'How long did that take you then?' A question that my paintings often provoke - I am frequently asked it and have to try hard not to groan in response. My instinct is to reply 'I don't know' (often true, but a disappointing answer) or 'does it matter?' (brusque and rude). Instead I politely give a rough estimate - anything from a few weeks to several months depending on the size and complexity. This attempt at prosaic honesty rarely satisfies anybody, and it probably occurs to the questioner and myself simultaneously that perhaps I'm a bit of an anorak.
But the 'how long...' question is an interesting one. Why would an artist make a hard-won representational painting in an age that is saturated with imagery, not least high definition digital photography and films? For me, it is an act of love and faith. I believe it is of the utmost importance that at least some artists continue to engage with a detailed and deliriously discriminating representation of the world around them. Working slowly, patiently, against the grain of mass-culture/image/media/money/celebrity. Photography and film have their own visual language that overlaps realistic painting but cannot replace it - the individual human eye and touch, the infinite number of aesthetic decisions of pictorial representation: these are the bedrock of all kinds of painting, but in particular that which deals with the shifting sands of 'realism'. It remains relevant and is worth the effort, however long it takes.
Above all, I want my painting to be a kind of alchemy that discovers magic in the reality of the everyday; that transcends the everyday even as it celebrates it; that uses stuff and makes magic from it.
- Steve Whitehead, 2014