He may be a kitchen fitter by trade, but Ross Lockhart’s love of drawing looks set to eclipse the day job, given that he has been shortlisted for a top artistic prize and is entering his work into the revered BP Portrait prize for 2017. Eileen Leahy chats to him and discovers how he juggles his passion for art with the world of Agas

Tell us a little bit about your artistic work…
It focuses on people. Strictly speaking, I guess I’d be classified as a portraiture artist with some emphasis on the human form. Although those that know me would say the female form dominates most of my work, and I wouldn’t disagree with that. It has been inspiration for artists for millennia, and for me it holds no less power.

Which materials do you work with?
Charcoal is my ‘first love’, and is a medium I always come back to as it is both challenging to use but equally forgiving. I do like to mix things up, though, and enjoy working with other ‘dry’ mediums, such as pastel and pencils and also oil paint, collage and soft pastel, often on the same piece. I really enjoy texture in art.

Are you formally trained?
Sadly not. I first picked up a stick of charcoal about five years ago. I was working in medical insurance at the time and would sit on my bed in the evenings practising portrait after portrait. When each piece became considerably better than the last one, it quickly became my passion!

You’re clearly in possession of a natural artist talent, then?
I used to doodle a lot at school, but never had it occurred to me to dedicate any serious time to fine art. The college I went to for
A levels did not have the facilities to offer Art as a subject, so I studied History of Art instead. This gave me a solid understanding of process and technique, which is much more than a fine art degree would have offered.

What do you love about art so much?
It has this intangible power to seduce, inspire, challenge and reflect. It can elevate our thoughts beyond the daily doldrums of life and test to a point where we are forced to reconsider things we might have previously taken for granted. I remember, seeing Da Vinci’s cartoon of the Madonna with Child when I was 15. I think it was at the V&A, and I remember feeling enchanted by the work. The artist clearly never intended the piece to be viewed as it was, but in that unfinished and unpolished work there was a charm that sticks with me today. That’s what I love about art, the power to connect with the viewer on such a fundamental and profound level. Of course, it is different for everyone, but that is its magic for me.

How much time do you spend on it?
As much as I can: I still have so much to learn and explore. They say it takes at least ten years to master a craft, but you can spend a lifetime on anything and still learn new things. Staying open-minded is key. My inner critic keeps me challenged daily and won’t let me rest on my laurels. The quest to always improve is at the forefront of what I do. My only regret is that I cannot spend more time on my art.

Tell us about your other work…
I have a day job as a kitchen installer, and have had a very diverse vocational history over the years; from professional wood turner to sommelier, with many things in between. I work with a friend and we fit a kitchen a week, sometimes two when we must. It’s a very physical job but I enjoy working with my hands. There is a lot of problem-solving involved – much like with my art.
It’s the challenge that I enjoy, plus it is lovely to work in people’s homes and to transform their living space. For me the kitchen is the most important room in the house (apart from my studio!) I love to cook!

 How do you fit your art in around working full-time?
I cannot lie, it is difficult to dedicate as much time as I want to the art but like all things, if you want to see it happen you just must find the time. Most days all you want to do is soak in hot bath and have a hearty meal after a hard day’s work, but if I don’t push myself and steal an hour or two to work on a piece I know it will never get done.

Which other artists inspire you?
Well, that is like asking ‘what is your favourite music?’! Due to my History of Art background, I must confess that I am a classicist at heart.
I feel that there is a huge lack of beauty in much modern art. It seems to have lost its love for the aesthetic aspect. In recent years, the focus has been to shock and challenge audiences. I must have viewed it a thousand times, but Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is still one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen.
There are some great contemporary British artists that are fighting to put the beauty back in art. Two artists I would love to buy a pint for are Mark Demsteader and Guy Denning – their work is both contemporary, relevant and beautiful.

What else inspires your work?
People: Every face tells a story and every story has an audience. I am very inspired at just how powerful the human expression can be. From year dot, we look at the faces of our parents, long before our grasp of language, and we look at them for acceptance, encouragement, sympathy and guidance. As children, a smile can secure us and a frown can make us cry.
I don’t think we ever lose that. Just look at modern media these days, from films and magazines to social networking: We live in the age of the selfie. It is that basic need to communicate through expression and the conversation between the viewed and the viewer that really inspires me. This isn’t a new thing, though. Just how long has Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa puzzled people with her ambiguous smile?

Have you had any exhibitions before? If so, where?
There was a period, when I first met my wife Jessica, when I was continually exhibiting for the best part of three years. Most shows were held locally in Tunbridge Wells, but I have shown a few pieces in Scotland, too.
I took a sabbatical for 12 months to build my portfolio as I was selling much of what I exhibited and struggled to build a body of work.
I am not complaining at all, but when you want to exhibit in several places at once, you really need a large portfolio! My wife has been great: Her support and encouragement has been vital to me getting my work out there and in the public eye.

What’s next for Ross Lockhart?
A lot of hard work. Of course, I want to be doing the art full-time and that is what I have been working towards for some time now. I will be entering the BP portrait awards for 2017. There are a few other opportunities I have an eye on, too. These are exciting times. I am not looking to be the next big thing, it’s just nice to be involved. If any of my paintings can inspire someone the same way Da Vinci’s Cartoon of the Madonna with Child inspired me, then it makes it all worthwhile.
I guess you just have to ‘watch this space’.

Ross’s latest show, ‘Prohibition’, has its exclusive preview on December 7 at 7pm at the Vale Vault,
2 High Street, Tunbridge Wells, 01892 510133
www.thebedfordtw.co.uk/vale-vault

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