Peter James Field has an eye for detail. I first came across his work in his 2014 book No Bulb In My Lamp. Selected from a decade of visual diaries, its pages are full of beautifully observed drawings accompanied by his musings and mutterings. One meticulous but unfinished study of a tangled ball of string bears the hand-written caption ‘I simply don’t have the patience to see it through’. Beneath a figure reflected in a dark glass bottle, is written ‘Dunford Road, Poole. Self, reflected in Mum’s heartburn mixture’. An empty frame marks the death of his Grandma and a painstakingly drawn crumpled and spent blister pack is annotated ‘Paracetamol and Codeine. I feel very sad.’ They capture the stuff of everyday life. Small, visual vignettes, both poignant and banal.
“I always wanted to be an artist,” he tells me, “but the prevailing wisdom was that it was a pipedream. So, I had to go around the houses a bit.” Following a degree in Art History, Peter spent three years teaching English in Japan before deciding to follow his pipedream. He returned to the UK and joined the foundation course at Central St Martins, moving to Brighton in 2002 to study illustration. Since graduating he has been represented by Agency Rush and, for the past 15 years, has made his living as an artist and illustrator – designing book covers and contributing editorial illustrations to publications including the Times and the Telegraph, World of Interiors and Time Magazine.
All his work – personal or commercial – starts with a drawing board and pencil, and he likes to set himself a technical challenge, he says, “to satisfy the artist in me. You need something to pay the bills and you also need something to feed your soul.”
Lately he’s been obsessed with people and faces. “I always wanted to be a portrait artist and to get into the BP Award. For years I didn’t do anything about it, then I hit 40 and thought it’s time to get serious.” He attended life drawing classes and a beginners’ portrait painting class at Draw Brighton (just across the corridor from his New England House studio) and has been collecting “interesting faces” ever since. In 2018, his portrait of a man called Robert (pictured far left) was selected for the BP Portrait Award and, last year, three further works were selected for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition. Job done you might think, and yet still he strives. Pushing himself to capture ever more detail, be it the contoured fabric of a highly patterned suit, or the haunted look in the model’s eye. “It’s good to have a focus. I’ve realised – and I’ve almost realised it too late – that I could spend whatever time I have left focusing on portraiture and I might still never do a truly amazing painting. This is the struggle, and it’s going to be a lifelong thing.”
See more of Peter’s work at peterjamesfield.com and at agencyrush.com