changes in transition from light to dark.

“I admire Maria Sybilla, a 17th century naturalist. Fabulous painting of the natural world, especially her work in Surinam. This is a woman in the 1600s!

“Jaques , a 19th century artist, to my eye is still the best at bird portraits,” says Tobias.

“My subjects are drawn from the same well. Always colour, design, seeking to explain a very subjective view. Often, the materials I use bring inspiration.”

He uses Windsor and Newton paints and Arches paper. “They are so reliable,” says Tobias, “that even when sometimes it’s hard to start, the going gets easier.”

What is his routine when painting?

“It’s no use getting to the studio hoping to find inspiration there,” says Tobias.

“It won’t be there if you don’t bring it with you.

“However, settling into activity as soon as possible is a good start. Kettle on. Roll up. Coming into a trashed studio is lowering, so I try and tidy up the night before.

“Speech radio is on all day. It takes care of the bit of my head that would otherwise get bored.

“There is a great deal of slow methodical repetition required. Sometimes loud music is a great lift.

“Creedence Clearwater Revival get played more than most.”

Tobias Hodson moved to Cork from the UK 30 years ago.
Tobias Hodson moved to Cork from the UK 30 years ago.

There is a bit of work and outlay required to stage an exhibition.

“Staging an exhibition requires cash, even in a free venue,” says Tobias.

“Planning, framing, shipping, advertising and a dogged determination to go ahead. But as soon as you’re caught up in the process, its fun. 

"The Grainstore is so well equipped and the time-scale is free so this time I’m not feeling the usual pressure.”

What satisfaction does Tobias derive from painting?

“I don’t like jigsaws or puzzles, but both are similar to painting,” he says.

“I get satisfaction from many days or even weeks of steady work, eight or more hours a day, translating a mind image onto paper.

“The process is so intense; Jack London describes it as ‘being caught up in a flame’. Nothing else matters. I like fishing for the same reason.”

Tobias has advice for budding artists.

“Don’t tell anyone,” he says. “Seek out artists that chime with your view of the world - two or three - and study them, see what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, then copy, copy, copy. This will teach you how to draw.

Art by Tobias Hodson.
Art by Tobias Hodson.

“It’s time that is required. After a while you will understand your own graphic language. Soon you will need only your two or three for reference - and then you’re launched.

“It’s a very isolated existence. I am pretty much unknown, but I sell. If you know it’s for you, then go ahead.”

Does any show stand out for Tobias down the years?

“My first show was in the Courtyard in Midleton on the evening of 9/11. I didn’t think anyone would come, but they did.

“The Irish engage with art in a way foreign to me as an Englishman. Over there, when answering, ‘I am an artist’ to an enquiry, I still get the rejoinder, ‘And what’s your proper job?’ In Ireland never. Immediately I am told about their niece Sorcha at the Feis.”

Some sales stand out for Tobias.

“At the Affordable Art Fair in London, the show closed and I delivered a painting to a large house in Battersea. The door opened into a huge hall and I was greeted by the inquisitive gaze of one of my large parrot pictures hung dead across from the door. I had no idea it was there!”

“And getting a $10,000 sale for a giant ray I painted for my gallery in Palm Beach.”

Ann, Toby’s wife, explains how they landed in East Cork from Oxford.

“We researched and travelled to Ireland twice after the birth of our second son, looking for the right place for us to move from the UK,” says Ann.

“We were looking for wildness and natural beauty, sea, forests, a nice town and good schools. The whole south coast of Ireland is rich in all of those.

“But in 1996 we chose Midleton for the rugby culture and settled in an old farmhouse in Ballyandreen.

“Toby began coaching rugby on Saturdays along with a friend of ours, and our sons made rugby their first priority every day.

“A friend gave us a huge aquarium and Toby began rock pooling with our children and neighbours. They came home with crabs, and shrimp, starfish, sea anemones and buckets of beach glass.

“Toby began painting these creatures in watercolour with the children.

“One day, he painted a wonderful John Dory that was so good that one of our neighbours wanted to buy it. That was the beginning of his painting career, which got up and running alongside his landscape and gardening business.

“It was fish and sea creatures only for a while and then came two big mermaid pictures and then he began painting flowers and birds.

“A giant Goliath Cockatoo and a pair of agapanthuses ere picked out by a visitor from Florida to Ballymaloe, who showed then to a design gallery there and who then started selling every big picture Toby could paint.”

Other things happened.

“Then came a long period of caring for elderly family members, which put a stop to much of the painting, but he is now painting freely and constantly again. We live in Garryvoe now.

“Next up, large studies in oil and canvas of the fantastic seaweed varieties on our beaches - the colours are other-worldly and extraordinary - as well as a new series of wave paintings.”

Toby is excited about the exhibition.

“The Grainstore is a wonderful space to hole my exhibition,” he says.

“All are welcome to view and enjoy my paintings during the month of June.”

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