Mention Callum Eaton
Interview by Lyla Johnston

“Latching onto trends is a waste of time”: Painter Callum Eaton on the power of following your passions

Describing himself as a “latecomer” to the world of art, Bath-based artist Callum Eaton started out by drawing Love Island contestants and pouches of tobacco while on family holidays. After turning down an offer to study architecture, he went on to join the fine art course at Goldsmiths, where he began creating hyper-realistic paintings to showcase “the beauty of the mundane” – whether that be depicting carrier bags or cucumbers. Having recently had his painting of a parking ticket shortlisted by the Royal Academy, here, Callum reflects on his career so far, sustaining momentum and making work that’s not considered ‘chic’.

Callum Eaton

Callum Eaton


Job Title

Artist

Based

Bath

Selected Clients

Ozwald Boateng, Dylan Jones OBE

Place of Study

BA Fine Art, Goldsmiths College (2016-2019)

Website

callumeaton.co.uk

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
Born and raised in Bath, I am a painter currently living and working in my home town. I recently moved into a light and spacious studio in an old warehouse that overlooks the River Avon, where I am able to practice my craft around other creatives.

My representational paintings isolate ordinary objects, mundane scenes and everyday happenings. As an artist, I am constantly reassessing the purpose of painting today, particularly within the image-saturated world we now inhabit. I believe in the transformative process of painting; all that is painted becomes heightened to the status of a jewel, making them something worth paying attention to. I capture the beauty in the corners of the everyday.

‘Colin’, oil on canvas, 2021

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
As an artist, I’m interested in observing current culture and society. My paintings are a document of what I notice. I am a passive observer, poking fun at the mess we leave in our wake.

In terms of influences, the artists I look at change almost daily. But there are a handful of constant influences; Wayne Thiebaud, Lisa Milroy, Wilhelm Sasnal and Alessandro Raho. All these artists have, at some point in my career, given me the feeling of permission to do as I please.

“As an artist, I’m interested in observing current culture and society. My paintings are a document of what I notice.”

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
The obvious answer is the one I'm currently working on. However, the painting titled ‘Portrait of a Pain in my Arse’, that was shortlisted for the Royal Academy, has been a definite favourite. It was great to slowly see the translucent, reflective and eye catching surface come to life through careful observation and hours spent at the canvas.

It was also one of the first times I experienced the effect that scale has on a work. Taking a small insignificant object and reproducing it large recontextualises it, allowing the observer to view it in a new light and potentially experience the beauty of the mundane.

The other aspect of this work which I like is that the subject was literally picked out of the gutter. It sat on my studio wall for weeks before I finally saw it as a subject. This was a reminder that I often need distance from a subject before I can see it clearly.

‘Portrait of a Pain in my Arse’, oil on canvas, 2021

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
As a realistic painter I need an abundance of patience, an eye for detail and gallons of coffee. Cigarettes would’ve been on the list, had I not quit six months ago.

In all seriousness, my time at Goldsmiths was invaluable as it gave me a thick skin and the critical rigour to stand up for my work, as it was not considered ‘chic’ to be making representational oil paintings. I single-mindedly pursued the style and subjects that interested me the most, as well as learning the language of contemporary art.

If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
This meme (below) on the Freeze Instagram account resonated with me. I am constantly taking on too much but that’s what keeps me interested.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I was a latecomer to art. I decided that, as a way to pass the time on family holidays, I would draw pictures of what interested me most; Love Island contestants, an empty tobacco pouch and my mother’s reading glasses. I spent days laboriously copying from photos and realised that it was a great way to channel and harness my obsessive tendencies. I was also better at it than my older sister, so naturally, I continued.

I had some amazing mentors early on who gave me confidence and pushed me to study art further. Rejecting a place to study architecture, I went to study fine art at Goldsmiths College, further developing my practice of contemporary realistic painting.

‘Adolescent Algebra’, oil on canvas, 2021
‘Broccoli’, oil on canvas, 2021

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Cesar Santos’s DVD Secrets of Portrait Painting – the best Christmas present I have ever received. Advice from lecturers and peers from university. And having a support network that constantly challenges and questions my ideas: friends, family and my girlfriend who loves to play devil’s advocate!

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Sustaining momentum. It’s a long game with many challenges both external and internal. The hardest part is to overcome the wobbles and keep belief. It is also harder than ever to stay true to your vision. Instagram has really changed the art game and there is constant bombardment of other amazing artists’ work every time you open your phone. The important thing is to follow your passions and talents; latching onto trends is a waste of time.

“The important thing is to follow your passions and talents; latching onto trends is a waste of time.”

‘Cucumber’, oil on canvas, 2021
‘Beer Garden’, oil on canvas, 2021
‘Blue Steel’, oil on canvas, 2021

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Having just warned of the dangers of social media, its importance cannot be underestimated; it is a fundamental part of being an artist in the 21st century. It is not only a useful tool for self promotion but also to build a network with other like-minded people.

I have made many professional relationships using social media. Its redeeming characteristic is its ability to create a community not limited by geography. This is a privilege that no generation before has had access to, but it’s important to remember that everything you see should be taken with a pinch of salt.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
The financial aspect is important, but never a driving factor. This being said, I am a professional and as everyone knows, you need money to survive.

The easy trap to fall into is to give it [work] away because you love doing it, and that devalues what you do. Pricing your work is really hard to do but, if you want it to become your career, it is just the reality. Stay true to the price you think it is worth and just remember, the more work you sell, the less you have to enter open calls, competitions and exhibitions. A part-time pub job can also really help!

‘Single Use’, oil on canvas, 2021
‘For a Laugh’, oil on canvas, 2021

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Make work that you want to see. As I take this next step in my life as an artist, I am becoming acutely aware of how important it is to treat yourself like a professional right from the start. The painting doesn’t just begin when the paint is applied, but from the moment the stretchers are ordered and the canvas primed. It takes a lot of organisation and foresight and, as anyone who knows me is aware, it is the only area of my life that I am organised and have any patience for.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Start drawing, stop talking. It’s far too easy to talk yourself out of doing something before it's even begun. And follow the 10,000 hour rule.

Mention Callum Eaton
Interview by Lyla Johnston