Ivan Lloyd working on a portrait of 'Abdu'l-Baha

Ivan Lloyd is not your typical painter whose art is displayed at a local art gallery. He has traveled the world--from the farthest corners of the West to Oriental China. This might explain why the Orientalists are his favorite painters. But then, again, he also admires artists like Jackson Pollock. I think it is safe to say that Ivan is a world citizen in the true sense of the word. But this doesn't take away from his essentially English character.

Born in Coventry, England, at an early age he was sent to a boarding school where they disciplined children in what Ivan calls "a barbaric English tradition". The school "succeeded in achieving little more than cultivating pupils who worried incessantly about upcoming exams," which produced boys destined "to become human machines best suited to colonizing and ruling overseas," says Ivan in this most engrossing interview.

What the strict discipline did was to teach Ivan bravery and to be unafraid of world travel. And this is what he did. At a certain point someone commissioned Ivan to do a painting related to the Baha'i Faith and he travelled all the way to Iran to do some research. As he studied more about the Faith, he realized that the philosophy propounded by Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the religion, appealed to him. Soon he was painting the Faith's heroes and produced a book on one of its heroines named Tahirih.

Ivan Lloyd's commissioned works adorn the walls of some of the most prestigious institutions and homes in the world. But don't ask Ivan to talk about artistic glory, he's much too modest to invest any degree of energy on vanity or conceit. Painting for him is a job like any other. One becomes a pro at his trade and then shares this expertise with others, a service done in the spirit of love.

I first noticed Ivan Lloyd's artwork about four years ago. At the time he was unreachable. I had emailed him a comment about one of his pieces but never received a reply. Perhaps he was in Iran? I didn't know. Then, two years ago, again I ran across mention of Ivan's work, but this time I didn't email him. I came across Ivan's artwork again last September (2002). This time I looked up beyond the towering tree branches and asked if "He" was trying to tell me something. So I emailed Ivan again, asking him if he would do this interview. To my amazement and surprise, Ivan answered my email. He told me he didn't feel he had anything to share with fellow artists and didn't think himself well placed for an interview. I disregarded his timidity and asked him to do the interview anyway. As you will see for yourself, Ivan Lloyd is an extremely interesting artist whose views and outlook are truly deep and different from mainstream beliefs. Was he ready for this interview? You bet!

Ivan Lloyd in 1962

How long have you been painting?
When I was twelve years old I went on vacation to Cornwall (England) and set up the easel on the harbor at Falmouth near Agatha Christie's home. I began painting a seascape. A few people walked over, curious to see what I was painting. Pretty soon a crowd gathered around me and I was totally unprepared for an audience. I didn't have a clue how to paint so I began to act as if I was experienced. So I went deep inside my mind in order to concentrate. During the course of a few hours I became increasingly more comfortable with the situation. It left a lasting impression on me and several times, over the years, when I've been painting a large mural in public, I work from that same familiar space I experienced as a youth where no one's thoughts or comments distract me.

I read an interview with John McLaughlin, the jazz guitarist, where he said that when he got on stage before an audience he strove to achieve a mental state where he was in total communion with God before beginning the performance. He said success with such a mental state was rare but achievable. Is this the same thing as your "familiar space"?

I can't say it's like that for me, because improvising as a painter differs from the precision demanded of musicians. It's more about warming up as I proceed to work. For the first half-hour I'm dealing with that conversation in my head, you know, that inner voice that brays like a parent. Instead of trying to suppress the dialogue I let it ramble on until I don't listen anymore. About the same time, my brush strokes become automatic and there's an inner peace. That state of being has little do with identity, let's say, me the composer, or me the artist. On the contrary! The thought process is more of an intellectual hindrance to the creative process. Rather than impose my imagery on the canvas, I strive to be an instrument, or conduit, for images to manifest from another plane, in spite of my ego. It's a fluid organic process and from that point of view it is that "familiar space," that inner sanctum, if you will.

Ivan Lloyd in 1966.

In that case you would advocate artists should practice some form of mental exercise or yoga as a way to silence the babbling that goes on in the mind; babbling which interferes with the creative process?
The creative process is so uniquely individual, each person approaches it differently. I don't recommend yoga or mental exercises to quieten that babbling brook we call the thought process. You can't silence or subdue this phenomena without concentrated breathing exercises, leading to deep meditation, which implies shutting down the senses to outside stimuli, in which case you'd be in no condition to paint. The painting process in itself is good enough therapy, and letting go of preconceived ideas is helpful in achieving the same results, without meditation.

Is there any particular reason why you chose a career as painter?
It's a job like any other, but probably one of the hardest in which to accomplish any degree of success. Many people use art as a therapeutic process and that's understandable. I feel the art world, like the music industry, is a big monster that you keep feeding. It will eat you alive; take everything you've got to give and still ask for more. Most people get out when they feel naked. Its easy being an artist at 19, it doesn't make any sense when your 35 and your friends are making tons of money on the stock market. Then at 50 it becomes easy again and like water you find your own level of acceptance within the industry. The big monster rises out of the water and you're sitting comfortably on its back oblivious to how your former friends are faring because you have an inner peace that money can't buy.

You can start anywhere. For example, as a teenager I was in a town called Avignon in the South of France and needed some money, so I walked down the main market street until I came across a sign above a boulangerie (bakery) that was peeling and weathered. I asked the shopkeeper, in broken French, if I could repaint it for him. He reluctantly agreed, and after settling on a price I set to work. I made the sign as beautiful as I could, putting far more effort in than the job demanded. I was almost finished when another storeowner asked if I could paint his storefront with lettering and assorted vegetables. The situation soon changed from my begging for work to people inviting me into their homes as an honored guest .

Ivan Lloyd in 1992

Do you feel your peers may have influenced the career path you've chosen?
A personal weakness in my character is that my friends influence me. In the sixties, when I was at art school, that meant "Turning on, tuning in and dropping out." Trying something new and having the strength to say, "Its not for me" or, as in my case, burning my bridges so often that crossing the river became a balancing act on a high wire. In the final analysis, however, it may be better than never having strayed from the nest. After all, as a councilor, you can't tell a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, "Just say no! " when you have no idea what demons they are dealing with. That's too simplistic. Similarly, you can't naively approach the issue of racism with a flower in your hand and say, "I'm not prejudiced" and expect to be accepted because you're using a linguistic format. Friends, family, all aspects of your past experiences, struggles and triumphs go into the painting you're currently working on. This, simply stated, is "soul", and something we all respond to when we see it in a work of art.

Where were you born and raised?

Ivan Lloyd in 1992

I was born in Coventry England. At an early age, I was sent to a boarding school in Rugby. This is a barbaric English tradition that doesn't make any more sense to me today --as a parent of a five-year-old-- than it did to me at the time I was a student. The rigorous schedule of discipline was a blueprint of mendacity, which succeeded in achieving little more than cultivating pupils who worried incessantly about upcoming exams and hated oatmeal porridge. The cold showers and regular bullying produced boys destined to become independent and human machines best suited to colonizing and ruling overseas.

The Water Bearer, by Ivan Lloyd

The Sacred Shrine, by Ivan Lloyd

Can you tell us a bit more about your ethnic background?
Both of my parents are English. My Mother was from a coal mining village in Wales called the Rhonda Valley. (Birthplace of Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas, Richard Harris and Tom Jones). My great grandfather was from Mongolia, somehow he jumped ship in Cardiff and passed down a distinctive oriental gene through my whole family, on my mother's side.

Oh! That's interesting. Might this account for the
fact that you're attracted to oriental art?
Perhaps, but most people are attracted to the serenity of the Orient and the distinctly calming influence of the Far East. Strangely enough, that peacefulness comes from the extreme pressures of life, the hustle bustle of the overcrowded oriental street markets. Symbolically there's a correlation between oriental art and the lotus flower, which represents Buddhist philosophy, in the sense that beauty thrives in the polluted streams of India and the Far East. From an artistic perspective, however, I work in the traditional European style which is reworking and building up layers of paint to achieve an illusionary effect, whereas Oriental Artists, as you know, work with inks and are more concerned with a fluid line and a spontaneous expression.

Can you remember any art influences during your childhood?
We had a reproduction of Fran Hal's, "The Laughing Cavalier," in our living room. We lived in a large farmhouse near Warwick Castle, an area which, as the name Coventry suggests, was steeped in witchcraft. The painting emanated such an uplifting energy that embodied the Royalist side of the War of the Roses when Oliver Cromwell 's austere Protestant army oppressed the free English spirit. I had a dislike for organized religion from an early age and a love of the romantic tavern dwellers as epitomized in that painting.

Later I learned that Frans Hals, a celebrated Dutch painter, had a rigorous brush stroke that only gave the appearance of delicate and intricate lace work. This left an indelible impression on my memory, and something I still attempt to achieve, even though I spend months trying to obtain the same result. Nothing distresses me more than an overworked or tight painting such as photo-realism which, in my opinion, has almost nothing to do with the creative process.

Would you put the works of Adolphe-William Bouguereau or that of Vermeer in the category of "photo-realism"?
No. I was referring to modern day illustrators and copyists who reproduce photographs to the point you have to look twice to see if it's a painting or not. It's close to being a clinical form of expression, in my opinion. Wondering if a painting is really a photograph is not a redeeming factor, or a good reason to be doing a double take on a work of art hanging on a wall, and the emotion aroused is merely one of curiosity. Such paintings, however proficiently executed, lack soul. The artists you mentioned are part of an earlier art movement one might classify as Classical or Baroque, who under pressure from the Catholic Church painted as realistically as possible. Their desire, it may be safe to presume, was to portray their subjects in a warm compassionate light. Today we might regard their work as sentimental.

Ivan Lloyd's Studio

In what way would you say photo-realism has nothing to do with the creative process?
Isn't it "art", just the same?
Well, yes, gardening is an art form after all, so is cooking. I was referring to the premise that when you're copying a photograph, or using it as a devise, it's barely self-expression, merely clever. You have one point as yourself, the artist, the second point as the photographic reference, and the third point is the canvas, so you're establishing the eternal triangle. A romantic relationship, by definition, is one-on- one with your partner. Similarly, the creative process is best experienced when there is a direct relationship between the artist and the canvas without the interference of a point of reference.

What were some of the things that may have inspired you to become an artist outside of family influence?
I had worked quite a lot at home during the holidays with my oil paints. Painting traditional still life's and such. We had a new art teacher one year and after our first class he put all our paintings on the wall, in order of merit, not knowing who painted what. Mine fell in the middle and as he critiqued each one he came to mine and said "The soft style of this boy is most suited to painting religious subjects. He probably works in oil paints or something?" as we were working in tempera at the time, I was amazed that he could tell something like that from my painting style. I realized there was something mystical and recognizable to the trained eye about medium in general.

The Garden of Sheykh Obeyd, by Ivan Lloyd.

Nile Valley, by Ivan Lloyd.

Trotters, by Ivan Lloyd.

'Abdu'l - Baha & Shoghi Effendi

Where was your very first art gallery show? My first one-man show was at the American Legation in Tangiers, Morocco, in 1965.

It was a show for politicians who had a favorable opinion of art, then?
Many diplomats and Consulate officials from other Embassy's came to the show. But they weren't really au fait, because they kept asking totally irrelevant questions. For example, we were looking at a nude peasant girl holding flowers and the diplomat asked me, "Is this representative of your view of the current political situation in the world?"

Did you stay on in Tangiers?
The show allowed me to develop a rapport with some of the residents of Tangiers. I began giving private lessons to Madame Rose, a French lady who made hats in her store named, "Chapeau de Paris." She couldn't speak a word of English. She helped me establish a rich clientele and I began to undertake portrait commissions. Pretty soon I became accepted into a large circle of writers that included William Burroughs and Paul Bowles,

and the Jazz musician Randy Western. Tangiers in the late sixties was a veritable den of iniquity and I lived the adventurous life of a Bohemian.

Can you talk to us about the subject of your books?
My most popular book entitled, "Tahirih: A Poetic Vision," is available through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. It's the authenticated, illustrated story of a Persian poetess named Tahirih, who heralded a new age of equality for women in a male dominated society. Renowned for her virtuous beauty, Tahirih had thousands of followers from Baghdad to Constantinople. On one occasion she removed her veil before an assembly of pious believers, which marked the breaking away from the established traditions of Islam and the birth of a new Faith. Tahirih's popularity challenged the authority of the despotic religious leaders so she was declared a heretic and placed under house arrest. Eventually she was strangled, with her own veil, for her beliefs and her dieing words are reputed to be: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."

Amazing! And in what year did all this take place?
Around 1852. It is significant to note that the Woman's Suffrage movement, in the United States, took place at about the same time that Tahirih's followers began to remove their veils throughout Persia and the Middle East. As you might know, the removal of a veil was a completely scandalous thing to do at that time, as it still is today in many parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The courage manifested by these women had a rippling effect, providing encouragement to women in other parts of the world to take charge of their lives rather than being dominated by the whims of men.

Is any of your work licensed out to, say, companies that sell posters and prints?
After painting scenery for the Southern Arizona Opera Company for over eight years, I had a show at a Gallery in Tucson of a series of figurative work that I'd been working on casually during the off season. It was a sell out show and I was approached by a patron and commissioned to document what I thought at the time was some obscure Persian culture. It was quite a challenge, but fortunately I'd traveled overland to India around 1972 so I was familiar with the architecture and people of the region. I was presented with the stories and some early photographs from the archives. What began, as a six-month project became a ten-year odyssey as the more I studied the literature the more I became absorbed in the subject. Those prints are distributed by Images International, an organization out of Chattanooga Tennessee.

Tahirih Teaching in Baghdad, by Ivan Lloyd.

I don't understand. What was that "Persian culture"
you thought was obscure? And
what "literature" did you study?
I meant obscure in the sense that modern day Iran doesn't appear to play a significant role in current world affairs. The region is steeped in history and an ancient culture that once exerted a profound influence on that part of the world. One might even say it has now become another hotbed of Fundamental Islamic Extremism. So when I was approached to document some of the heroic scenes from the Baha'i Faith I had to look up the definition in the dictionary.
I agreed with all the principles the Baha'is held, such as gender and racial equality, as basic truths, relatively easy for an intelligent person to comprehend. At first I had a hard time accepting Baha'u'llah, its founder, as a "Manifestation of God," especially as I had always considered India as the spiritual center of the planet and Africa as the cradle of civilization. The more I read, however, the more I realized that Baha'u'llah had expounded these principles in the darkest region in the world in the midst of a religious demagoguery. Even more remarkable was the fact that this was way back in 1844 at a time when here, in America, most people were struggling with prejudice and bigotry. It was at this point that I realized Baha'u'llah's message was Divinely Inspired.

If I look around me, I can see racial prejudice that keeps a large portion of the population on this planet living in misery; I can see organized religion taking gross advantage of the power it yields because of that human need to believe.
You're right! Organized religion is somewhat of a contradiction in terms, but we can't ignore the fact that a higher intelligence has, throughout the ages, revealed its presence to humanity through a series of Divine Messengers, called "Prophets". The artist and his visionary insight has always been closely linked to spiritual reality. Ethnic cleansing and Fascism do not work, this basic principle is obvious to the artist. It's a child-like mentality that conjures up thoughts like, "I wish I could surround myself with the friends I like and get rid of everyone who doesn't agree with me." Although ignorance continues to fuel the fire of ethnic strife in various countries, any discerning observer will see that, on the whole, humanity is moving towards a harmonious and peaceful coexistence. This is not some daydream based on unrealizable idealism. It is humanity's destiny, happening before our very eyes. In the process, however, there will continue to be skepticism and cynicism. These emotions will simply be overwhelmed by the goodness that surrounds us and eventually everyone will be attracted to the New World Order. We have reached a stage in our collective evolution where we no longer need spiritual guidance from priests and clergy interpreting allegorical scriptures. I also have an aversion for the traditional concept of organized religion but I'm excited to share my knowledge of the Baha'i Revelation, which has no use for a fiefdom of clerical hierarchy. The worldwide Baha'i community is working together to raise the standard of living and education for every person alive so that we can share this planet with love and equanimity.

Mohan & Sent, by Ivan Lloyd.

What about your academic background? I suppose it's all British?
Yes, it is. The English school system is so different from the States it's almost impossible to translate into comprehendible language. During those formative years I attended St. Martins, an Art College in London.

I hear many artists complain that they had to make great efforts to undo a lot of their academic learning in order to begin creating as "true" artists. Then I hear artists who have not had academic training and regretting it. You've had a bit of both experiences. Where does one draw the line between truth and fiction here?

Interesting question. It sure is a mystery. It's not as easy as saying all beautiful looking people are vain and shallow and all plain looking people have an inner beauty. There is no generalization that applies here. You have to figure in talent, a God given gift, and education or lack of it. From the Sufi point of view "Life is a book that was written before we were born." Some people aspire for great artistic talent through a lifetime of Academic study to no avail, while others have greatness thrust upon them. Surely it has to do with one's station in life regardless of one's aspirations. Going back to your question. Take a musical instrument, say, a guitar, for example. It was designed to be played--rather than just looked at--by applying logic and mathematical principles. In fact, you can teach yourself to play with the aid of a book, but if you hold your thumb incorrectly it's a bad habit that can hinder your style, especially when you become proficient at the instrument. It's hard to unlearn a bad habit. Similarly there is a right and wrong way to control the medium and painting tools. So, it's best to have formal training on basic technique because you learn a lot faster with correct guidance. After a while, however, one needs to open up one's perception to outside influences--and it's hard to find that inner voice while inside the Academy. There is only one quality worth nurturing in one's work, and that is, "Soul". If you're fortunate, your efforts may contribute to the well-being of this ever-evolving civilization. In that case, one's artistic aspirations have some value, however insignificant one may consider one's own achievements to be.

In other words, academic learning is not an end in itself but a means to an end?
Absolutely. Techniques learned early stay with you and help you master the upward climb towards the summit. Higher learning suggests specialization, as in most professions, but eventually you have to enter the work force and contribute to the support of society, in whatever capacity you're best qualified to serve.

What about your first job as an artist. Do you remember that?
My first job was as a layout artist for a large Anglo American Advertising Agency called Hobson Bates.

How long were you with them? And what did you "layout", exactly?
I worked for a couple of years as a layout artist. I drew rough concepts and laid out the typestyle so that it balanced with the graphics. We also made graphs, called visual aids, for presentation by the account executives to clients. They demonstrated how the increase in sales, over a given period of time, justified their advertising budget. Methods were crude in those days, we used to analyze warrantee receipts from Black and Decker, for example, to estimate sales in a certain targeted area. Today, of course, it's all done by inventory computers, so are the graphics for that matter.

Many artists take workshops and paint with other artists in order to improve their skills. Did you do this?
I went to Paris one Summer with a couple of friends and traveled on alone to Italy, Greece and Egypt, making sketches and selling them to tourists at the great monuments to civilization. I was really scared and out of my depth but that's when my education really began as I absorbed as much cultural influence as I could assimilate. As you may know, drawing the human form is forbidden in Islamic countries such as Egypt, but as an "infidel" I had some poetic license. My interest soon turned to the intricate Arabesque designs on the fabric and architecture, however, rather than the faces of the people. At every major city I visited Art Galleries and Luxury hotels to find the best opportunity to arrange a small show. The further East I traveled the easier it became, as I was a pale skinned, English, artist from a long tradition of explorers. So, this is how I mostly acquired my art education; by traveling and learning via the hands-on approach.

Australia, by Ivan Lloyd.
Now, that really intrigues me, Ivan. Why is it forbidden to draw the human form in Islamic countries?

For hundreds of years the pre-Islamic city of Mecca had been a Pantheon of Idolatry for many established deities. When Mohammed introduced Islam he destroyed the idols and established the Kaa'ba as the most Holy place of Pilgrimage for Muslims. The creation and display of all Christian art which in those days consisted of Grecian pottery designs and Roman murals that portrayed human orgies, as well as Hindu and Egyptian sculptures, was regarded by Mohammed and his followers, as an expression of idolatry. Even Greek statues were considered a direct insult to God. Consequently, they were outlawed as pagan. Presented with these restrictions, artisans and craftsmen gave birth to a new era of artistic expression. Sophisticated geometric designs flourished in the form of magnificent architecture and calligraphy, a lot of it was destroyed by the invading Mongol armies, but a rich heritage remains everywhere across North Africa to present day Turkey. The Taj Mahal in India is a classic example of Islamic architecture.

We can safely conclude, then, that religion had a lot to do with the progress of art in the Islamic society which, by extension, had some influence here, in the Occident?
The irony is that, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, the arts, in fact all the sciences, flourished on an unprecedented scale under the effulgent light of Mohammed's dispensation, while the Christian Civilization was mired in the ignorance of the Dark Ages. Islam, as we perceive it today, has fallen into a similar quagmire with its obsessive hatred of the West, our liberated system of free enterprise and democracy, anything in fact that resembles progressive thought. Neither system, not the segregated parishioners and fragmented churches of the Christian world or the decadent Islamic world with their despotic dictatorships and fanatical leadership, can lead us into the lofty, but realizable, aspiration of World Peace.

I was wondering, how do you think fine artists can contribute to world peace? What can they do?
From an idealistic point of view just being involved in the Arts, in whatever capacity, contributes to the well being of mankind, as compared to, say, working on the assembly line of a factory producing weapons. In some sense the creative act itself produces wholesome energy that is sanctified by the spiritual concourse. One could even say that the very act of producing art is equivalent to being engaged in an act of worship. Even creating controversial works of art produces debate, which in itself is healthy as it promotes consultation. It is impossible to measure the joy you bring to people's lives just by following your muse. Being successful in that endeavor is even more of a bounty and contributes to the establishment of a World Unity.

Who were the artists that you most admired as you settled into your career as a painter?
Part of being young is admiring people who push the envelope even if their work doesn't posses a great deal of merit on any other level. Salvador Dali comes to mind because his imagery was sensational but his facile technique, whilst painstakingly executed, was at best slick and superficial. I used to delight in saying my favorite painter was Jackson Pollock as he was relatively unknown during the sixties. I love all artists--and most paintings--however, and regard each of us as a part of one collective. Every art movement manifesto contains principles that we can apply today, without adhering strictly to all their beliefs, which may have been totally valid in their day. Pointillism is a great example. I use that technique at a late stage of a painting at a time when the piece is beginning to look too tight, but not as a means unto itself. I still apply impressionistic techniques especially when working on foliage otherwise you'd be working for years painting every leaf on a tree.

New Firends by Ivan Lloyd

So, what you're saying is that techniques (or "styles") like Pointillism and Impressionism are not ends in themselves but, rather, means to an end?
This is interesting. I've never thought of it in that light. Then, must we conclude that all those painting uniquely in the Impressionistic "style" have missed the boat, have misunderstood? The History of Art, as an evolving process, can be viewed as a way of teaching us how to approach a canvas in real terms. Hypothetically, I break down my initial composition into areas, as demonstrated by the cubist Juan Gris. I put in some dramatic color and soften those hard edges as shown by Paul Gauguin and then break those areas into dots until I have created a uniform piece as per Georges Seurat. Those artists who are still emulating the style of the impressionists, and call it their own style, are not exactly missing the boat, it's kinder to say they're not comfortable moving forward. It's rather like seeing an aging hippie wearing flowered shirts. I'm not sure I see the merit in paying homage to a subculture of the past and expressing your loyalty to it by the way you dress today. You may as well broadcast to the world that you still smoke pot.

If I understand you correctly, you are proposing that artists learn the several different "techniques" of painting developed in the past should use these techniques for self-expression and move on. My next question is: move on to where?
We have arrived at a point where we can acknowledge a collective consciousness in which we are all involved. By utilizing the techniques that have been visually demonstrated over the centuries we can produce a new level of expression. After all there is only one way to fly a plane correctly, and the same principles of applying paint artistically and with skill are universally acknowledged. I no longer see the necessity of portraying self absorbed images that convey the tormented soul of the artist. It is now a question of subject matter and the realization that a higher moral standard can permeate through the tools of the artist into the work itself. A spiritual insight that will resonate within the heart of the viewer.

Who are some of the painters you admire most today?
I love Jean-Leon Gerome, especially his accomplished pieces such as "The Moorish Bath." I love the work of David Roberts, too. I have often wondered why historians who write those ubiquitous art history books drop artists such as these--and Alma Tadema. Painters who were extremely successful and wealthy in their day, but through some quirk of fate have fallen from grace. One can surmise that they didn't contribute dramatically to the ever-evolving art movement itself, but neither did William Holman Hunt if it comes to that. Their isn't one artist whose work I don't admire and it would be great to see more extensive respect paid to the unforgotten Masters who's work is dismissed as irrelevant.

Jean-Leon Gerome was truly a great artist. I agree with you that it makes one wonder why writers don't make more mention of such great painters as Gerome. Might it be because the owners of the artwork themselves are restricting wider publicity?
Also, one has to consider the fact that Gerome did not have a favorable opinion of Impressionism. This may have worked against him. If I were the owner of an original David Roberts, I'd relish the publicity as it would increase the value of the painting so I'm not sure I see the logic in that premise. I'm almost embarrassed to call myself an artist when I see Jean-Leon Gerome's accomplished brushwork. I tend to believe that it's a subconscious rejection, by art historians, to overlook anything that challenges our own culture. They only document different artistic styles that are deeply rooted in our own Western culture. Their preoccupation with the Pre- Raphaelite movement and the suggestion that a secret society of elitists could have played a significant role in the evolution of art, is questionable and serves to emphasize my point. Especially as they symbolized a reformation posture rather than playing an adventurous role.

To what extent do you feel these painters continue to exert their influence on you?
The "Orientalist's" are still the artists I admire the most. I firmly believe the hours of love and devotion an artist puts into a work is worth more than some visionary statement made with a total lack of respect for the medium. I like Tim Cox , a western artist, and Robert Bateman the popular wildlife artist. To some extent these guys are illustrators who have found a voice in a commercially saturated field. It's possible that what elevates them to the top of their genre is a soft style and warm palette.

Earlier you mentioned Jackson Pollock, saying how you delighted in saying he was your favorite painter. I suppose today you have a changed opinion of Pollock?

Not at all, I still like his work, and one can't knock anyone whose made it into the History books. It's just that today his work is so familiar you no longer see that puzzled expression when you mention his name. The outrageous has become mainstream, but it's nice to see something you once believed in strongly enjoy the recognition it deserves.

Can you give us an example of someone who paints "visionary statements made with a total lack of respect for the medium"?
Jean Michel Basquit readily comes to mind but you can pick up any copy of Art News and you'll find a whole slew of artists who fall into that genre. As long as an artist's painting style is instantly recognizable I'd say they're vision has value, even if it's not my taste. There has always been a place for Infantile Expressionism, but some sensational images such as bright blue dogs, or pieces of little garden cottages with orange lights on, I mean it's okay. but I'd end up jumping off a bridge if my name was associated with it.

I can't understand why you have such strong feelings about Kincaid. I mean, jumping off a bridge is a pretty strong reaction. What's wrong with what Thomas Kincaid is doing?
Understandably, you didn't quite see my point. I don't have strong feelings about anyone's success and I'm not judging any artist's style or accomplishments. We are all programmed differently, with built in principles, in our makeup, that prevent us from doing something that is quite natural and comfortable to someone else. In that sense I have that reserved British sense of nobility, sometimes referred to as a 'Stuffed shirt.' My thoughts on my role as an artist are very lofty, so I was thinking along the lines that if I was to meet Goya up in heaven I hope he'd say "That was a good effort" not "Did that painting come with a free box of chocolates?"

Desert Oasis,by Ivan Lloyd.

You've got me laughing now, Ivan! But I'd like to get back to the East and the West
question, What do you feel is the fundamental difference between Islamic and western art and artists?
Islamic Art covers Andalusia, North Africa, Turkey, India, Malaysia etc. etc. All of them producing different kinds of artistic expression under the same umbrella. Beginning with the Palaces of Cordoba and the El Hambra, in Granada, Spain the use of plaster of Paris to create a honeycomb effect, (muqarnas) on the ceiling is a breathtaking and awe inspiring experience. As you look up, the complexity of design is the height of esthetic beauty. On the walls three-dimensional highly stylized Kufic Script replace the figurative iconography of Western Art. The emphasis has been shifted to the written word as sacred instead of the image. As one travels further Eastward the ornate inscriptions, crafted by skilled artisans, become increasingly more difficult to read. The widespread use of the flowing Jalil Script is the work of highly evolved and sophisticated craftsmen.

What would you call your particular style of painting?
I paint in the classical style of the "Orientalist". The term has fallen into disuse as it comes from the pre-Victorian era when pioneers were just discovering Asia Minor and the Holy Land and thought it was the Orient. Predating photography, these highly respected artists documented the expeditions and brought their work back and produced books and lithographs for the European market. The term is somewhat antiquated now and since the Crusades the West has an aversion for the restricted Islamic viewpoint regarding artistic expression. Recent events have heightened that sense of alienation for the Arabesque and purely mathematical designs. I can't help but imagine, however, if an alien visited us from another galaxy they would be able to comprehend the message of a geometrically complex design more easily than, say, the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa. Indirectly we are being exposed, more than we realize, to Islamic names and the Arab culture and, it's reasonable to predict, that our own sense of style and fashion will soon assimilate that influence.

Would you say you have a personal style of painting or do you strive to achieve the styles already recognized in the world of Fine Arts?
What I do was done better by Edwin Lord Weeks over 100 years ago. It's hard to be ahead of the art movement, let's say helping shape its direction. Usually it requires a sacrificial dedication to a progressive style or technique. If that's your inspiration, or motivating force, you'd better be prepared to suffer in obscurity, or seek funding from Academic grants. If you're a photo realist today, for example, however good you are, you're just following a trend that's about 30 years behind the curve. Sometimes I go to an art show and see some new rendition of sunflowers done in Van Gogh's style, it's a pretty common occurrence. That means the artist is about 120 years behind the curve, so obviously developing their own painting style is not important to them. Paying homage to some art movement or keeping some spirit alive is probably more meaningful to them. I don't consciously have the gift of innovation that trend-setting demands, but I have tried to bring Persian miniatures to life by using a western sense of perspective. That theory has not born spectacular results, however, as my lack of appreciation for Persian miniatures probably shows through in my work.

Most of your work consists of figuratives. Do you do anything else?
Advice given to me by an art instructor has remained with me throughout the years. "Don't be too eager to enter into the abstract world before you have a firm foundation of figurative painting. Firstly, because your abstracts will reveal a lack of discipline and, secondly, because you won't want to return to the figurative art form." This is sound advice and I still don't have the experience to venture into those trepid waters. There are salient foundation flaws displayed in the many abstract and non-representational pieces I see around the Los Angeles area, for example. The artwork clearly reflects a lack of awareness that art is a discipline. My favorite works to hang on my own walls are reproductions of non-representational paintings from the Spanish schools around Madrid, so I do love that painting style when it's well done.

Do you use a limited color palette?
Dawn Meadow, by Ivan Lloyd.

I'm regarded by many of my friends and clients as a colorist, but I seem to remember, perhaps erroneously, that Georges Braque said color just adds charm to a painting. That statement could be taken different ways but if it's to be taken literally, I disagree, as it's one of the most basic components for creating a mood. I don't like to be conscious of color in the early stages of a painting, as it can interfere with the struggle to bring a form to life, so I deliberately eliminate a color from my palette. Usually its blue as it tends to be so dominant and easily upsets the color balance. I had the honor of studying cooking under a Sufi Master when I lived in Fez (Morocco), and he said, "All your vegetables should be in the same color range. So, don't mix tomatoes with cauliflower." I'm always on the look out for unique color combinations. For example, if I see a pretty, yellow dress with strawberry fruit and little green leaves, I'll write it down and at some future date layout a palette of cream, scarlet and lime green. I'll then ignore which of those colors I'm using until the very final stage of finishing the piece, when it then becomes a dominant consideration.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal evolution and how you arrived at the determination that painting would be your life's career?
The dictionary definition of the word "talent," as you may know, literally means a gift from God. Everyone is blessed with something, whether they choose to cultivate it or not is another issue. In my case it was obvious from an early age that it was painting. I enjoy communicating but as I have nothing to say artistically, I feel as if I'm drawing something from the unknown and nurturing it on the canvas in an effort to bring it into focus rather than imposing my vision by controlling the medium. I've been working on my technique for over 35 years and only last week figured out how to paint. It may be that I'm a slow learner, but there is a certain amount of clairvoyance involved in my painting style. Creativity comes from God's grace, so, no amount of ambition or determination can maneuver one into any dizzying heights. There comes a point in one's life when you discover that you bring joy to someone's life when you see one of your paintings, or prints, on the wall of their living room. When that person is a dignitary, or person of significance, as opposed to a relative, you know you're responding to that gift within yourself. The Divine forces will bestow more confirmation upon you as you continue enriching people's lives. Eventually you reach a position where there isn't the slightest consideration of giving it all up to become a car salesman.

Do you give workshops?
Rarely, but I do consider myself in the communication business. For eight years I painted scenery for the theatre and was a silent supporter for actors who love to cavort on stage in the spotlight. I support a teaching program dedicated to women's equality, but I can better support the movement by spending my time in front of the easel rather than standing at a podium expounding basic principles that, to me, seem self evident.

How far do you think we've come in America to empowering women and providing equal rights? How much more must be done?
This is a very hot issue, especially if you're referring to creating a level playing field after hundreds of years of suppression. Some people are crying foul because we've tried affirmative action for a few years and the taste of reversed inequality doesn't feel too comfortable. There is no way they can turn the clock back, I'm relieved to say. It's wonderful to see minorities and African Americans achieve such success and respect in the political and corporate world. We all benefit from what they bring to the table, and it feels great to be a part of this society. I have been behind the iron curtain where the human spirit has almost been crushed, and it's a very oppressive society. Here in the States what we are witnessing is still just a token of what untapped human resources are out there. However, I see no cause for concern or any way of accelerating the process. The fetters have been broken and we must let the rest happen naturally without too much interference. Nothing can, or should, hold back the dramatic changes we will soon witness.

So you're expecting great things to materialize in the near future?
Will these "dramatic changes" affect the situation of women in the fine arts, do you think? If so, in what way do you envision such changes?

There has always been a notion that women's ability to create art is somewhat different from a mans. That idea could come from a subconscious resentment as man is unable to bear children which, by its very nature, is a more primal creative experience than creating art. Lack of recognition of women's rightful place alongside men is more easily categorized as belonging to that familiar misconception of women's inferiority that still permeates all levels of society. Other than Artemesia Gentileschi, a contemporary of Carravaggio, there are few women painters who have reached the colossal stature of the celebrated masters. If you consider the merits of the artwork of say the Impressionists Bertha Morisot and Mary Cassett, one can draw only one conclusion.

Lack of education and opportunity are the only factors that have prevented women from creating great works of art. In this highly evolved Western culture, I imagine we'll soon witness women making great strides as they exercise their assertive nature and bring a refreshing new sense of aesthetic into works of art.

Lazy Moon Ranch, by Ivan Lloyd.

How important is it to paint regularly?
I plod along like the hour hand of a clock. If I don't paint every day I'm irritable and bad tempered, more from a personal anxiety than from anger directed outwardly. I have a couple of artist friends; one paints only when she's inspired--a luxury I can't afford--and the other claims to work 16 hours a day. Both approaches I consider extreme and I believe in enjoying your work but not being a slave to it.

Sounds like a very oriental approach. Is this something you learned through your travels in the East?
Frankincense has a distinctive quality. It's strangely Biblical and has a timeless history. I believe it's petrified resin from specific trees in Saudi Arabia, and maybe parts of Africa. It is used extensively in the Holy Land and not easy to obtain here. I buy it by the pound. Incense on the other hand is more of an Indian or Far Eastern tradition, but the smoke from the wood tends to interfere with the fragrance. It's hard to generalize about different artists' approach to how they prepare themselves for their work. I would suggest that it's not so much the preparation but how you live the life. How you conduct yourself on a day-to-day basis is conveyed in your efforts. In that sense Art indeed is a naked form of expression.

Thai Dancer, by Ivan Lloyd.


How do you handle galleries, fulfilling gallery needs, advertising, and travel to art events?
I work in three-year cycles. That is to say I devote three years to a project or a series and then a year on attending shows and conferences that I have arranged in advance. I seldom go to other artists' events and I rarely socialize unless it's related to my work. At the moment, that relates to visiting large Arabian horse stud farms and Equestrian events to meet clients.

What is your preferred medium?
I only paint in oils these days, unless I'm asked to do a mural for some inside job at a department store. I've learned to turn those jobs down, especially

theatre work. You have to specialize in the medium that best suits your temperament if you want to become proficient. You can't master them all. I work on three paintings at once, nudging each one along. I always work out my compositions on the canvas and oil allows me to try something new and if I don't like it, I wipe it out. Sometimes I've wiped out three or four hours of work. It can be unnerving as you can't ever get back to the original, but its close. No other medium offers you this flexibility, but it does require patience as an average painting worked on this way takes several months to finish. How do you approach this business of having to clean a brush in between color changes? I use silk painting rags and use the same brush, wiping it on the rag between each color, after awhile, however, the colors can become sullied. At other times I hold five brushes in one hand and each brush is loaded with a different color. I switch brushes when I need a different color. This way I use about twenty brushes at once.

Kristina, by Ivan Lloyd

James Black, by Ivan Lloyd

Before beginning a work, do you think in terms of composition, overall effect, lines, forms, or is it all dependent on inspiration on the spur of the moment?
What is the thought process here?
I base everything on composition, that is to say how the canvas breaks down into basic areas of color and light. I begin with large areas around the outside and smaller areas towards the center. What I've heard referred to as the Spanish school of painting uses paint upon paint for an image to evolve on the canvas. This is different from the rather technical approach of carefully drawing in a well-planned cartoon and coloring it in, a technique used by most illustrators.

Are you represented by galleries? I'm an independent artist and not affiliated with any Gallery, although my work is featured regularly in "Equine Vision Magazine" and "Arabian Horse World", two Equestrian publications out of California. I'm not sure I fall into the category of a successful Gallery artist, but perhaps it's the next logical step for me. It's a lofty aspiration I have only recently considered as I have survived for over 35 years by painting independently, in step with my unconventional lifestyle. I'm evolved enough now, as an artist however, that publicity would not affect my painting style--a consideration that has always concerned me. Painting in obscurity has been a conscious decision on my part, as I believe the public spotlight will eventually shine on my career, elevating me to a level I could not aspire to with my own efforts.

Ivan, it's been a pleasure talking to you.
The pleasure is all mine. And thank you.

Copyright 2003 James Leonard - Amodeo
To read the interview in its original format in The Fine Arts Magazine,
click here