“When an artist would like to exhibit his work in his hometown but the effect of fame is to place such a high price on the work so as to risk not selling all the paintings here, we have a problem. It’s a wonderful problem to have because it means that one of Gibraltar’s sons has reached the giddy heights of superstardom in the world of art.”
Christian Hook is at a pinnacle of his creative artistic process and he’s still searching his soul to go even further in his painting and other new artistic projects. His famous portraits already hang in museums and homes of the glitterati. All his exhibitions sell out to the last picture, doubling the price of the catalogue for the next one. His style is taught in art schools. Collectors and oligarchs line up but Christian does not accept commissions because he won’t compromise his artistic integrity.
He doesn’t need to; his artistic signature ‘Hoook’ would command millions if he wanted them. He is restless and articulate about what he is still looking for. He has found a way to measure his artistic energy (Chi) through calligraphy so where will that wisdom take him?
What drives him is pure passion, a search for knowledge and the need to be constantly surprised by what turns up on his easel after he has revisited the canvas multiple times in order to tease his conceptual brilliance out of it so that our jaws may drop when we admire his finished creations. He has redefined science in art in a way that has ensured that his name is now in the current ‘History of Art’ bible. He can select who he wants to paint and what direction his artistic projects will take. Currently he’s poised to break into Netflix with big Hollywood names already on board.
When you achieve all that, and it doesn’t happen overnight or without a lot of hard work and soul searching, you become an inspiration to others and your artistic journey is enriched and motivated even further. Christian Hook is truly an inspirational Gibraltarian for which he was made a Freeman of the City. A nicer more down to earth guy you couldn’t wish to meet and he’s the first one to be surprised at his own success, but listening to his story one can perhaps begin to understand why this talented artist got to where he is today. He took time out from his brushes to tell me about it.
“I think that anybody who is creative finds out at a very early age because they are born with great sensitivity and they are more affected by things and as you are touched by events and life around you, inevitably you mimic things. Sensitive people jump into expressive fields because they are affected by things. When you are creating something it is this sensitivity that tells you when you should carry on or stop the process. When you can tap into that sensitivity you can learn to establish your own artistic benchmark in what is good or not good about your creation.
“I have always been enthralled by artistic endeavours and whilst in my first year at university I was lucky to be living with four final year students who were involved in complex illustration portfolios. They had deep understanding in exploded view illustrations of engines for example, which at the time I thought that I could never achieve. Middlesex University at the time had the highest level of illustrators in the UK and because I was looking at their work and learning all the time, by the end of the first year I had attained their level of execution. They taught me a lot so that by the end of 2nd year I had finished my degree.
“I did two projects, one for London Zoo and the other for the York Viking Centre. They immediately gave me more work and by the third year I was teaching the fourth years because I was quite ahead in development and I had started to mix technical and scientific illustration together. It had never happened before. I was given really big projects by English Heritage and the National Trust so I was able to work with scientists, historians and geologists on museum accurate interpretations of historical sites while still in my third year.”
Christian Hook was nominated by his university for a rare excellence award and was just beaten to the post by a scientist, but he had found a way to morph his own anatomy of horses with scientific illustration and that was a breakthrough which got him noticed and his own ‘new style’ had started to emerge. He worked relentlessly every day late into the night, always searching and pushing himself further, perfecting his craft using natural talent and the work ethic of the greats he met along the way. And there were many.
“David Penny was chief illustrator at Rolex watches. He was the most highly sought artist and the Rolex watch designs were only changed by his illustrations. He used to teach at the Royal College of Art and he came to see my work when I was still in Uni. I got a lot of work as an illustrator and as I got better at it I wanted to take a masters back at my University, so I went back to see David Penny without knowing how far I had developed. He told me that there was nothing that he could teach me but he could offer me a teaching position at the Royal College of Art where I developed even more surrounded by all these people and their thinking. I got to know art directors and eventually I got to work for Disney as well as Penguin books and many others. I was even offered a movie cover for a James Bond Film by a New York agent called Jim Sparks. However I had so much pressure that I fell ill and was only worried about deadlines so I had to stop and move away from illustration and do something else – that’s when portraiture came along. Humans are very expert at reading faces and body language so that is a unique way to measure your artistic worth. If you manage to capture the essence of your subject and people are taken in by your portrait and see the nuances of your interpretation it is a universally accepted way to measure your work. I was not overwhelmed by the Sky Arts portrait TV series, I was ready and totally surprised that I won but I was never overwhelmed by it.”
I remind Christian that when we watched the TV competition at home the Judges and the presenters were almost in shock that he was brave enough to destroy perfectly good portrait work in search of new perspectives. That is still his trade mark which I would describe as an artistic tease in the way that he paints over the subject leaving the viewer to imagine the whole picture by the movement created by apparently random marks. There is nothing random because Christian wants to know how he achieves those studied marks in a split second brush stroke. He knows that Chi is the energy and he wants to harness that energy more as he searches for where it will take him. This is a journey in progress and we are lucky to be living in his time and enjoy the measure of his considerable success as a modern artist.
“I had started to work for Clarendon Gallery two years prior to the Sky Arts Competition, so I was used to public events and I saw this as a way to make it my new career because I could thrive in two hours of painting, which for me was an eternity of time as I was used to working under extreme pressure of deadlines. Therefore I was overwhelmed by the result because I realized then how far I had come. Teaching had made me learn so much as to be able to discover in my own work some elements of what I liked to see as art and pass on as knowledge to students. I was ready and I wanted to show that I could create something new. I was ready to surprise myself and that is the best way I can describe how I work. You can’t surprise yourself if you are doing something expected in the same way. The only way forward is to destroy it and with that possibility of error go forward and try to salvage something from your efforts, only then you surprise yourself by doing something better. The whole point is how will I find surprise? By taking risks and working at it till something better materializes. The surprise is along the way but the way there is always difficult and risky.
“I am interested in the wolf that leaves the pack, the one who has to fend for itself and has to do something extraordinary in order to survive and thrive. Those are the subjects who would interest me to paint them because their struggles challenge me to find a way to capture that in a painting. I don’t have to change everything that I do in order to evolve. I want to capture time, so I video and then paint frames over each other. My style is constantly evolving because I challenge myself and things happen to me which affect the way I see things. The real joy comes when you create a language and that language is evolving with you. My style is being studied in schools and universities in the UK and that is a good exercise; I can be copied but I’m not afraid of that because I take myself as far as I can go in order to keep moving forward. I don’t know how much credit I can take for what I’ve done because I have been lucky to meet so many great teachers along the way. The greatest teacher was the person who taught me how to teach and break down information to present it so that even a three year old can understand. I would not be here today without that and without having learnt from teaching.”
Looking at where Christian Hook is now, he wants to create opportunities for those who go away to study art to be able to work in art when they come back. There are high level talks underway and a project that may unfold to bring his work here so that it can still be sold at today’s prices to buyers who would come here to visit the Rock and see the paintings. A Netflix project is being planned and details of that will emerge soon. In October Christian is holding an exhibition in Althorp and also opening a literary festival there. He wants to explore princess Diana’s childhood and her brother Lord Spencer is onboard.
I have known Christian through family a long time and feel that his nervous energy and natural talent are powerful forces. Some of his achievements are bound by confidentiality agreements and cannot be disclosed. He has been offered over a million per portrait by Russian oligarchs but he declines because he knows that he can command a fee to do what he likes without being tied down so he hasn’t done any commission work in the last five years. The British National Galleries Institution has included Hook in their History of Art book and his crowning achievement is for his work to be on permanent display in various UK museums. If that isn’t inspiring enough for anyone then what is?
Christian Hook is from Gibraltar, from this Rock. I am having breakfast with him and I hope that I have brought him closer to you. You have to see his spellbindingly beautiful paintings to be inspired and I hope that soon many more Gibraltarians will be able to do that here.