In The Studio: Gerard Hemsworth, artist

'When I put Mark Wallinger and Bob & Roberta Smith on a pair of elephants'

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The Independent Culture

Gerard Hemsworth moved into his current home, a former Methodist meeting house in Hastings, two years ago. The space is high-ceilinged, quiet, and beautifully proportioned. Behind a wall, yet still part of the living space, is the studio. I first met Hemsworth at private views, mainly by his students from Goldsmiths, where he had been professor of painting until recently.

Hemsworth said that he recently realised that 13 of his students had gone on to be nominated for the Turner Prize – a number that includes Mark Wallinger, Fiona Banner, the Wilson twins and Glenn Brown. Hemsworth himself won the Royal Academy's Charles Wollaston Award in 2000.

Born in 1945, Hemsworth studied at St Martins at a time when painting was not at its most popular: "Painting did not get a look in as it went from new generation sculpture to minimalism, and then to conceptual art." His paintings are pared down in colour and shape, reducing an image to its essential few marks, yet still rendering it recognisable.

While I comment on the wit of one of his works hanging nearby, Small Cactus, a painting consisting of bubbles and a simplistic cactus such as you would see in a comic or children's book, he points out the disquietude behind it. The painting confounds logic as you try to understand why the shapes occupy the same canvas.

In the studio, a painting sits in preparation for the next stage.

Hemsworth has masked out shapes in tapes, something that he admits can take a disproportionate amount of time. "I can spend a lot of time just sitting there looking and thinking, 'Does this image need to go 10cm this way or that way?'" In one of his works, yellow arcs are carefully placed between the black horizon and the blue sky. Hemsworth explains that the shapes "activate" the space. "You do a line from left to right, you have a horizon; top to bottom you have a corner. People may think it is a line going across – it is quite strong; it is a horizon."

Coming back on the train, I chuckle over Hemsworth's story about taking some students, including Wallinger, on a trip to India.

Elephants were provided for a trek up a mound to a temple. Hemsworth got into his basket with two of his three children; Wallinger got into his, but soon bailed out backwards, preferring to scramble up the hill.

Patrick Brill, better known as Bob and Roberta Smith, was copiously sick off the top of his elephant. When I tease Wallinger later, he says that what Hemsworth didn't tell me was that they lost an elephant – and some tourists – off the side of the hill the following year.

To Hemsworth, the most important part of teaching was, "to get the students to believe in themselves; it is the hardest thing for artists to believe in themselves."

Curated by artist Gerard Hemsworth, Knock Knock: Seven Artists in Hastings is the current exhibition on show at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings which runs until the 17 of April.