Conversation with Tony Karpinski about his art and love of London
"I'm like a fly when I'm in London, watching a fast moving city around me in a slow motion" says Tony Karpinski while we are climbing one of the hills in Greenwich Park. "I live just outside London now and I miss the city so when I'm actually here in London I'm just so excited observing people. I don't look for action, just simple beauty. I love people and I love painting them. I don't like painting buildings and I don't like straight lines" He adds with a smile.
I'm trying to imagine this fit looking man in his late forties as a fly buzzing around and taking snaps of people with his camera... We have now climbed up to the top of The Royal Observatory hill and I can't help but tell him about the days when thousands would have come here to enjoy fairs. One of their favourite pastimes was tumbling down the hill. "It was notorious for creating 'sweet disorder in the dress' of pretty girls so there were always some onlookers waiting at the bottom of the hill. I'm sure that if we let your over 80 thousand Twitter admirers know you are here, and if you would like to see this custom re-enacted, there would be many volunteers flocking here" I joke. "Everyone would love to be part of one of your fabulous oil paintings" I add with a sigh as needless to say it is my dream as well.
"People love your London scenes, and London is in your heart but somehow it is been only a few months since you started painting your beloved city. I know you have been painting since you were 4 and a half. Why so late?" I ask an obvious question as we walk towards another viewing point."
"That is indeed a very good question. I was born in London, in Westminster. I had London at my doorsteps but I wanted something else. The point is, I wanted to see exotic animals and places. I found some photos and went to London zoo"
"And you did travel a lot in the end; Africa, India." I add while remembering vividly what an unforgettable impression his wildlife paintings made on me when I saw them for the first time.
"I studied at Chelsea Arts School and then I was working as an illustrator and in advertising but I grew tired of it, tired of meeting deadlines and working on things I didn't always enjoy doing. One day, it must have been some 20 years ago, I painted some wildlife and then to my surprise it sold for £ 1.500 so I decided to take a risk and go to Africa."
"And London, why so late?" I gently remind him ... "I think it has been a process, necessary apprenticeship and it's only now that I know how to paint London. My wildlife is very photographic. I wanted to paint London in a different way. I wanted to loosen my style" he explains.
I have just seen Tony's London oil paintings on display at Decorative Art Fair at Battersea where I spent quite a while admiring them. I know exactly what he means. While his wildlife looks very much like photos the brushwork in London oils is more 'liberal'.
"And why do you paint on board and not canvas for example?" I ask another question as we are now watching a parakeet in a tree on this glorious sunny day.
"It started when I was working on some pastiches of Dutch masters. They used oak boards but obviously I couldn't do the same so I started using MDF board." Tony smiles again. I can tell he is happy doing what he does.
Sadly, we don't really have time for a proper tour around Greenwich Park but I manage to show Tony a couple of beautiful giant Chinese chestnut trees that must have been planted here during the reign of Charles II in 1660s. "These trees must have seen a lot" he remarks with awe and that is exactly what I'm thinking as well.
It's time for a well-deserved cup of coffee for me and green tea for Tony and we happily sit down upstairs in The Pavilion Café with the view over the park.
"It is only the beginning for me when it comes to London. It is a long way... There is so much more I want to paint, so many places. I want to paint rainy London, The Thames, and London by night. It is just a start of an adventure." Tony refers to one of his favourite London paintings which depicts a couple of women walking past, in front of a man watching them intensely. The background is a poster with an exotic place and a slogan "Start the Adventure".
We end up discussing art and artists in general and how long it can take to paint a masterpiece. I mention one of my favourite Victorian painters James Whistler and that famous exchange in the Whistler – Ruskin court case:
"(Attorney General): 'Now, Mr Whistler, can you tell me how long it took to knock off that nocturne?
(Whistler): I beg your pardon? (laughter)
... I should have said, how long did it take you to paint that picture?
... As well as I remember, about a day.
... Only a day?
... Well, I won't be quite positive: I may have still put a few more touches to it the next day if the painting were not dry. I had better say then, that it was two days at work on it.
... Oh, two days! The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas!
...No; - I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime' "
Tony agrees that it is the final result that matters. He has been painting over 40 years now. It has been a lifetime.
In case of London paintings by Tony Karpinski the final result is a work of a genius who captures people as they go about their daily business in London with great ease and unquestionable talent. Here is an artist who captures the soul of this amazing city.
It is now time to go down the hill and back to the car park where I'm collecting from Tony a signed print of "Cheetah Cub in Tree", his generous gift to the Rose Playhouse, Bankside towards fundraising for Rose Revealed Project.
As I'm walking back home I start toying in my mind with an idea of setting up a special Karpinski Art Fund in a piggy bank which I could carry round with me and collect tips after my walks ("Please tip your guide generously!"). Perhaps one day I will be able to buy one of those superb London oils Tony keeps creating. In the meantime, I'll be regularly checking his Twitter account and waiting for him to share photos of his new London paintings.
For updates about Tony Karpinski's London oil paintings follow him on Twitter @tonykarpinski
To see his wildlife and other art work visit http://tonykarpinski.net/
I'm a volunteer at The Rose Playhouse, Bankside and editor of Friends of The Rose Newsletter. We are most grateful to Tony Karpinski for his gift to help us fundraise for our Rose Revealed Project. We also hope he will find time to visit us soon at the Rose.
Please read more about the Rose and the Rose Revealed Project at http://www.rosetheatre.org.uk/
The Whistler-Ruskin exchange has been quoted after Thea Holme from her book "Chelsea".