Portrait of the artist
Northampton oil painter Cordell Garfield shows us around his new studio
By Sarah Ward
If ever anyone was born to be an artist, surely it’s Cordell Garfield.
It’s such a perfect name for someone of his profession, that when we meet at his studio at the newly opened Vulcan Works in Fetter Street, Northampton, I ask him whether it is the one he was given at birth.
“Yes,” he says. “It sort of works. I can’t work out why my dad came up with it because he is such a straight guy, but he got the name from Cordell Hull, who was US secretary of state in the forties and fifties. My dad heard it and decided to call me it.”
Born and bred in Northampton, it is his father’s former profession within the footwear industry (he was a leather buyer for Church’s) that is the subject of his current series of paintings.
In his studio are arranged a number of canvases he has painted of people at work in the town’s remaining shoe factories. The collection pays homage to Northampton’s history and its place today as one of the last in the UK where quality leather shoes are being made.
Craftspeople working at Trickers, Crockett and Jones, Spring Line and Cheaney are depicted in the paintings, practising a skill which has almost been lost and feels like it belongs to another era.
“I just approached a lot of the shoe factories and said ‘look, do you mind me coming in and being a bit of a pest, going around your factory, taking photos and sketching?’ and they said ‘yes’.
“The reason for me doing it is to celebrate Northampton and its shoe industry and just say ‘look we are the world renowned capital of quality shoes’.”
The paintings are fantastic - you can almost smell the leather being worked on. They are painted with a rich intensity and there is an earnestness to how he has captured the workers, paying tribute to the shoe making skills which once would have possessed by many Northamptonshire folk but are now practised by a few.
Although the collection is not finished - he is currently working on a painting of some machine workers in Cheaney - a couple of the paintings have been shown at the nearby Northampton Museum and Art Gallery on Guildhall Road and he is planning to do a full exhibition.
Trickers, who make shoes for King Charles, have bought a print which will be displayed at their London store.
The road to being a full-time representational artist started in his childhood days. He was always drawing (mostly footballers from his team Manchester United) but despite his talent (he won a few competitions as a child) he did not take any art qualifications, following the school’s advice to go down the computing route instead of art.
After studying English Literature at Leicester De Montfort he then went into a career in finance, spending 30 years working at Northampton’s Nationwide headquarters.
But throughout the years of number crunching he was drawing, taking courses in London in classical painting techniques at places such as the renowned Slade School and the London Studio of Fine Arts.
Being made redundant from the bank a few years ago was a catalyst for becoming a full time artist and since then he has not looked back.
“It’s perfect,” he says when I suggest he’s now living his best life. “It took a long while but I got there in the end.”
He paints in oils and is an expert on the subject. In our conversation he explained the process of painting thin to fat (first of all you start with thin layers of paint before building up with thicker layers - this stops the cracks) and how the oils can take up to six months to dry before having a final varnish put on them.
Cordell draws and paints with a freehand style, working directly from a life model sat in front of him or from photographs.
“I wanted to paint oils like the old masters but put my own spin on it - make it a bit more contemporary,” he tells me.
“You do have to work at it. Nothing replaces practice. Constantly doing it everyday.”
He takes his dedication to the art to extraordinary levels - even studying anatomy to help ensure his portraits are true to life.
“That’s critical,” he says. “I need to know what’s going on behind the clothes. It’s the same thing as all the masters would have done. You need to know what’s going on to paint the face.”
As well as the portraits he also paints landscapes, and many of the canvases in his studio are works depicting local scenes.
His paintings range in price from prints for £50 to several hundreds, depending how much time he spends. A larger canvas can take him 50-60 hours to complete.
He spends five days a week in his studio, making his living by selling his artworks, doing commissions, exhibitions and also hosting portrait workshops.
Cordell is holding his next portrait workshop on April 22 at the Northampton Museum. He also holds them regularly at Yardley Arts in Yardley Hastings and will also be demonstrating and teaching at the Alfred East gallery in Kettering when it reopens.
To find out more visit his website.
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