Somerset landscape artist Moish Sokal chats to Robert Hesketh from his Norton Sub Hamdon home

PUBLISHED: 15:30 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:17 20 February 2013

Moish Sokal in the fields behind his Norton Sub Hamdon home. Photo Robert Hesketh

Moish Sokal in the fields behind his Norton Sub Hamdon home. Photo Robert Hesketh

From his home in Norton Sub Hamdon, artist Moish Sokal looks over an English idyll of low hills, green fields and gambolling sheep. Moish's watercolours skilfully capture the tranquillity and gentle hues of the Somerset landscape, but his interest...

Somerset landscape artist Moish Sokal chats to Robert Hesketh from his Norton Sub Hamdon home

"It's great to capture the sensual feast of Indian colour and bring it back to share," says Moish Sokal "Painting the Somerset landscape calls for a different palette, but India helps me find English colour - and there is a lot of colour here, with a golden light from the low sun, so different from the white light of a tropical day or the bluish light of Australia."

Born in Israel in 1948, Moish grew up in the beachside town of Haifa. Encouraged to develop his talents by his father, a sculptor and silversmith, he started his career in graphic design during his army service. With his first wife, Moish hitch-hiked across Europe to London. A one-way stopover ticket then took them to Sydney.

Learning a gamut of valuable skills in printing, photography and selling, he started a successful career in graphic design, but travel beckoned. In 1976, he explored South East Asia. Falling seriously ill with hepatitis and amoebic dysentery in India, he vowed never to return - happily for his art, that's a promise he hasn't kept.

Regaining his health, he learned the magic of airbrush techniques. Returning to Sydney, he made money, bought a house and started his own company. However, like Ulysses, he could not rest from travel, and saw it as an escape from his working life.

"Whenever I travelled, I said to myself, 'It's time out, no briefs from clients, no deadlines, just paint as you travel.' That's what I always did - pen and inks in the early days. In 1982, an artist in Cuzco introduced me to the magic of watercolours. I realised that nothing beats the brilliance of the white paper; it shines through the pigments. Now I travel with one pack containing everything: paints and brushes, pads of paper, my cameras."

For Moish, the first stage of any painting is the adventure of travel and the camera lens. "Discovering new subjects and photographing them is as exciting as painting," he says. "I search, find, hunt and shoot! Digital photography makes it even better - I see the subject straight away, begin painting on the screen, playing with exposures, light and film speeds.

"When I've got enough photographic material, I find myself a place on the beach somewhere. I switch to being a painter, get up at sunrise, have an hour's swim, go right into the job after breakfast. I like to paint outside. The guest house should have a nice balcony, with the street life below, but nobody should bother me.

"Painting the Somerset landscape calls for a different palette, but India helps me find English colour"

"Suddenly, I can't see anymore. I realise the sun is setting. When I'm painting, I'm totally immersed, on a different planet. I can't wait for the next morning - that's the sign of a happy man!"

Moish left graphic design in 1990 when life took a new turn. Prue, his Somerset-born wife, had to return to England to look after her father. Moish joined her, bought a pad and paints and started work. Prue was selling her jewellery in Yeovil market and suggested he set up a stall by hers.

"At that time, I'd never sold any of my paintings, but destiny was smiling at me, opening a new door to walk through. I sold four paintings that first morning and got a commission to paint someone's garden. That money meant more to me than the thousands of dollars I'd made in Sydney.

"I realised I could live off my painting. My heart was no longer in graphic design. I'd done it for a long time, tied to briefs, the commercial world, deadlines, pricing and competition. It was becoming dominated by computers. I wanted hands-on paper, that's where I feel really creative, with paint and brushes, not a screen and keyboard."

So Moish decided to embrace a new way of living. "Now it was time to be casual and relaxed, work to my own rhythm on my own subjects," he says. "Prue worked on her jewellery, I on my painting. It was a huge step, a leap of faith, uprooting myself. I was 42 and it was hard at first. The 1990s recession was on and I wondered what I'd done. But I staged my first exhibition in Yeovil Arts Centre. More exhibitions came at Barrington Court and East Lambrook Manor Gardens , London too. I sold more paintings, built up a good clientele and a mailing list.

"In Rajasthan, every frame was a painting, a feast for the senses"

"It takes time to get known. People are very discerning and critical. I take it as a great compliment when someone buys my work. I was losing money for the first five years. For the next three, I was breaking even, and then I got in front. I started doing limited-edition prints, which were a great success. Gicle printing suits me fine. Now I can offer a range from cards for a few quid up to a big original painting at 2,000."

Despite settling in England, Moish continues to be inspired by his travels, especially India - but India is changing fast. "It's a race against time to capture that old Indian magic before it totally disappears," he says. "I love the colour, women in saris, men in turbans; elephants and river life; the sellers in the markets. That's what excites me to paint and I know that excitement will go right through the person who sees the picture. On my last trip, I visited Rajasthan, where every frame was a painting, a feast for the senses. The traders from near and far got to know me at the Pushkar camel fair. They carried on business as if I wasn't there."

Moish is grateful for his father's encouragement, too. "When I was a boy, my father said, 'Paint, paint and draw, Moishale, one day you may live by it!' And I have painted and drawn all my life. That has been my escape, the way I can live with myself. Without it, I'd be lost. If I were a rich man, I'd still do what I'm doing - that's what fulfils me. I struggle with my work, each painting is a new challenge, but there's no bigger buzz than finishing the day and looking at what you've painted." BY ROBERT HESKETH

For more information call 01935 881350 or visit

Forthcoming Exhibitions

Until 17 July: East Lambrook Manor Gardens, South Petherton, 10am-5pm,

September: Joint exhibition with Prue Biddle (jewellery) and Rachel Sokal (photography). Meeting House Arts Centre, Ilminster, tel 01460 55783

October: Sadler Street Gallery, Wells,

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