Combes’s walls, timeworn by natural and human forces, punctuated by the occasional window and sometimes a faded mural, are isolated from their larger context, becoming endless mazes of color associations and textures. His use of paint is direct, opaque and often asserts itself on the canvas as if to transform into the very brick or tile or wood plank depicted. Combes develops these rich surfaces slowly. He takes care to articulate and nuance every inch of a subject, and thus reveals the liveliness and intimacy of the cities we inhabit.
In Ghost Sign on Parapet Wall, Combes splits the composition evenly between the sky and wall, contrasting the intricate detail of the chipped brick against the vast expanse of the cloudless sky. Even as he appears to zero in on this small, carefully observed segment of city architecture, Combes hints at the surrounding environment in the window’s reflection of the skyline across the street. Combes’s compositions are matter of fact in their frontal perspective. Yet they feel open and full of air. His closely observed, almost scientific method of working, turns an aesthetic experience into something more emotive and narrative.
Working six days a week from a mixture of live visits and photographs Combes familiarizes himself with a location. His canvases often begin with a wash of grey and set of perspective lines. Combes might work on a painting for two months slowly building in each step of color often localized and harmonious. Born in Manchester in 1963, Combes received his training in architecture from the University of Liverpool, England. After a short time in professional practice he moved to New York to study painting at the New York Academy of Art. Although his primary studio is in New York, for much of his career Combes traveled between the UK and New York City maintaining a studio in both countries. In 2004, he was inducted into the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in London and has received numerous awards and honors. He has three times been exhibited in the National Gallery of London as part of the BP Portrait Awards and has been the focus of a solo show at the Bassetlaw Museum, Nottinghamshire, England.