Stargaze ft. Artist and Architectural Model-maker Martin Chadwick

I often dream of flying; it’s the greatest feeling to defy gravity, to literally fly above the roof tops and into outer space. I think that is why most of my paintings depict people or cities floating. I am fascinated by dreams, and I am constantly looking up their meanings – Martin Chadwick

You were raised in a 16th century pub and from there on you went on to living and working in London, Hong Kong, and Chicago. Tell us more about your background; does your work reflect your life experiences?

I was raised in English pub called the Ship Inn, on the outskirts of a town called Guilford in Surrey, England. The Pub dated back to 1556, when bloody Mary was on the throne. It was an amazing place to grow up, with wooden beams, creaking floors, and old doors that didn’t fit into frames. The Ship had a big, ramshackle, overgrown garden at the back. That was my wonderland, where my imagination ran wild. In the town of Guildford, there was a house that was owned by Lewis Carroll –  the author of Alice in Wonderland. I would often look at that house as a child, with wonderment. I think that’s where my fascination for fantasy came from.

Because of my dyslexia, my grades were not strong enough to get into art school. But by chance, I got a job at sixteen as an apprentice architectural model maker in Farnham, Surrey. My apprenticeship lasted five years. Then I started working for a firm of architectural model makers in London, then Hong Kong, and eventually Chicago.  I settled in Chicago for many years, where I met my wife Christi. I think my architectural background influences my art; you will see a lot of architecture in many of my paintings. You will also see lots vines and leaves in my art.  This- I think- comes from that ramshackle garden at the back of the pub.

People see your work as an art-form born out of dreams, do you believe that sometimes dreams are better than reality?

Yes, I do think that sometimes dreams are better than reality. I often dream of flying; it’s the greatest feeling to defy gravity, to literally fly above the roof tops and into outer space. I think that is why most of my paintings depict people or cities floating. I am fascinated by dreams, and I am constantly looking up their meanings. I’ve often heard that we only use 10% of our brains. I’m not so sure whether it is a myth or not. But sometimes after I wake up, I analyze the dream and think – where did that come from? Is it from that part of my brain I don’t use while awake? I recently had a dream where I was walking through this incredibly magical city where every building had different architectural features and colors. To design these buildings and put them on canvas would take weeks or months. But in my dream, they were just there.

All your art projects look complex in nature, what is the process that you follow? (for e.g. any specific tools or material that you use or preparations that you make for converting the idea into an art-form)

Firstly, the idea comes to my head, and it can actually come from anything like a shadow on a wall. Or more recently, I saw a dream catcher hanging from a neighbor’s balcony. And it is like a light switch going on. I have no idea what I’m going to do with that at the moment. But it gets stored somewhere in my mind for another day.

Once I have an idea I sketch it on scrap piece of paper. Back in the day before computers, I would go through books and magazines and old photos for ideas or references. Now I use technology to play around with my ideas. I will still often do a quick rough sketch on paper. Once I know where I’m going with a painting, I do a kind of photo montage in Photoshop. For instance, I take lots of photos of rock formations. I might take a part of that rock formation, put it in Photoshop, and spin it 180 degrees. Then I might stretch and pull it here and there, change the color, maybe add more shadow…and there it is – a floating rock! I then begin to paint, and that image may continue to change as I put oil to canvas.

Pots and Ceramics; PC: Martin Chadwick


Costumes; PC: Martin Chadwick

Besides being an amazing artist, you are also an architectural model-maker and you have created some of the best models including the HSBC North America’s 4,40,000-square-foot-headquarters. What kind of models do you make? Are they 3-D models?

Yes, all the models I have created are 3-D models. When I first started building models nearly forty years ago, I would receive a big roll of drawings from the client. Then I would build everything by hand, using drill bits, fretsaws, and scoring tools to recreate brick and stone joint lines. This was before computers really came into play. More recently, I would receive architects’ drawings as a downloadable file, with details as specific as interior door handles. I would then spend a week to two breaking down that file into floor plates, elevations, the elevator core and window frames. Then I would send that information to a laser cutter, place a sheet of acrylic on the laser bed and let the laser do the cutting of window holes and scoring the stone joint lines. I would then spray paint it to look like the real stone or brick that would be used in the real building. Then I would assemble it, like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle.


MI6 Headquarters, London; PC: Martin Chadwick


Charing Cross Station, London; PC: Martin Chadwick

Tell us about your ‘Gravity of Everything’ series, what does it depict?

My “Gravity of Everything” series is a collection of oil paintings depicting floating islands and cities in the sky. It was only recently I decided to make a series of these old childhood dreams and make them into a collection. I have always loved the idea of escapism and being free to drift, to be detached from the real world but at the same time to be a part of that world – a kind of yin and yang. Some of my pieces can be turned upside down to get a completely different perspective – as in life!


House of Carroll 24″x 30″ Oil on Canvas; PC: Martin Chadwick

As an artist when you look at your work, what aspirations do you attach with it?

I really want the viewer to be drawn into my painting. On many occasions, unwittingly to the viewer, I have overheard people talk about my work, as they try to analyze my thoughts and the meaning of a particular piece of work. I have heard people say ,“I can’t stop looking at it; I keep seeing different things”. When I see someone walk away with a smile on their face, I feel like I have achieved my goal.

One last question – Is there anything that limits an artist?

I don’t think so. Art comes in many forms. It can be a chef’s creation, a musician’s piece of music, an actor’s performance, a photographer’s snapshot, a writer’s novel, or an artist’s painting. Art reflects life. I think life can be limitless, so why shouldn’t art?


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