About Michael Alford
Contemporary British Figurative Painter
Michael Alford is a contemporary British figurative painter known for his acutely observed, deftly-painted scenes of contemporary life. His diverse output reflects an interest in a range of subjects including cityscapes, street scenes, landscapes, nudes, figures and portraits. He is a prominent muralist and a three-time war artist in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Michael exhibits widely in London galleries and across the UK, as well as in Europe and the United States. He sells his work internationally and his paintings are included in private and public collections, including that of the National Army Museum. His decorative murals feature in homes, restaurants, hotels, palaces and public spaces around the world. He lives and works in London.
Michael Alford was born in Cookham, England, in 1958 to Patricia Boyle, a nurse, and Jonathan Alford, an officer in the Royal Engineers. With his family stationed abroad during most of his childhood, he attended Dragon School and later Rugby School. His father, an enthusiastic amateur artist, taught him draftsmanship and the use formal perspective at an early age. Drawing developed into a favorite pastime and became a natural response to experience throughout his life.
After leaving school, Alford joined the Royal Marines, then attended Durham University where he read Arabic and Spanish. His first significant works were a series of detailed sketchbooks he kept during extensive travels in South America and the Middle East. He underwent further training in art at The Slade and Chelsea School of Art.
Michael began his professional career as a muralist specializing in figurative scenes, architectural features, and trompe l’oeil. Rising to become one of the leading practitioners in the field, he has worked all over the world, creating murals and decorative schemes for private homes, public spaces and commercial premises across the UK, Europe, the USA, and the Middle East.
A sabbatical in Catalonia in 2000 allowed Michael to turn his attention to his own artistic practice and show his paintings in gallery exhibitions for the first time. Basing himself on London on his return to the UK, he began exhibiting regularly in solo and group shows with many galleries including the Duncan Campbell Gallery, the Medici Gallery, Blackheath Gallery, Highgate Contemporary Gallery, the Richard Hagen Gallery, Wimbledon Fine Arts, Thompson’s, Panter & Hall and others. As his reputation grew, he attracted commissions for portraits, and bespoke land-and cityscapes in addition to his gallery work.
In 2010 the First Battalion Grenadier Guards commissioned Michael as a war artist to accompany them during their deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He lived and worked beside the soldiers, recording the experience in a series of detailed sketchbooks and later creating a series of oil paintings, which he showed in a special exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society.
He served twice more as a war artist. In 2013, he returned to Helmand with the 1st Mechanized Brigade. In 2016, he accompanied 1 Rifles on their mission to train Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq prior to their campaign to retake Mosul from Islamic State. His painting, Patrol at Pan Kalay Police Station, was purchased in 2013 for the collection of the National Army Museum.
Prizes and Awards
Michael has been awarded prizes including the Stanley Grimm Prize 2017 from the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Green and Stone Oil Painting Prize, the Agnes Reeve Memorial Prize for best painting of London from the Chelsea Art Society and the Dry Red Press Prize from the ROI in 2021. He is a former council member and current member of the Chelsea Arts Society. In 2017 he appeared in SkyArts Landscape Artist of the Year.
Michael is a figurative painter with an expressive classical style. He depicts scenes of contemporary life with an emphasis on urban subjects, landscapes and the human figure. His wide-ranging catalogue includes cityscapes, city scenes (captured moments in the life of the city), landscapes, beach- and seascapes, figure groups and nudes. His approach is distinguished by vigorous brushwork, skilled draftsmanship, bold handling of colour and a sensitive rendering of the interplay of shadow and light.
His practice is closely linked to his direct experience of seeing and his artistic process begins with physical exploration. Continually in search of material, he actively seeks out new subjects in his home city of London and during frequent trips in the UK and abroad—travel is an important source of inspiration for his work. His abiding interest is in depicting human figures in their context. Whether that context be a landscape, a cityscape or an interior, his aim is to visually situate the human figure in its environment.
Process and Technique
A new painting typically begins with preliminary sketches in oil paint, watercolour, pen and ink or pencil, done quickly, often on the spot en plein air. Michael also uses photographs to record details, especially in field conditions where the scope for sketching is limited. He develops these a la prima impressions in the studio, selecting, synthesizing and composing from a number of images to come up with a working design for a new painting.
Michael most often paints in oils and uses acrylics occasionally. He paints on panel or board by preference—the resistant surface allows him work faster and with more force, lending dynamism to the completed work. His palette varies depending on the subject and mood of the painting. He frequently employs a restricted palette, and occasionally produces works in monotone, but an intense use of colour is characteristic of his approach.
“Painting for me is recapturing the experience of seeing, without being too literal-minded about what that experience is or means.
My work always starts with direct observation of the visible world. It can be broad and sweeping, as in landscapes or cityscapes, or very close and intimate, as in figures, nudes or interiors. I often go out looking for subjects and return to the studio with sketches or drawings. These I use as a starting point for a process that turns raw observation—impressions—into something more abstract and evocative.
The process often involves cutting out visual distractions and transient effects so that the resulting image has more power. Time acts as an important filter for me and so does physical distance between the initial sketch and the painting. Both help me distil the memory and pick out the essential forms.
My overall aim is to communicate my experience of seeing, to convey—through the use of light and shadow and mood—some of the magic and mystery I feel when I look at the world.” — Michael Alford
Michael Alford CV
Born: Cookham, Berkshire, 1958
Education: University of Durham, Chelsea School of Art, Slade School
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Duncan Campbell 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
Nevill Gallery, Canterbury 2006
Royal Geographical Society Afghan Paintings 2010
Highgate Contemporary Art 2010, 2012
Panter & Hall Nudes 2016, Nudes 2023
Wimbledon Fine Art 2016, 2019, 2023
Selected Group Exhibitions
Chelsea Art Society Exhibitions 1991-2022
SF MOMA, Fort Mason, San Francisco 1992-2000
El Claustre, Girona 2003
El Quatre Gallery, Barcelona 2003
Blackheath Gallery 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013
Highgate Fine Art 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
Collins & Hastie 2005, 2006
Kings Road Gallery 2005
Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021
Mall Galleries Award Winners Show June 2022
Bucranio Arte, Italy 2007, 2008, 2009
Enid Lawson Gallery 2011, 2012
Chloe Fine Art, San Francisco 2012-2016
Medici Gallery 2011, 2012, 2013
Panter & Hall Tradition 2014 ” A Lightness of Touch” 2020
Jerram Gallery Winter 2015
Panter & Hall Five British Impressionists April 2019
Panter & Hall We Are 20 2019
Panter & Hall Three British Impressionists July 2017, April 2020
Thompson’s Metropolis 2018
Oil & Water 2018
Chelsea Art Society Ebb & Flow October 2019
Richard Hagen Gallery Summer, Autumn 2019, Winter 2020
ROI Dry Red Press Award 2021
ROI Annual Exhibition Stanley Grimm Prize 2017
Green & Stone Prize 2004
Primaluce Mural Festival Prize, Lodi, Italy 2003
Agnes Reeve Memorial Prize 2000
Norton Way Gallery
51 Norton Way North
Letchworth Garden City SG6 1BH
+44 (0)1462 685 139
Signet Contemporary Art
378 Kings Road
London SW3 5UZ
+44 (0) 20 3105 4820
15 New Cavendish Street
London W16 9UB
+44 (0) 207 935 3595