I began painting as a hobby in October 2004, in my mid-thirties, after entering a Channel 4 competition, and being welcomed into a small, internet-based art group. I knew very little about art and had hardly visited an art gallery, but I knew that I wanted to paint ideas and imaginative art. To me it seemed amazing that people would want to paint ordinary images of things in a realistic way, in competition with a camera. A camera is the ideal medium for the lazy or talentless artist, so there are elements of flair and romantic elan that painting or hand crafted art will always have over that medium, but exact realism is not the objective in paintings of this sort.
My first painting was a copy of a van Gogh painting using a starter set of oil paints with a few simple colours. A van Gogh was my challenge, so I chose a painting that had been destroyed and was only known as a black and white photograph, because it didn't exist, and because the poor photograph meant that I could make some changes quite legitimately. My second painting, Iraq War, was a panpoly of symbols and ideas in one image. This might be considered surrealist, but to me at the time it was a representation of an idea using symbols, composed like Frida Kahlo might have considered hers. I wasn't aware, from what I remember, of surrealism, its theories of the unconscious or anything like that.
Perhaps my first painting with an 'unconscious' root, was Now That's What I Call Blue, as the image appeared to me in a dream-like way. The image, complete with rushing water sound, just appeared in my head. I have no doubt that such thoughts are the imposition of inspiration, help supplied by the creative mind. There were always, historically, two definitions of surrealism: a 'hyper-reality' that used symbols to convey complex feelings beyond pictorial accuracy, and a 'dream-like' reality. The two overlap, as imagination itself rises up from the unseen depths of the mind, but I am in the former camp, using any imaginative tool to achieve a representation of emotional truth.
From the outset my art was called surrealist by other people and I've stuck with it because it's a convenient label; people generally know what surrealist paintings look like. I don't consider automatism, or any particular idea of Breton or his favoured surrealists any more valid than any other use of the imagination. In 2018 I wrote a book, 21st Century Surrealism, which examines the concepts behind surrealism, including theories of the unconscious mind in the early 20th century, and in time since I proposed my own.
After painting regularly, while spending more of my time programming computer games, I joined a local art group at the start of 2007. Until this point my life had been extremely socially isolated; my main friend was pen-pal, Andrew Williams, and I rarely spoke or saw other people from the age of 18 until joining the art club at 34. This complete isolation was not unhappy, my emotions were absent; I was obsessed with computer game programming and other human contact was not necessary for this task.
At first quiet and somewhat confused by other people, I slowly grew to become more social at the club and began to study psychology and body language.