Artist Michael Sole: Dorset Magazine Landscape Painter of the Year finalist

PUBLISHED: 15:27 31 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:36 31 July 2017

Michael Sole (Photo by Rory Campbell)

Michael Sole (Photo by Rory Campbell)


As a Dorset Magazine Landscape Painter of the Year finalist, Michael Sole impressed the judges with his striking seascapes. Jeremy Miles went along to a paint splattered studio in Bournemouth to see the artist at work

Michael at work in his studio (Photo by Hattie Miles)Michael at work in his studio (Photo by Hattie Miles)

Walking into artist Michael Sole’s huge Dorset studio you are confronted with a scene that could be straight from one of those iconic 1950 photographs of Jackson Pollock at work,

Like ‘Jack the Dripper’, Michael circles his composition, paint-pot in hand, before sloshing, pouring and dripping the contents onto canvases laid on the floor.

Using a combination of oils and acrylics, he might coax the paint with a brush, maybe even a broom but essentially he lets it do its own thing. What emerges after the paint has pooled, dribbled and slid across his canvasses are striking land and seascapes occupying a world that is somewhere between figurative and abstract.

“It’s not me painting, it’s the paints painting themselves,” says the 32-year-old. He invented the technique at art school when he found he didn’t have enough money to buy oil paints and augmented his diminishing supply with relatively cheap acrylic-based house paint.

Lon Ban inspired by the grasses, heathers and purple mountains of ScotalndLon Ban inspired by the grasses, heathers and purple mountains of Scotalnd

The combination could have been a disaster but Michael loved the effects it created. “The two kinds of paint really don’t mix, but as one slides over the top of the other you get some very interesting organic patterns,” he explains. “I have to paint on the floor because otherwise it just drips straight off the canvas.”

His technique, which he calls ‘involuntarylism’, has certainly produced positive results. Since graduating from Wimbledon College of Art nearly a decade ago, Michael has gone on to exhibit in group and solo shows across England and France. He has twice been named Young Artist of the Year by the Royal Society of Marine Artists and has won a raft of awards. He’s also finding his work increasingly snapped up by collectors.

Earlier this year he was voted one of the leading talents in Dorset Magazine’s Landscape Painter of the Year competition.

Michael couldn’t be more delighted. “I’m particularly pleased because I love Dorset,” he told me. “I was born in Poole, lived in Swanage for a while and then moved to Lyme Regis. It’s a stunning county.”

Dorset’s beautiful coast and countryside, particularly the Isle of Purbeck, has inspired many of his works. Getting out into the country and spending time absorbing its atmosphere is central to Michael’s working practice.

He immerses himself in nature, sometime for weeks on end, camping, fishing and, on one occasion, walking the entire perimeter of the Isle of Skye.

Returning to the studio he tries to capture the energy and feel of wild oceans and dramatic skies but things don’t always turn out the way he imagines.

“I went to Scotland looking for stormy seas but if you look for inspiration you’re probably not going to find it. I eventually came across a stunning location with grasses, heathers and purple mountains in the background and when I got back to the studio that’s what I was painting, lots of landscapes. My colour palate completely changed on that trip. I wasn’t expecting it, let’s just say I don’t have any preconceptions any more.”

Involuntarylism can be frustrating but it is also enormously rewarding. Standing in his loft studio above a shared work space in Bournemouth, Michael points to a canvas. “That was a one-pot painting,” he says with pride.

Such quick and successful results cannot be taken for granted. He reveals that fewer than one in 20 of his works are one-pot triumphs. Most need considerably more attention. And that is where particular care and restraint needs to be exercised.

“I have to let the process achieve its own results,” he explains. “It’s a balance of maybe 40 per cent control and 60 per cent letting it do it for itself. If I start fiddling with the paint I risk losing the freshness, spontaneity and energy of the work. As soon as you get a brush out and start playing with it because you didn’t expect it to look like that, that’s when the paintings start to mess up.”

Michael chuckles at the analogy with Jackson Pollock who he says is one of the artists he admires for pushing the boundaries of art. “He changed art and he changed how we look at art,” he says. “Nowadays whatever you do, it will have been done before. I’m not doing what I’m doing because it’s different. I’m doing what I’m doing because it excites me. It’s purely self-indulgent.”

Despite his formal art education Michael insists, “I was never taught how to paint. Never! You leave college or university thinking that you’re breaking boundaries in the art world, that you’re going to be the next big thing but it just doesn’t happen like that. Art has to come from the heart. You have to do what you want to do rather than what your tutor wishes they had done. It’s why they’re a tutor rather than a practising artist.”

However successful he is, Michael loves the idea of living like a struggling artist and often sleeps in his studio for days at a time, living with his work. It’s a tough existence. The studio on the top floor of an old Army drill hall has no heating or hot water and Michael even sleeps on a mattress he found on the street. Fortunately he also has a London flat that he heads to when he needs warmth, a comfy sofa, an evening watching television and the luxury of a hot shower.

He knows some people will be unimpressed by his openly contrived lifestyle but says: “Look, I really do appreciate that I’m very lucky to be able to rough it a bit but also have a nice place to go back to. To me one of the great things about being an artist is that you get to mix with all kinds of people. I’m having a wonderful time.”

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