Artists like Bosch and Arcimboldo certainly played and had fun within their paintings. Could this be why their works are considered to be so fresh, exciting and still relevant today? When looking at a commissioned painting by the great Titian, it's what he painted when he was going beyond any brief he might have been given that really interests me. Although he would often deal with lofty subjects involving life and death, he was not beyond having a little joke to himself. The next time you get a chance to see his wonderful painting 'The Three Ages of Man' in the National Galleries of Scotland, have a look at where he placed the two flutes the woman is holding and then look up at the near-naked man's face... now no one's going to tell me that Titian wasn't having more than a bit of subversive fun there. You can just imagine his contemporaries sniggering into their glasses of Prosecco at the unveiling!
Perhaps it's better to just do what comes naturally without too much laboured thought beforehand. You can tell so much about Titian the man by just looking at the humanity in his work. When Rembrandt heaved a great sigh and sat down in front of his mirror again, did he realise just how much he would communicate to subsequent generations?
But then there's the real world I live in now, and if my painting doesn't make any sense in this fantastically exciting, technologically exhilarating and increasingly diverse planet that we live on, then there isn't too much point to it. Artists have never been freer to express themselves in any way they want and I revel in all that diversity. I have to find ways of making my work relevant now and you can't do that by just chucking a modern product in somewhere... it has to be right for the painting. Paintings can sit around for a long time waiting for that eureka moment to arrive. Of course, I try to choose subjects and items that might have a timeless quality to them, but in the end, nobody really knows do they.
My artistic journey has brought me to where I am now. Right at the start, I couldn't have known how important my childhood days in Central Africa would be to me now. TV hadn't yet arrived so my days were full of slightly wild, imaginative play and freedom, making wire cars, highly competitive games of African hopscotch in the village or full-scale war games involving catapults, air pistols and fire! I have taken many a wrong turning along the way, but finally I know that I am on the right path because, when I am painting in my studio, it feels a bit like being a child in Malawi again. It is my belief that when you are open and free like a fun-loving child, your utterances will be far more pure, profound and enlightening. Maybe the figures I am drawn to paint look a bit like they have come from the 17th century out of a sense of nostalgia for my own past, but they are forced to live in a contemporary world full of chewing gum, cartoons and ice-cream vans. I personally think that they don't have any problem with that.
I hope that the older I get, the freer I will be artistically and that I will end my journey as a thoroughly childish old man. So, when anyone looks at my work, they should feel no fear but be free to make their own minds up about it. They might think of my paintings as playgrounds for inquisitive minds.