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 Artist at Work: Christine Maria La Carbonara

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 Christine Maria La Carbonara, Retail Digital / E commerce Manager for The Courtauld Shop 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 with different mediums. Oil painting is my primary method of expression. I also experiment with photography and painting with acrylics on various surfaces: including terracotta and wood. I am inspired by the trivial, the banalities that I only imagine many people interpret as the quotidian. Life excites me. I love documenting everything. Adding form, whether figurative or abstract, to a sensation or to  encapsulate a remarkable moment in time. The latter of course which holds meaning to me. I only hope that others will see or feel what I try to convey through my works.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I do not have a studio.  The world around me is my studio. 

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

I have worked across three countries. Sometimes with an easel, sometimes painting a canvas that I’m simply embracing physically.

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

I would love to have a dedicated space to create works of art. However, I find it challenging and exploratory creating a space for creation.

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

Colour!! I need colour for my works.

How do you deal with creative block?

Creative block is something that happens, in my opinion, when we’ve platuead emotionally, psychologically, sentimentally. Take a trip! Approach a stranger for a random conversation. You’ll find inspiration once more.

Discover more of Christine’s work:

Instagram: @solarskyify

Facebook: /solarskyify

Twitter: /solarskyify

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

 

The word on drawings!

 

Reading Drawings is our latest display in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery. We asked curator Dr Rachel Hapoienu to tell us about the display and how it came about. 

The subject of inscriptions on drawings was an especially enticing one for me to tackle, as my role as the Drawings Cataloguer (IMAF Project) for The Courtauld Gallery requires me to examine every one of our over 7,000 drawings and meticulously record each inscription and mark. My initial list of potential objects for this display ran to a few hundred works, posing a serious challenge in how to narrow it down.

I knew I wanted to include a large section on signatures and names – these are the most common types of inscriptions, and though their frequency might make them seem a bit banal, for a cataloguer a signature is always exciting! However, this display urges caution in declaring a signature as genuine, because sometimes later owners added names of artists to the drawings they owned, and of course some forgers created fake signatures to deceive buyers into thinking their works were executed by a famous master.  One such drawing in this display, depicting a female nude, is a forgery in the manner of Rodin. The forger, known to scholars simply as ‘Hand B’, attempted to replicate both Rodin’s style and his signature. Closer inspection of the forger’s lines reveals that he applied pressure with his pencil too evenly throughout both the figure and the fake name, which is uncharacteristic of Rodin’s technique. This discrepancy combined with the figure’s unsophisticated anatomy and the prevalence of unnecessary lines helped to identify this work as a deliberate forgery.

Forgery in the manner of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Female nude, around 1917-1920

One drawing I knew I had to include is attributed to an artist in Raphael’s studio. The sheet is split in half, with text on the upper portion and below a somewhat puzzling scene of soldiers in a tent surrounding a bare-chested man drinking from a goblet. By comparing the imagery to paintings, prints and drawings with similar iconography, I determined the scene may be of ‘Alexander the Great and his physician’, showing the moment Alexander downs his medicine. Adding to the intriguing quality of this sheet is the text, which was written before the image was drawn. It lists the days of the week with corresponding food items, mainly bread and meat. The idea of keeping a ‘food diary’ is probably familiar to many of our visitors, and offers a charming parallel with the author of the inscription, who lived around 500 years ago. This sheet also helps evoke the atmosphere of a Renaissance workshop, where drawings were not considered prized works of art and every spare bit of paper was utilised.

 

Studio of Raphael (1483-1520), Alexander the Great drinking his medicine, around 1520s

I also wanted to highlight the different reasons artists might annotate their own works. Many of their notes were intended as instructions or explanations for an assistant or another artist, such as an engraver who was meant to transform the drawing into a print, or an architect who would use the drawing as a plan for constructing a building. Sometimes artists were trying so quickly to capture a scene out-of-doors that they would scribble notes to themselves on how to fill in the details once back in the relative calm of their studio.  In the current display, one of the most interesting methods of note-taking is demonstrated by a drawing of Cader Idris in Wales, by James Ward. In one three-month period Ward made over 500 landscape sketches, so he would use a rapid writing system called ‘shorthand’ to facilitate such productivity. In this strange-looking script, each symbol represents a word, and thus is a quicker method than using the conventional alphabet. Ward’s shorthand notes are mainly instructions to himself on what colour washes should be added to each area of the landscape.

James Ward (1769-1859), View of Cader Idris, Wales, 1802 or 1807

Another priority for me was to highlight drawings that have rarely, if ever, been on display before – The Courtauld has so many drawings that inevitably many never see the light of day. Of the twenty-three drawings on view, eight had previously never been exhibited, so a visit to Reading Drawings offers a rare opportunity to see some gems from our collection!

By Dr Rachel Hapoienu

 

Reading DrawingsOn display until 4 June 2017

Book your ticket

Last chance to see: Civic Utopia

 

We asked Dr Rachel Sloane, Assistant Curator of prints and Drawings to tell us about our latest display in the Drawings Gallery

Utopia

Over the course of 2016, every corner of Somerset House has been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia with a rich and varied programme of exhibitions and events, UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility. The Courtauld Gallery’s own contribution to this celebration, A Civic Utopia: Architecture and the City in France, 1765-1837, is currently on view in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawing Gallery (to 8 January).

Civic Utopia considers the power of architecture and urban planning to shape and influence ideas of public life, focusing on the work of architects in France during and immediately after the Age of Enlightenment (1765-1837). Instead of focusing on grandiose (and often unrealised, or unrealisable) edifices, the emphasis is firmly on the everyday and on spaces where a broad cross-section of society mingled, including city markets, exchange halls, prisons, parks, abattoirs, hospitals and cemeteries. The exhibition has been organised in partnership with a major collection of architectural drawings, the Drawing Matter Trust, and we have been very fortunate to be able to work with them and display some of their treasures in the Drawing Gallery.

Although the main focus of Drawing Matter Trust, as its name suggests, is drawings, it also holds some fascinating three-dimensional objects, two of which are form part of the exhibition. In the centre of the gallery is a table on which are displayed – as in an architect’s office – drawings and watercolours depicting gateways and boundaries of cities, from a post-Revolutionary scheme for the Place de la Concorde by Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (1811) to a delicate black chalk drawing by Georges Michel of the Place and Barrière de la Nation, showing a much more open and convivial space than today’s traffic-clogged roundabout. The top of the table was designed and produced especially for the exhibition, but look beneath it and you’ll find two dazzling pieces of eighteenth-century craftsmanship: the trestle legs are journeyman pieces produced by cabinetmakers as a way of showing off their skills in the widest possible range of joinery techniques.

It is especially fitting that the exhibition is taking place within Somerset House, since William Chambers’s design follows many of the same principles that informed the utopian vision of the city that these architects pursued. Come and see these how these architects tackled the challenge of creating ideal urban spaces – and a living, breathing example of such a space.

Book now  Continue…