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

Courtauld Artists At Work: Chloe Le Tissier

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 Chloe Le Tissier, Assistant Registrar / PA to Head of Gallery and The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 winner 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 work primarily with oil on canvas and watercolour, and sketching and drawing forms the basis of much of my work. I am inspired by my surroundings, particularly from travels, as well as everyday scenes, people, objects and beauty in nature.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

My studio is at Thames-side Studios in Woolwich where I have a lovely view of the river and north facing light which is perfect for painting.  I often work outside of my studio too, which largely came about through studying at the Royal Drawing School where courses were regularly taught out and about.  Many of the pictures in the show Artists at work are really familiar sights!

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

I often have a sketchbook to hand in case I can grab a few moments in the Gallery to sketch from works in the Courtauld collection. I spent a lot of time in the Goya: Witches and Old Women exhibition a couple of years ago and managed to make a sketch of each work from the album we were displaying. I love drawing and painting in other museums and galleries as well as outside; in woods, parks, on the beach and at the Zoo, anywhere that captures the imagination and is visually intriguing.  I undertake Artist Residencies too where you are completely removed from your usual location, which can be both enjoyable and challenging.

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

Working outside can present certain practical limitations – the scale of the work, the medium, how much equipment you want to carry with you, whether it dries in time (especially in the British weather… I once watched a watercolour I was working on melt away as I tried to take shelter under a tree from heavy rain).

In my studio I am surrounded by my paintings, by books, materials and canvases. I have had the contents of my studio for years so it’s all very familiar and comfortable, but I also try to keep it clean and clear so that I can focus on painting.  I love having a view from my studio for the connection to the outside world.

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

Studying other artists and art history, seeing exhibitions and observational drawing are all really important to my practice, as is knowing when to stop on a painting, when it is finished.

How do you deal with creative block?  

Studying other artists and art history, seeing exhibitions and observational drawing! As well as sometimes just stepping back and thinking, trying not to panic and staying positive.

Thames-side Studios are having an Open Studios this weekend, 9-10 June 2018. All welcome! more info here 

 

Discover more of Chloe’s work:

www.chloeletissier.com

https://www.thames-sidestudios.co.uk/

Instagram: chloe_le_tissier

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Courtauld Artists At Work: Alexandra Blum

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 Alexandra Blum, Gallery Tutor in our Public Programmes team discussing her practices.

Alexandra drawing close to the Thames Barrier, 2018. Photo credit: Charles Chambers

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

Drawing is central to my practice, and to my research into spatial perception and the visualization of the passage of time.   I’m especially interested in urban space, particularly areas undergoing change, where time itself seems to become visible in the fabric of the city.

I love the binary nature of drawing, the way a drawing can be constructed around the presence and absence of the drawing material, so that the negative space becomes very tangible.  A form defined purely by surrounding marks, rather than being drawn in its own right, seems to evoke not only its current location and presence, but also suggests an imprint of where an object existed in the past, or might exist in the future.

I’m also fascinated by the way negative space emphasizes the emergent quality of a drawing.  Sometimes it feels as if completed drawings are still under construction, so that each mark becomes a trace of the observation process which was on-going as I tried to understand the space surrounding me as I drew.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

After having a studio in Dalston, east London, for 10 years, I’ve recently moved my studio close to the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, south east London.  It’s within an industrial estate and, amongst the light industry at work there today, there are also several beautiful, but decaying, Siemens Brothers factories, dating from the 1860s when they produced telegraph cables.

A little further up river is Angerstein Wharf, where large amounts of aggregate are still unloaded from barges onto huge conveyor belts protruding into the river. As the surroundings are so industrial, being in my studio feels a bit like working within a factory of artists, which is a galvanising and inspiring atmosphere to work within.

It’s also important to me to have a studio surrounded by other artists.  The layout of my studio is semi-open plan, which enables chance encounters with other artist’s work, and the conversations we have about each other’s practice are invaluable.

Alexandra Blum’s studio interior, Woolwich

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

At the moment, I’m spending a lot of my time working from direct observation outside on the banks of the Thames, and I love having a studio very close to the environment I’m working from, so that I can go backwards and forwards between the two.

It’s an extraordinary area to draw within. Looking back towards the city from the Thames Barrier, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and beyond feel precariously poised on the horizon, apparently oblivious to the power of the tides and continual efforts of the industry at work down river. Everything down there is in flux and I’d like each drawing I am currently making out on location to be a multi-layered trace of the many moments in time which unfold around me, revealing the constant interactions between the massive manmade and natural forces in the area.

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

I’m always on the lookout for new spaces to explore through drawing, and, because I often work outside from direct observation, my working spaces can change dramatically from one project to another.

A previous working environment which also had a huge impact on my work was the vast Dalston Square construction site in Hackney, east London, where I was artist in residence.  I spent three years drawing Dalston as it was torn apart and rebuilt, drawing from the street, within the construction site and within one of the completed flats, a home on the 17th floor. Drawing within the building site was a very exhilarating experience, literally climbing amongst the tower blocks as they were being built, like having my own mountainside in Hackney!

So, my working environment is essential to my practice: the space I’m surrounded by literally becomes the focus of my drawings.

Alexandra Blum ‘6.4.11 – 17th floor, the Collins’ flat, Dalston Square, London’, charcoal on paper, 59 x 84 cm

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

Paper, a graphite stick and a knife to keep sharpening it with.

How do you deal with creative block?

Wandering through the city on foot is one of my favourite ways to discover areas I’d like to draw.  When I get stuck with a piece of work, I usually go for a walk until I discover something which surprises me.  Then I’ll start a new drawing, coming back to the drawing I couldn’t find the answer to later.

Alexandra Blum, Thames with birds (dreaming of Roelandt Savery), graphite on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017

 

Alexandra Blum, Retreat, graphite on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017

Alexandra Blum, Shelter, graphite on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017

 

Alexandra Blum, Industrial Inundation, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2017

Discover more of Alexandra’s work: 

www.alexblum.co.uk

Twitter @alexandrablum4

Facebook /alexandra.blum.73

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Courtauld Artists at Work: Millie Nice

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.

First up we have Millie Nice who is an Educator working with our Public Programmes team.

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

I’m an illustrator so the I use the media that responds best to the job; it can be digital, coloured pencils, markers or an enormous painted mural! But at the centre of it I just really love to draw so anything that I can make a good line with suits me. When I started I would only ever draw in pens or markers that wouldn’t allow me to hesitate or change my mind and I still tend to make work this way. It often means you have to draw something multiple times to get to the right one! I use my History of Art background a lot in my work, re-drawing objects and artworks from the past. I’m inspired by history but I like to bring in as much humour and character as I can and encourage people to laugh and have fun with artworks from the past.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I have a small studio at home with a drawing table, a scanner and a computer; it’s very simple but I can be fairly messy so the less space I have the better! I also work from a print collective studios in south London which has been brilliant for working alongside other creatives. Being freelance and working from home is a fairly intense experience so it’s great to be able to work with other people and support each other in the ups and downs that come with making what you love.

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

Because I draw from museum objects and artworks a lot I often end up in museums in galleries; I will always draw from life where I can. It’s easier to absorb more of an object’s character if you sit with it for a while and I love watching other people react to the artworks in the gallery; I suppose it’s like a kind of audience research for me!

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

When I was young it affected me in a very practical way; I was an art student working part-time as a museum steward and I would draw in the galleries when I was at work. I could only ever use pencils and I worked in small notebooks that I could quickly slip in my pocket and not get caught! I still carry a small notebook and pencil with  me all the time and they are mostly full of quick little ideas I might come back to or work up in the studio. Over time I realised I’d enjoyed drawing at work the most out of everything I’d created while I was studying and it taught me to love all the strange and unexpected things that happen when you’re drawing quickly on location and to appreciate all you can do with a simple pencil.

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

I try not to get too attached to any particular material, I like to be adaptable and I enjoy that you can make a drawing with even the simplest of tools. I feel pretty passionate about my phone as a creative tool but only because I think it’s terrible! I often have to work from photographs as reference material and it’s never as engaging as the real thing. When I first got my phone I was constantly taking photos of things I didn’t have time to draw but I never ended up going back to them. Now I operate a strict ‘sketch it or forget it’ policy!

How do you deal with creative block?

I find a good deadline sorts that out fairly quickly! If I get stuck it’s usually because I’m worrying about details so I try to make things as simply and quickly as possible. I try to give all my ideas an immediate rough try like a sketch or a small test. If an idea is weak then a quick rough is all it really needs and then I put it aside; the stronger ideas are the ones I enjoy and I want to keep working on.

Discover more of Millie’s work: 

www.millienice.com 

Twitter @millieknice
Instagram @millie.nice

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

 

Exploring Portraiture And Identity!

On Wednesday 25 October 2017, The Courtauld welcomed a group of young people, from state schools and colleges across London, to take part in an Insights into Art History workshop focusing on portraits by the artist Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943). The Insights into Art History day tied in with the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys.

Art historian Dr Julian Freeman gave the students an introduction to Chaïm Soutine, a Russian migrant working in Paris during the early twentieth century. During the 1920s and 1930s Soutine produced striking portraits of people working in restaurants and hotels around the French capital.

In The Courtauld Gallery, we looked at portraits from the permanent collection. A painting that caught our attention was Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. The group commented on the barmaid’s direct and powerful stance, unusual at the time of painting in 1882. By discussing composition and brushwork we explored how Manet’s artistic decisions have the power to alter how we perceive the barmaid. We also discussed Vincent Van Gogh’s expressive use of colour in his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear of 1889.

Upstairs in the exhibition, we sketched the waiters, cooks and bellboys who feature in Soutine’s vibrant paintings. We were particularly drawn to the subject’s crumpled uniforms, because of the vivid tonalities of the red, blue and white brushstrokes

In a similar way to Manet, Soutine painted his subjects with powerful stances and vulnerable facial expressions. We learnt that Soutine would rework his paintings many times, repainting the same person until he was completely happy with how they were represented. You can find out more about Soutine in our new Artist and Sitter learning resource.

Back in the seminar room, students were able to produce portraits from life, like Soutine did. Ian, a security guard at the Courtauld, very kindly agreed to be the subject of the students’ sketches and paintings. Led by the artist and art historian, Matthew Krishanu, we learnt new experimental drawings and painting techniques which the students used in their own contemporary responses to Soutine’s work.

The first exercise involved making quick charcoal sketches of Ian, who sat on a stool in front of a blue and red backdrop. Matthew showed us how to use the side of the charcoal stick to create background shading. Then, by rubbing out small areas to create light, and layering darker lines to create shadow, the portraits of Ian really came to life.

We then introduced colour into our portrait studies by experimenting with layering oil pastel on coloured paper:

For the remaining few hours of the workshop the students produced a portrait of Ian using acrylic paint on canvas board. A light wash of one colour was used as the grounding for the paintings. After allowing time for drying, layers of acrylic paint in an array of colours were applied to the canvas.

We were also shown how to scratch paint away from the surface, and how to use different brushes for a ‘scumbling’ textured effect.





All of the portraits produced brilliantly captured Ian’s character through composition and brushwork. By exploring Soutine’s portraits and his painterly techniques, the students were able to look closely at the sitter to create their own artworks filled with energy and attention to detail.


Thank you to Matthew, Julian and Ian for such a fantastic workshop!

Our next Insights into Art History workshop Edgar Degas: Capturing Movement takes place on Saturday 18 November 2017.

Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys
19 October 2017 – 21 January 2018

 

Written by Hannah Dixon