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Andy Spink

A conversation with Andy quickly reveals to you that, despite being a man of many talents, he is also wonderfully self-effacing. In answering my questions on his artwork, he bookends his answers with “I hope that makes sense, I did go to art school” and his gratitude that someone should take an interest in his talents is quickly apparent.

Even amongst a community as dynamic and creative as the British outdoor scene, Andy stands out. A mountain instructor with a background in fine art who splits his time on the hill between painting and climbing, he is unquestionably a rare creature. We caught up with Andy as he was exhibiting his work at the Fort William Festival, a celebration of all aspects of mountain culture, and started with the obvious question; how does someone with a fine art background end up working in the outdoors?

“I started rock climbing at the age of 14. I was obsessive with it. Living in Yorkshire, Ilkley and Malham became my stomping grounds. All I wanted to do was climb and make art, go to art school to paint and go climbing. I mountaineered and rock climbed whenever possible whilst at art school. My work has always been based on the environment or the being in the environment. After leaving Cardiff Art College I painted for a gallery in London and at the same time I set up Hebridean Pursuits Ltd.”

All of Andy’s work is very clearly inspired by the landscapes in which he works, so much so that you can almost taste the dirt and sea spray, but I was also interested to know where his artistic roots lay and the topic quickly shifted to other artists who inspired him…

British Landscape painting is close to my heart, as is abstract expressionist painting. David Bomberg, Peter Lanyon, Mark Rothko, Jack Yates, Casper David Federick and Howard Hodgkin all have influenced my landscape work. Although primarily a painter and sketch book keeper, the Landscape Conceptualisation of artists such as Richard Long also inspired my journeys and made me consider the landscape in a much more academic way, not just from a romantic perception.

But still the romanticism is there, not just in the work, but in the way that Andy talks about both his climbing and his art. The outdoors for him is “consuming” and even his “mistress” and he says he feels privileged more than anything to be in positions and to have experiences that other artists simply don’t.

There is almost something of the Victorian gentleman about the way in which Andy approaches his work, or perhaps Arthur Wainwright sat in the fells of the Lakes sketching out his route to the summit.

Often I just carry a sketch book…I love sending post cards, a good old fashioned personal process, and hence a small sketch book is a constant in my rucksack or pocket. It’s a much more personal and often honest way of recording than with the camera because it reflects the immediate weather, the sweat and the time constraints of the journey or climb.”

Andy’s work is constrained in other ways too. With a young family at home and plenty of work commitments, the main changing feature he notices through this retrospective exhibition is that the scale of his paintings has reduced. More of the sketchbook, less of the canvas. But Andy isn’t simply tinkering away with pencil and paper, he still prefers to work in oil paint – “it’s like climbing, it can go very wrong very quickly.” It may go wrong quickly, but looking around the walls at his work in The Limetree Gallery, it doesn’t seem like it often does.

Andy Spink has thirty-six years of climbing and mountaineering experience. He is the founder of Hebridean Pursuits ltd, an adventure company based on the West Coast of Scotland. Working throughout the year, Andy particularly loves instructing and guiding in the Scottish winter season.

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