Displays Archive

Courtauld Artist At Work: Matthew Krishanu

Our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery is in full swing. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Matthew Krishanu, Artist Educator in our Public Programmes team discussing his practices.

Matthew Krishanu with Weapons 2018, 2, photo by Peter Mallet

Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

I am a painter – I work primarily in oils, although I also love acrylics and watercolours. I find I use each medium in a different way. Over the last six years I have been building up a body of work that explores my childhood experiences of growing up between Bangladesh, India and Britain. I am currently showing thirty-three of these paintings (including ten large-scale works) in my solo show The Sun Never Sets, at Huddersfield Art Gallery (until 15 September 2018).

The show centres on ‘two boys’ – my brother and myself, who feature in most of the paintings. The exhibition title comes from my interest in the role of the British Empire in India (which at its height was known as ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’), and how aspects of the past empire are experienced by the two boys. There is also the fact that the sun never sets in a painting – that a painted scene captures a moment or a memory and freezes it in time.

My work is partly inspired by the novelist LP Hartley’s line ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. I’ve always liked the idea that our past selves continue to exist as if in a foreign land. With that in mind, the paintings are like windows onto the past (or another country), animated in paint.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I have worked in a wonderful bright large studio in East London since 2013. It is south-facing, so has good sunlight throughout the day. My painting wall is four metres long, and it is here that I have worked on my largest paintings over the last five years (up to three metres wide). I usually have several paintings on the go, both large and small works. I work in layers of paint, allowing time to dry between layers, so paintings usually take several weeks or months to complete.

I have a painting table on wheels, allowing me to move my paints and palette around the studio to position myself in front of several different works. I love the peace of working in my space – it is a quiet studio group, with few interruptions. I particularly like arriving early in the morning, to paint with the first light (particularly in summer). Later in the day I find I make more mistakes in paintings – the first hours are always best.

Studio, photo Jens Marott

Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

I sometimes work with watercolour and drawings at home, but always paint in the studio when working with oil paint (it’s fine to create a mess there). I generate a lot of the source material away from the studio – whether that is selecting or taking photographs as subject matter for paintings, working up ideas in sketchbooks, or drawing from observation. That said, the vast majority of my creative time and work takes place in the studio – it is where I am most focussed and productive.

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

The transition to a large space (previously I worked in a smaller studio in a live/work space in Bow) allowed me to scale up my paintings, and was the catalyst for making my first large works. There is enough space for me to work on up to three large paintings in the studio at a time. In addition to space, I need light (sunlight is ideal) and uninterrupted time – whether I listen to music or work in silence, I need the time to be able to work for several hours without distractions. These include emails and social media – ideally when in the studio I only check my phone for messages when all brushes are washed and the painting session is finished.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

I love my brushes – I could not paint effectively without a great range of different shapes, sizes and styles of brushes. I particularly like wide, flat bristle brushes (four to six inches wide is ideal) – allowing me to apply large areas of blocked-in thinned paint to the canvas surface. I like the way the diluted paint then drips and runs, and I can wipe it back or change the tilt of the canvas to affect the drips.

I have a wide range of colours and brands in oil paint. I usually put out twenty colours on my palette (always in the same order), so that I can reach for any tone I need when painting, and don’t need to stop to squeeze out more paint.I require odour-free solvents (I use a mineral spirit called Shellsol T) to thin my paints – turpentine and white spirit give me headaches. My medium of choice is Stand Oil – I like the luscious, thick texture of it, which is ideal when building up fat layers of oil paint (although most of my paintings are made up of thinner glazes).

I also like puppets and dolls – particularly ones with national or cultural significance (like my Rajasthani puppets) – which I keep in my studio.

How do you deal with creative block?

I feel a lot of the creative blocks were earlier in my practice – when I was really trying to find a voice and subject for my work (through my BA, MA and for a couple of years after). Since 2012 (when I began my Another Country series of paintings of the two boys) I have had far more ideas and paintings than I could realise in the time – I will be working with this material for many years to come. In the next few years I also plan to re-visit India and Bangladesh to paint, draw and take photographs there – this will feed into my source material and offer a new wealth of subject matter.

Boat, 2018, oil on canvas 200 x 300cm (photo Peter Mallet)

Skeleton, 2014, oil on canvas, 150 x 200cm, courtesy of the artist and the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London (photo Peter Mallet)

Discover more of Matthew’s work:

www.matthewkrishanu.com

Twitter:  @MatthewKrishanu

Instagram:  @matthewkrishanu

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Courtauld Artists At Work: Grace A Williams

With the opening of Artists at Work in our Drawings Gallery we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Grace A Williams, Research Forum Digital Project Officer in our Research Forum discussing her practices.

Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

I’m an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on photography and installation. I often work with archival and found material to explore feminist power dynamics in the history of magic, mythology and the occult. I have collaborated with some of the world’s leading specialist collections to uncover hidden or maligned female histories, including the psychic mediums photographically documented manifesting Ectoplasm in the T G Hamilton collection at The University of Manitoba, Canada and the legacy of Sally Ryan within the Jacob Epstein Archive at The New Art Gallery Walsall.

Tell us about your working environment(s). Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

My working environment greatly varies depending upon the project. I had a studio in Birmingham before moving to London and now I work from temporary studios for larger projects. I often work on site-specific projects, so in the next few months my studio will be a preserved 1920s National Trust Property!

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

I enjoy the flexibility of working in different environments but having a permanent studio is something that long term I would like to establish. My husband is an architect and together we’d like to have a space that can be functional for both our practices.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

I couldn’t live without my laptop, working with lens based and digital media means I’m constantly running Adobe suite. In total contrast to this I also collect early analogue technology from the history of photography and film. I have just purchased a number of traditional magic lantern projectors that will feature in my next solo show at The New Art Gallery Walsall in August. I’m fascinated by early approaches to creating spectral images and I’ve had a long term project that explores the Nipkow disc as the basis of television broadcasting.

 

How do you deal with creative block?

I tend to work on several projects at the same time which keeps me inspired and motivated. If I ever feel a little slumped, going to the cinema, walking and sleeping help – surprisingly I have solved several major project worries at night.

 

Discover more of Grace’s work:

Grace A Williams: Intermission
The New Art Gallery Walsall, 10 August — 11 November 2018

www.grace-a-williams.com

Twitter: @GraceANagle

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Behind the Scenes in Prints and Drawings: Auditing the collection

The Courtauld Gallery’s collection of prints numbers over 26,000 individual works. While that doesn’t make it the largest such collection in the UK – to put this in perspective, the British Museum has over two million prints – it’s still an impressive number and a challenge to keep track of.

So how do we do it?

Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper, and Rachel Hapoienu, Drawings Cataloguer: IMAF Project

May Fortune’s Faerie Barque by Wind and Wave Be Wafted Thee, hand-coloured print, Jessie Marion King (1875-1949)

Everyone who works with the print collection on a regular basis – curators, conservators, registrars and our team of postgraduate Print Room assistants – endeavours to be as careful as possible about returning prints to their correct locations when they’re taken out for study, conservation or loan. But every couple of years, we set aside a few weeks and undertake a survey of the whole, or a large portion of, the collection – an audit.

We recently completed an audit of our 11,000-strong collection of British prints. This was actually the first time we were able to survey our entire holdings in this area, as cataloguing was only completed two years ago. As usual in such a tight-knit team, many people pitched in to work through the boxes in pairs, checking their contents against what’s recorded on our collection database.

It might not be glamorous work, and reading off endless strings of numbers can swiftly lead to a condition we jokingly referred to as ‘print audit brain’, but not only is it necessary for the proper management of the collection, it can turn up unexpected delights – for example, some lovely hand-coloured prints by Scottish illustrator Jessie Marion King (1875-1949), a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It’s always good to be reminded of exactly how many treasures we have in store.

By Dr Rachel Sloan

William Henry Hunt: Country People

Mention William Henry Hunt to most watercolour enthusiasts and you’re likely to hear something along the lines of ‘Oh, the one who did all the birds’ nests.’ Not for nothing was Hunt (1790-1864) nicknamed ‘Bird’s Nest’ Hunt; both during his lifetime and after, he was best known for his luminous, richly detailed still lifes of flowers, feathers and bird’s nests.

However, there’s another side to Hunt’s work, every bit as fascinating, that’s overshadowed by the birds’ nests: a remarkable series of single figure studies of rural labourers produced mostly during the middle of his career, in the 1820s and 1830s. William Henry Hunt: Country People (on view in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery until 17 September) sheds light on this important aspect of his work. At the heart of the show are two works in The Courtauld Gallery’s collection, one of them exhibited here for the first time, depicting two gardeners on the estate of Hunt’s patron, the Earl of Essex.

The cast of characters – gardeners, gamekeepers, farmers, millers, kitchen maids and more – might strike us as appealingly nostalgic, capturing a lost golden age. In fact, the English countryside was undergoing tremendous social change while Hunt was painting its denizens, and some of these tensions are apparent in his choice of subject matter. Among the prosperous-looking gamekeepers, we find a poacher – a figure who undermined the age-old order the gamekeeper represented.

Hunt’s portrayals of country people are notable for their sympathetic dignity and their meticulous detail. Many of them come across as portraits of distinct individuals, but in some cases we now know he worked from a costumed model: sometimes the same figure appears in different guises, as in The Kitchen Maid and The Orphan, both modelled by his wife; in another instance, a ‘gamekeeper’s’ incorrect (and dangerous!) hold on a gun reveals that he is more likely a model than the professional of the title.

Whether records of actual rural workers or studies of a posed model, however, all of Hunt’s watercolours suggest a close encounter with his subjects. Disabled from birth and unable to work as freely out of doors as his peers, Hunt made a virtue of necessity by concentrating on figures and still lifes, closely observed in indoor settings. He insisted on working entirely from life and the vivid naturalism of his figures suggests his tireless engagement with the world around him. John Ruskin, a great admirer of Hunt’s work, called his watercolours ‘virtually faultless’. Come to the Drawings Gallery and see for yourself!

By Dr Rachel Sloan

Reading Inscriptions in the Collection

Our Reading Drawings Display, in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery until 4 June, looks at a selection of works from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection which demonstrate the varying reasons both artists and collectors wrote on drawings. These range from straightforward signatures to lengthy captions, invented languages and marks of ownership. However, it’s not just this temporary display that features inscriptions revealing essential information about a work of art’s authorship, dating, subject matter, purpose and history. The Courtauld’s full collection has its own plethora of written word on a variety of materials, detailing an array of interesting snippets of information.

Monumental Inscriptions

Roman funerary altar (1st century AD)

Roman funerary altar (1st century AD)

The inscription here mentions the stone was made by Lucceia Hebene for her husband, Marcus Lucceius Optatus, and daughter, who died at five years and three months. What it does not tell us, but can be deduced from the name itself, is that Hebbene (or Hebene) was a freed slave, possibly a black freed slave. (There is an associated altar, dedicated to Lucceia Hebene herself, in a castle in Scotland.)

The art and craft of lettering

Inscription, 1918, Eric Gill (1882-1940)

This carved limestone inscription reads ‘OPTIMA ET PULCHERRIMA VITAE SVPELLEX AMICTIA’. This is adapted from Cicero’s De Amicitia and means ‘The best and most beautiful support of life is friendship’. Inscribed on the right side is the name of the sculptor and date of the work, ‘EGill 1918’.

Monograms and signatures

Portrait of Mette Gauguin, 1877, Paul Gauguin

The inscription on this bust is signed and carved below the collar: P. Gauguin. Only two marble sculptures by Gauguin are known, this portrait head of his Danish wife Mette and one of his son, Emile, carved in the same year. At the time the Gauguin family was living in an apartment in the Rue des Fourneaux, in Paris, which belonged to a sculptor named Bouillot. Considering Gauguin’s inexperience as a sculptor in marble, and the highly accomplished naturalism of this work, it seems likely that Bouillot assisted Gauguin in the carving, but to what extent is not known.

Virgin and Child, Circa 1365-70, Barnaba da Modena

This small work was made for private devotion. For this purpose, Christ’s scroll is inscribed with one of the beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. The text along the bottom, ‘Barnaba da Modena painted (this)’, is a rare early example of a painter’s signature. Born in Modena in central Italy, Barnaba spent most of his career in Genoa. The heavy shading of the Virgin’s face and the gold striations on her mantle are derived from Byzantine art. This slightly archaic style may account for Barnaba’s success in Genoa, where Byzantine painting had long been dominant.

Enamel plaque painted in grisaille with David and Goliath, probably French 19th Century in the style of the 16th century

This enamel plaque shows David and Goliath, with ‘P.R.’ on the bottom of the triumphal arch. Signed enamels with the monogram ‘P.R.’ usually means they were either made in the ‘workshop of Pierre Reymond’, or by Pierre Reymond himself. However, it is thought that this work is a highly skilled 19th century forgery done in the style of Pierre Reymond.

These are just a few examples of the types of inscriptions that can be found within The Courtauld Gallery’s collection, both online and in the Gallery itself. Next time you’re visiting us, why not take a closer look at the works and delve into the world of writing and markings on works of art, and for all art that is not currently on display, you can find out more on them on our Art and Architecture website.

Visit Reading Drawings, on display until 4 June 2017