Interview with James Napier, Founder of The London Atelier of Representational Art

The London Atelier of Representational Art, located at the old Marmite Factory in Vauxhall, London, is an institution set up by acclaimed artist and sculptor James Napier in 2008 which holds traditional values in the teaching of fine art. The school draws upon technique; using life models as determined by the atelier method. The Atelier prides itself on producing students with a precise understanding of form, materials, and methodologies who are ready to professionally pursue a creative career upon graduation. We interview James Napier, founder of LARA.

A: What is your outlook on the present state of fine art teaching and how did this affect your own experiences at art school?
JN: I set up LARA after feeling frustrated at not being taught fundamental technical drawing skills while studying at one of the top London art schools. A musician wouldn’t even think of performing in public without understanding how to play their instrument, and it’s no different for a fine artist. I wanted to draw, paint and sculpt confidently, but that’s not what established London art schools were teaching, and still aren’t, so I went to Florence. The Italian city used to be the epicentre of the atelier method of art, where you learn the technical side of drawing that should be the core skill for all serious representational artists.

I returned hoping that someone would set something up similar to his Florentine experience, but they didn’t. So after a few years of studying architecture at university, and in various jobs to earn money, I returned to Florence to continue my training because it had become quite evident that was where my focus lay. I returned to work as a sculptor (Working on projects such as the controversial sculpture The Abandoned Soldier for a BBC documentary which was then erected in Trafalgar Square). Finally, as it became clear that no-one was going to establish the atelier-style art teaching I valued so highly, I decided to do it myself, establishing LARA. I have and continue to invest all my energies into LARA ahead of my own art practice because I feel it is so important.

A: LARA aims to offer a more traditional approach to fine art teaching. What has been the response to the school since its opening?
JN: With our well-resourced, professional studios, and strong team of tutors we have taught close to 2000 full and part-time students over the last seven years. The growing demand and popularity for the course is because we teach and support those who want to learn to draw, paint and sculpt confidently, guiding each student to either build a successful career in the art world, or helping them to seek enjoyment in art and enhance their personal lives. LARA attracts students from all over the world, and at all ages, as we offer an attractive selection of courses depending on their needs. Courses available at LARA range from three years full-time diploma, a one year foundation in fine art and a wide selection of short courses – from Saturday School to Masterclasses – offering great tasters to those who are unable to make the full time commitment.

A: Why do you believe that traditional fine art teaching is so essential and how does LARA help to encourage this?
JN: These fine art skills are the bedrock of a career in art, either actively pursuing it or being able to appreciate it. The unique emphasis of LARA is on working directly from life models, A continuous pose of no less than a week and up to a month under unvarying light, gives optimum time to observe the figure and understand how to “see”. Working with tutors 6 hours a day and using the “sight- size” method we aim to teach essential concepts of proportion, line, gesture, form and light to best master expression of the human form.’

LARA is to host its first ever exhibition in London at the Mall Galleries, Atelier: The Art of Representation, 30 November – 4 December 2015.

The show will exhibit works from current and former LARA students and fellow atelier trained artists from around the world. It will showcase the best talent by exhibiting the different direction these artists have taken their training and work in whatever media they use: from advertising and computer arts to tattoo art, and from painting, sculpture, conceptual to architectural, showcasing the continued relevance of fine art skills in all areas of art.

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1. Courtesy of The London Atelier of Representational Art.