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Tom Chapple reflects on his journey into art.

At the beginning of the year we put a call out to artists to submit their artwork for Milton Keynes Open 2020, we launched the event in 2019 and it was such a fantastic event we were eager to get going with plans for 2020. However as like many organisations we later made the decision to cancel.

Back in February not long after we'd put out a call for artists I caught up with Tom Chapple, Tom had exhibited in Milton Keynes Open 2019 with his incredible self portrait "Wake Up", which had also won the "Peoples Choice"award. What I really enjoyed about Toms story is how he had not picked up a paint brush or a pencil for 30 years yet soon he was producing amazing artwork.

I wanted to talk about Toms experience of Milton Keynes Open in the hope that it would inspire other artists to enter in 2020. However Lockdown followed and survival seemed to be the priority. A few months on I revisited the interview notes and also made contact with Tom to ask whether he'd managed to continue with his art work during lockdown.

You mentioned during Milton Keynes Open 2019 that until recently you hadn't painted or drawn anything for over 30 years, tell us how you came to pick up a brush again after all this time?

I work from away from home and spend a lot of time overseas, usually 3 or 4 nights a week. On one particular evening I was staying at my usual hotel in Paris, it was late, around midnight or thereabouts and I began to wonder what people would think of me, what would they think of my working life spent mostly in hotels, what would they think looking in on my life from the outside?

Would they see a sad lonely man .....?

I pondered this thought over the next few weeks ....

Three weeks later I was in Italy, once again sitting in a hotel room thinking and pondering over this thought....... The thought then turned into thinking about what I could do to turn this rather boring evening into something more enjoyable.

A few days later after my return to the UK I immediately grabbed my daughters art materials, it had been 30 years since I'd last drawn anything but I had this sudden urge to give it a go. I clutched my chosen pencil and started to draw! I must admit at first it was rather daunting looking at this blank piece of paper staring back at me.

This moment of drawing created a desire in me to do more, It was at this point that I decided that this is something that I could do fairly easily whilst staying away in hotels. So from that point on wards I would always ensure that I packed a drawing kit, over the next 6 months I worked on my drawing techniques. I began to look forward to my evening, drawing gave me a sense of purpose.

"The bathroom was a great source of light and the best place to paint!"

Soon after I felt I needed something to aim for, I wanted to aim high and that's when I came across the Sky portrait artist of the year competition. I entered, I didn't get anywhere but it was a great experience nevertheless!

What made you decide to enter Milton Keynes Open and how was your experience of this event?

Nobody had ever seen my work apart from immediate family, having seen the advert and the call out for artists I thought why not give it a go.

During the event whilst a little scared of seeing my work hanging in the gallery space I also felt inspired. It was lovely to talk to people during the event and to hear peoples comments. When I was chosen for the "Peoples Choice" award I was gobsmacked, I had no concept as to why people would choose my artwork, after all it was a quirky piece and I really did wonder whether visitors would understand it.

It was interesting to hear peoples comments - they would say “I like that” but to me it was about asking the “why?” and prompting people to think of why they like the piece and a conversation then evolves around the artwork.

Wake Up (A self portrait) by Tom Chapple - On display in Milton Keynes Open 2019

Now hanging on a hotel wall in Paris.

What would you say to people who are thinking of entering Milton Keynes Open?

Just do it .... I gained so much from the experience, I now post regularly on social media in order that I can obtain critique with the hope of continually improving.

I also converted a bedroom into a small art studio - I still use the time away from home to sketch but I now have the space at home to paint.

I caught up with Tom a couple of weeks ago to find out what he's been up to during lockdown.

Lockdown has been interesting as for a few weeks I simply couldn’t bring myself to do any art - counter intuitive as suddenly I had all this time and no tramping back and forth to Europe.

My conclusion was that, with a crisis going on and people dying whilst others carried out essential front line services, me having a jolly time seemed inappropriate.

Additionally, art was my escape from work. So if no work, no need for an escape. Better to spend time with my family sharing the Netflix binge. But this passed, and art returned, I painted a couple of portraits which were #portraitsfornhsheroes paintings. I also spent time listening to the many MANY records (vinyl of course) which I have been collecting again recently but hadn’t got round to listening to. 

"This self portrait ended up as a sort of 3D on two Perspex sheets." 

Milton Keynes Open will be back in 2021 so do look out for details later this year.

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