There is something hypnotic, something mesmeric about the work of Richard Bull. It has an immediate beauty that captures your attention with its bold colours and striking lines, then the intricacy and technicality of it draws you in like a classic Hitchcock ‘dolly zoom’. His creations leave questions in your mind, it tantalizes and stimulates. When confronted with the canvas up close, the lines of oil, the textures, the furrows, the discipline, all inspire an awe and leaves the viewer wanting to know more. So we sat down with Mr Bull and found out just what makes him tick and how such a rainbow of colours is influenced by messers Harley and Davidson, a Storm in the music industry and an almost Buddhist like ability to focus.

Interview: Chris Nelson  Words/Images: Richard Bull

What is it about working in oils that attracts you?

Oil and acrylic have a melding quality, the fluidity or lack of it as time passes, attracts me. It’s been commented that my work asks the paint to behave in a way it’s not intended too, creating linear constructs opposed to a more traditionally constraint free experience. I think the difficulties involved are core of the appeal for me, creating contemporary with the classical. There’s a sense of timeless longevity with work on canvas, it’s not 21st century disposable, there’s been a ‘delete’ button at my right hand for the last 24 years and the absolute physicality of creating art that actually exists, imparts a wonderful sense of living in the present, each decision made can’t be reversed by the tap of a keyboard.

You have a very unique style of work that must take up many hours – how to do manage to remain so focussed and so patient?

It’s a little like staring at an ocean’s horizon waiting for a shadowy bump that might wall-up just for you, it becomes trance like. I’m driven by the thought of what might be, how the plan in my head is unfolding on the canvas. It’s true that the pace is insanely slow, the metre square works are moving towards 100 hours to complete, it’s an awful amount of time to invest, but each work gives up a secret that you take on to the next piece, I have a rule that requires I must finish a painting, even if there’s still 50 hours ahead still and things are falling apart. A tutor of mine at Chelsea (School of Art), a wonderfully menacing man from the north who imparted an air of vitriol in his teachings, suggested every work needed to sink to ‘crisis point’ and unless you’d sunk to the depths of despair with each piece of work and then, in turn, pulled the work back from the brink, then you hadn’t truly engaged with your journey, nor had you created any real art. It’s a useful mantra to keep in your back-brain for general ‘art survival’ and bizarrely, given it’s source, keeping sane.

You have produced a number of related works, ie waves I will never know, seven deadly fins etc. What is it about related pieces you like? Is the repetition part of the process?

It’s a story telling process, I imagine I’m programmed to think in sets due to my vocation over the past couple of decades as a creator of campaigns for bands. The cover-art was always been about unfolding a pictorial story alongside the music. Pre-download culture, the physical product release involved at least three singles and an album, so one drip fed visual ideas and commentary via the singles and then dropped the big reveal with the album, creatively you’d work backwards, album art at the top of the pyramid with everything else (Print Ads, TV spots, Street Posters (the illegal ones) and the (very legal) 48 sheet billboards) propping up the story and setting the stage. With regards to the question of repetition, I see this element as a narrative, each work fall’s into place within it’s related set and then chronologically within the complete body of work, for me it’s a linear measure of time, with repetition being a series of phases of exploration.

“Moonbow” Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, Acrylic on Fiberglass. BULL © 2012

You’ve created some amazing works on many mediums other than canvas. How did it come about that your work has appeared on eggs and fuel tanks for example?

As a teen I was forever painting objects, usually with rattle cans, living in London in the 80’s most of my contemporaries were painting the District Line, but for me getting the work scrubbed over didn’t have much appeal. So I’d paint a motorbike, skateboard, even a couple of pop-outs got the treatment. The art was graphic rather than graffitied, lots of masking and stenciling, I’ve been keen to re-acquaint myself for a while and by chance I was asked to be part of the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, which set me back on the 3D track.

“La Muerte-ster” Dark Rainbows Series II, Acrylic on Steel, Harley Davidson Sportster™. BULL © 2013 … “Dia de los Muertos.”

The ‘La Muerte-ster’ (HD Sportster) fuel tank had been in my head a while and the Fabergé work broke the ice. I’ve been friends with motorcycles since 16 and there’s been a healthy resurgence in the home-grown over the past 6 -7 years, hankering back to home-builds of my teens and a counter culture that’s more lifestyle than mass marketed plastic fantastic. It’s heartening to see basic spanner-ing and sideways thinking back in vogue, so ‘La Muerte-ster’ is about as basic as it get’s, hand painted in acrylic on rattle can primed raw steel, one splash of unleaded and it’s going to look like something else – I like the risk.

This leads into your Crystal Voyager piece – can you tell us about how the piece came together? The concept, the artwork, the unintentional Floydesqueness of the piece?

“Voyager” Vertical Fathoms Series I, Acrylic on Canvas, BULL © 2012

‘Voyager’ is the lead work in the ‘Vertical Fathoms’ series – It’s conception was in answer to the LSFF call for present day interpretations of bygone surf films that one had an affinity with. ‘Crystal Voyager’ was my muse. I hadn’t watched the film in a while and rather than re-visit it I figured it would be a purer experience if I attempted to recall the imagery and the emotions it conjured up, I wanted to avoid finding myself influenced by it verbatim. The rainbow element within the work has been a continuous thread that has been in much of my work from the start –  The ‘Dark Rainbows’  series being the original kicker, so it was natural to include it as the epicenter of ‘Voyager’ – The light at the end of the tunnel/tube for want of a better metaphor. It wasn’t until I watched ‘CV’ again after finishing the work that it dawned on me that Pink Floyd made up a chunk of the soundtrack and it was hard not to see a dash of ‘Darkside of the Moon’ trying to get out of the ‘Voyager’. Ironically in answering this question a further ‘Floydesqueness’ has flagged itself; My music industry baptism of fire was to spend a summer in the early ’90’s working in the company of the very enlightened, elightening and sadly recently late, Storm Thorgerson on Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On’ so it could be that rainbows, spectrums and Pink Floyd have been covertly imprinted on my sub-conscious. Storms plan all along no doubt