Meet the Artist: Stephen Jacobson VPRWA

Our exclusive Q&A with Stephen Jacobson, artist and Vice President of the RWA…

“…The beauty or appreciation of the mundane is the absolute key to the function of my work…”

Stephen Jacobson is known for his distinctively still and simple compositions that capture a beauty in everyday objects and scenes.

His career as a painter began in the 1970s and he has been an Academician of the RWA since 2008, becoming its Vice President in 2013.

Stephen Jacobson: ‘Dark Cloud’

When did you realise you were an artist?

I don’t think I am one yet but I still have a bit of time! However, I have loved drawing since I can remember and never had any other aspirations than going to art school.


Why do you make art?

I like the idea that someone once said of my work, ‘ You are looking for Paradise on earth’.


What is your usual process for making an artwork? How do you choose your subjects?

My starting point is always sparked off by seeing something that I know I want to use for a picture. I work from drawings or photographs and remove any extraneous elements that may detract from the focus of the painting. At the same time, I often add things that weren’t in the scene but will help with the mood or with the atmosphere I am trying to convey.

Your works often feature ordinary things (lamp posts, boats, benches, trees) in simple landscapes, but they are somehow imbued with a strangeness, even a surreal quality.  Is it an aim of yours to bring out the strangeness of everyday things and places?

I am not sure ‘strangeness’ is the correct word. I am trying to show something I think is actually there but not readily apparent. The beauty or appreciation of the mundane is the absolute key to the function of my work.


Stephen Jacobson: ‘T Junction’
Stephen Jacobson: ‘Daffodils’


Your works also often have unusual compositions, such as interiors from unexpected angles. Why is that?

I am interested in shape and pattern, but I don’t think they are ‘unexpected’ angles. We see these things like this all the time without realising it. We take them for granted and register them, for convenience, in a more simple format in our minds.



Stephen Jacobson: ‘Seaside Cafe’


“…someone once said of my work, ‘ You are looking for Paradise on earth’…”


Stephen Jacobson: ‘Landing’



Stephen Jacobson: ‘Rosalin and Howard Jacobson’


How has your work changed or evolved through your career? Was there a particular turning point?

There was. It was when I moved to live by the estuary in Portishead. It wasn’t just the water that fascinated me it was also the skies. I lived my life in cities before moving there and hadn’t taken much notice of the skies at all. It was a real revelation and has become a significant factor in my observations and my work ever since.

Stephen Jacobson: ‘From the Lighthouse’


Stephen Jacobson: ‘Captured Kite’


Stephen Jacobson: ‘Field of Crows’


You were made an Academician of the RWA in 2008 and Vice President in 2013. What has that meant to you and your art?

Being Vice President has been a real privilege and I have enjoyed the responsibilities that come with the job. It has been fascinating being part of  some significant decisions that affect the running of the Academy and it has also helped me develop a greater insight into human nature!

The effect on my work is very subtle, if at all, but there may be subliminal elements appearing at a later date!


What are you working on now?

I have just finished a painting for the RWA Autumn Open exhibition. It’s of the slipway for the recently built lifeboat station in Portishead. The idea of a road disappearing into the sea with a barrier across really interested me. ( I am sure there will be some psychological interpretations of this )!

Stephen on the Selection Panel for the 2016 RWA Open Exhibition


A fairy godmother waves her magic wand and says you can own any artwork in the world. What do you choose?

I have always loved a painting by Piero de Cosimo entitled A Satyr Mourning Over a Nymph.

My wife and I have been known to lose each other in the National Gallery but she knows she will always find me alongside this painting. ( With a stretch of the imagination and  a strong sense of romanticism you can see aspects of Portishead in the background ).

‘A Satyr mourning over a Nymph’ (c.1495) by Piero di Cosimo. Image: National Gallery



You can see more examples of Stephen’s work on his website.



The Friends of the RWA is an independent charity that supports the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol’s first art gallery. 
For just £35 a year Friends can make unlimited visits to RWA exhibitions and enjoy a host of other benefits, as well as making an important contribution to the arts in Bristol and the South West. Find out more and join up here.


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