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:

Twitter:  @MatthewKrishanu

Instagram:  @matthewkrishanu

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Courtauld Artist at Work: Jessica Akerman

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 Jessica Akerman, Event Producer for the 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?

My work draws on social history, landscape and I work in a variety of media; it depends on the project. My work is inspired by social history – ongoing themes include military architecture, gentrification and women’s working lives. I’m particularly interested in exploring these in relation to British landscape and culture.

I’ve been working with accessories in the last couple of years. Throughout 2018, I’m creating a suffrage patch each month, celebrating different aspects of the suffrage movement. I’ve also just finished as one of 100 female Lead Artists on Processions 2018, making a banner for the Cardiff procession, a live activist artwork. My banner (and accompanying cardboard armour) was inspired by dazzle ships and the homemade armour of suffragettes. And I’ve been using leather offcuts to make foil-embossed jewellery inspired by surveillance and Early Warning System architecture.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I’m currently working mostly in my home studio in Bristol (where I’ve recently moved). It’s useful being able to carry on working at home in the evenings, and also to be able to make more of a mess than I did when I shared my studio space (on Ridley Road in Dalston)! I’m making small objects at the moment so don’t need masses of space. I send off my suffrage patch digital designs to my embroiderers, Lacemarket Embroidery in Nottingham, and they make them up, send them back, and I trim them. It’s great working with craftspeople who are enthusiastic about the project, and understand the nuances of working on artist projects as well as with commercial clients. (They work for Paul Smith, Grayson Perry and others.)


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

I’ve just finished working with Made in Roath, a community art organisation, in their shop front studio in Cardiff. Here we made the banner for Processions 2018. It was nice working just off a local high street and have curious people walk past and pop in to see what all our geometric, fluorescent fabrics were about. I use J.T. Bachelor’s and Little Workshop in Hackney for embossing and punching leather. I’m currently programming the Engage conference which is on art, health and wellbeing, and will be at The Whitworth in Manchester in November, so I have occasional meetings there with their inspiring engagement team.

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

When I was studying sculpture at Chelsea I did lots of wood turning, and sometimes made larger structures, because I had lots of space and access to workshops. Since then I’ve worked in smaller studios and at times from home, when my children were very small. That, and having limited funds inevitably made my work less ambitious in scale, but not in concept! I have collaborated with other artists a lot in the last few years, including with filmmaker Abbe Leigh Fletcher and folk singer Frankie Armstrong. Making live, filmed or performance pieces is partially a response to constrained studio space.

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

I have a real love of craft processes and materials, and like to use my basic knowledge to experiment with them. My materials work as tools to drive my ideas. Sustainable and waste materials, like leather offcuts, cork, wood veneers and fluorescent papers keep popping up in different guises, such as in cuir bouilli (boiled leather) and marquetry. I’m saving up for my own hot foil embossing machine.

How do you deal with creative block?

I tend to have the opposite problem – too many ideas and too little time! I know from experience that if I’m not working on anything in particular, it’s probably because I’m about to embark on a period of intensely juggling lots of projects at once. Inactivity or feeling stuck tends to right itself. There are always peaks and troughs with the creative process.

Discover more of Jessica’s work:

Instagram: @jessicaakerman 


Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018  

Courtauld Artists At Work: Vicky Falconer

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 Vicky Falconer, Assistant Librarian, serials and e-resources at The Courtauld discussing her practices.

My practice is mixed media but almost always involves a lens-based element to it, as well as a strong engagement with space and architecture – and in particular a longstanding interest in the relationship between interior and exterior.

Since leaving art school I have only ever had studios for brief periods. I’ve worked from home for the last eight years, with the exception of using facilities for specialist processes I can’t do at home. I co-opt parts of my living space to use for whatever I need. But my domestic environment has also become an essential part of the work itself. At the moment I am working on a series of photographic works which I started last year – Inhale/Exhale – made in my living room and back garden. The inspiration for these was some beautiful double exposure photographs by Constantin Brâncuși, as well as a text that I had been reading, Through Vegetal Being, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder. There were some ideas in this text that felt really vivid for me: the necessity of breath, which immersion in plant life facilitates, and the capacity for that immersion to dissolve the usual boundaries between interior and exterior.

I can’t imagine having a studio now. So many artists these days have practices which are don’t require it. Perhaps this accounts partly for what seems to be have been a resurgence of interest in the domestic within contemporary art? In terms of ‘creative block’, like most other artists I have a number of commitments outside of my practice. Lack of time for creative practice is both a hardship and blessing in this sense! I go and do something else and by the time I have the opportunity to turn my attentions to my work again, some kind of direction, clarity or purpose has returned. In terms of objects or tools that are special to me, I have a few things which I’ve collected which sometimes make their way into works. I use both analogue and digital techniques, but the Inhale/Exhale works are made on an old Pentax SLR camera – which was actually my 21st birthday gift! It is lovely to think that I am still using it. I am a very un-technical artist in some ways, though. Just as I co-opt rooms in my house to use for what I need, I co-opt materials or processes to make the images or works that I have in mind.  I often put images through a number of transformative processes – scanning, digital recapture, etc. – and it is likely that these current works will be worked on in the same way, with the means of their production very much informed by whichever space they will be presented in eventually.


Discover more of Vicky ‘s work:


Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

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

Inscribing Prints

The Prints and Drawings Study Room is hosting a new displays that responds our Reading Drawings in The Courtauld Gallery. Print Room Assistants Imogen Tedbury and Sean Ketteringham talk us through the latest display.

Timed to coincide with the exhibition Reading Drawings, which showcases inscriptions on drawings in the Courtauld collection, this display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room looks at the function of inscriptions in prints. The Courtauld Gallery has 7,000 drawings, but it also has over 26,000 prints – so we had plenty of works to choose from!

Printed text in printed images can function very differently to handwritten text in drawings. So, we decided to leave aside the themes thoroughly examined in the drawings exhibition – attribution, the history of collecting and working practices – instead exploring why and how prints include text, and what functions word and image can serve together, across a broad range of dates and places. Playing around with the word and concept of ‘Authority’, we thought about the relative ‘authorities’ of text in an image: what happens when text moves from the frame or border to take up an active role in the image itself?

Some Early Modern printmakers represented God by representing the Word of God – his textual ‘authority’, if you like. In these prints, the physical representation of God’s Word as visual sign plays a central role within the image. In the Fall of the Tower of Babel, for example, the illegible rotation of the Latin text signifies the fragmentation of earthly language.

We were also interested in how an authority – whether political, religious or artistic – can be undermined by the use of inscription. Two eighteenth-century satirical prints chosen for the display use fragments of text to make fun of their subjects, subverting them by parodying religious language. An attack by an anonymous artist on Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Britain, even seems a forerunner for 2017 Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton’s installation of a giant bottom, Project for Door (After Gaetano Pesce), or Pauline Boty’s 1966 painting, Bum!

Printmaking’s close relationship with book-printing inspires the last group of prints – a selection of title pages and cover images from Canaletto to Wyndham Lewis considering how frontispieces reveal and conceal their textual and pictorial content. In these prints no clear boundary can be drawn between word and image, as together they combine to communicate the author’s identity.

Come and see these printed treasures, some of which have not been on display before. The Prints and Drawings Study Room is open by appointment Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, or drop in on Wednesday afternoons during term time, 1.30-4pm, no appointment needed

Idol-Worship or The Way to Preferment, a portrait of Robert Walpole., 1740, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London