Born 1968, London (BA Hons, Fine Art – Trent University). Neal has lived and worked in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
“I have to begin with my years at art school which remain influential to this day. At Trent University two notable contemporaries; Tim Noble and Sue Webster, encouraged my experimentation. Here my practice evolved from painting to printmaking and then to sculptural installation very much in the manner of the Chapman brothers. Following art school my experience diversified even more through my work as a prop maker and scenic artist in film and TV including a couple of years at Spitting Image as a puppet co-ordinator. It was here I met my wife, and embarked on a path that led to moving to New Zealand (1998) where I started painting again.
Now as a painter, my concerns revolve around coming to terms with the visual language and natural environment of my new home on the one hand, and an artist’s desire to have a painterly dialogue with the history of painting as well as creating rich experiences for audiences who may not be steeped in art history. Exploring my new environment I have discovered subjects that can evoke strong emotional responses. For me, the flax plant conjures childhood memories of playing hide and seek. As a painter I find that when people reminisce in relation to a painting it enables them to get drawn into the painterly aspects of the work as well.
Despite many shifts in my work and circumstances I have been consistently interested in blending visual languages, and in exploring how the languages of colour, texture, pattern and abstract forms can inform and cross-reference each other. One focus has been to develop work that uses the illusion of a photographic ‘depth of field’ to allow images to slip in and out of pictorialism and abstraction through shifting the viewer’s conscious reactions to colour, composition, and form. This is a process that also creates a visual tension between the painting’s surface and the illusion of space (depth). The visual tensions between photographic depth and abstract flatness are most evident in the large scale paintings where I have scaled up the subject until it is almost unrecognizable at a glance. For my example, my recent flax paintings have the emotive pull I am looking for, but they are also about the abstract planes created by the leaves weaving in and out through each other.
While these painterly interests infuse my work, I am also interested in creating a variety of sensual experiences and reactions across a spectrum of work from the lighter side of nature’s beauty (through pattern and vibrant colour) to darker considerations that draw on references to the fleeting nature of that beauty. For me there is a luscious beauty on the colours and surfaces of the flax bush, but also something sinister, something hidden and powerful.
I want my paintings to relate on as many levels as possible but with an overriding search for quality of mark-making that lifts the painting beyond the material world. It is this that drives me to paint.”