Resident Artist Half Moon Putney: your questions answered

What does being Resident Artist at the Half Moon Putney involve?

An artist residency allows an artist to practice their art in another community.  As Resident Artist at the Half Moon Putney, I'm proud to be part of the revival of one of the capital’s longest running, & world renowned, live music venues, synonymous with The Rolling Stones, where, since the early 1960s, some of the biggest names in popular music have performed. I find myself in very good company as music residencies have included Elvis Costello & Steve Marriott of the Small Faces. Artist residencies allow individuals to explore their practice within another community. As a trained portrait artist, fascinated by performers, I seek to capture the creative energy of many of the Half Moon’s best loved acts.

Stella Tooth resident artist Half Moon Putney with her portrait of Police Dog Hogan's Eddie Bishop.

What have you learned from your residency?

I’ve come to understand that whether you are a visual artist or a performing artist, work is not complete until listeners hear it or viewers see it. But artists and performers work in different ways.  Artists spend time alone in the studio creating their work, and can wait even longer to find out what the viewer thinks of it, whereas performer art only exists in front of an audience (even if online with comments or chat in these days of social distancing) which gives immediate feedback. The creative energy that comes from performing live – from the excitement of knowing that things can go wrong – fascinates me, as my creative process is to constantly change as I create, more akin to performers rehearsing their sound and ‘look’ before a gig.

What makes a good gig?

The music of course and whether a good vibe is created between the performers and the audience.  Visually I’m interested in the ‘look’ of the band, what they wear, the shapes they throw as they move to the beat and the way they interact with their instruments.  Stage lighting also helps to create atmosphere and contrast – important in helping recreate the illusion of 3D in 2D media like painting or drawing.

New Moon resident artist Half Moon Putney exhibition flyer.

What band have you most enjoyed portraying?

Whichever I’m portraying at the time!  It’s exciting drawing or painting bands that have written their own music as, the first time they play it’s like me exhibiting a new body of artwork.  So, when Catfish launched their new album ‘Broken Man’ under the ‘New Moon’ banner at the Half Moon Putney, you could sense their anxiety, their growing confidence at the audience reaction and their pride.  I have also gained insight and respect for tribute bands – like The Rollin Stoned and the Ultimate Beatles – who help audiences understand and appreciate the works of others using their own skills to recreate their ‘look’ and sound without letting their own personality dominate.

What’s your technique?

I trained as a portrait artist working from life.  But, as I find it impossible to draw in a venue with lights down, I take photographs a step apart to help me recreate in the studio the binocular vision that allows us to see in 3D.  As a former journalist and news PR, reportage interests me so my drawings and paintings in the moment seek to portray not only the likeness, personality and mood of the performer but their movement and relationship with the other band members with the audience.  By abstracting the backgrounds I hope to create the mood of the music.

What's your favourite music?

I like a broad range of music from instrumental (think Julian Bream and John Williams, Ry Cooder and Leo Kottke) to sixties rock and roll (from Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things to The Kinks, The Animals and Roy Orbison).  I love a lot of American musicians from the sixties too (like Paul Simon, Creedence, Little Feat, JJ Cale, The Beach Boys) and those who influenced my favourite bands (from Mississippi John Hurt to young Elvis, Buddy Holly and The Everleys).  In terms of punk early Elvis Costello has got to be up there, then 2 tone bands liked The Specials...The list is endless really and the Half Moon Putney has introduced me to so many fantastic new bands like Americana band Police Dog Hogan and tex mex Los Pacaminos with Paul Young.  If you ask me what Spotify tells me are my favourites then I'd have to say the blues wins out (think The Blues Brothers) but there's a bit of country music mixed in there too (think Oh Brother Where art thou? Johnny Cash and Laura Cantrell) when it's mixed with something else and is not in its purest form. Who can resist music that tells stories?  And then there's the  side of me that loves languages and can't resist Cajun, Los Lobos, The Buena Vista Social Club, Gloria Estefan in Spanish, Kate and Anna McGarrigle - and the themes tunes to The Godfather and Young Montalbano!

Big screen in Half Moon Putney with news of Stella Tooth as resident artist.

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