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

Bloomsbury Art & Design

Our special display Bloomsbury Art & Design opened last month. It brings together a wide-ranging selection of work by the remarkable Bloomsbury Group. We asked exhibition curator Dr Rosamund Garrett to tell us about curating the display. 

Bloomsbury Art & Design installation.

In November I was appointed the new Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curatorial Assistant at The Courtauld Gallery, a unique role that allows me to work across the entire collection. With Dr Barnaby Wright, the Daniel Katz Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, I was charged with curating our current Special Display: Bloomsbury Art & Design.

This display brings together the highlights of the Courtauld’s collection of paintings, design drawings, ceramics and furniture by the artists from the Bloomsbury Group to look at the movement that shaped early twentieth-century modernism in Britain. It was my first project after having been completely immersed in my doctoral research in a rather different field – Renaissance tapestry – so I was eager to take up the challenge.

Given my specialisation in tapestry, I was keen to display the large rug designed by Duncan Grant, with its bold colours and eye-catching geometric design. Rugs are usually displayed on the floor, but with several large pieces of furniture featuring in the display, floor space was at a premium.  To ensure the rug could be shown I asked our Head Conservator, Graeme Barraclough, if we could do things a bit differently.

Tapestries are often displayed on slant boards: a board at a slight angle that allows the tapestry to be viewed vertically whilst its weight is gently supported across the entire surface. I thought that Grant’s rug would look striking displayed vertically on one of the short walls, and would complement the series of abstract rug designs that we intended to display beside it.

We started drawing up the plans for the slant board, but, after a thorough examination by conservation, the rug was found to be too fragile to be displayed in this way. Graeme, however, is never deterred. He and our technician, Matthew Thompson, devised a new method of display that combined a slant board with a roller, allowing us to display a section of the rug vertically whilst the roller holds most of the weight. Exhibitions always rely on the expertise, creativity and skills of many individuals, not to mention their physical presence – lifting the roller with the heavy rug onto our adapted slant board was no mean feat!

We are fortunate at The Courtauld to have such an extensive collection of Bloomsbury objects, many of which were given to us directly by one of the leaders of the Group, the artist and art critic Roger Fry. Why not pop in to Bloomsbury Art & Design to see the rug on our new display method as well as other works by the group of artists whose radical and experimental art introduced bold colours and dynamic abstract designs to the domestic interiors of Edwardian Britain.

Book Now: Bloomsbury Art & Design
Until 21 September 2017

Dancing our way to Coventry!

We have been working in partnership with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum to bring to Coventry the world famous Edgar Degas masterpiece Two Dancers on a stage. In this exclusive display, see Edgar Degas’ painting Two dancers on a stage alongside three of his related works.

Dancers

Two Dancers on a Stage 1874 Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas, Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Coinciding with the display of artworks, the History Center in Coventry is showcasing a selection of items from the Herbert’s collection relating to the Courtaulds company and their links with Coventry.

Coventry played a key role in the success of the Courtauld company. In 1905 the company built its first viscose plant in Coventry, employing thousands of people. The wealth generated enabled Samuel Courtauld to develop his magnificent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, which form the basis of The Courtauld Gallery collection.

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum have taken the industrial heritage of the Courtauld textile factories as a starting point and celebrated Samuel Courtauld’s belief that great art should be made as widely available as possible.

See this iconic representation for yourself and discover world class art in Coventry at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

Free Admission

Drawn from the Age of Dante: John Flaxman’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy

Our Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection exhibition is currently under way and the Prints and Drawings Study Room is also celebrating Dante’s Divine Comedy. We asked Alexander J. Noelle, Print Room Assistant, to tell us more:

As a doctoral student whose research focuses on the Italian Renaissance, I was thrilled when I heard that the Gallery was planning an exhibition of Botticelli’s exceptional drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, now on view. I thought that the arrival of these masterworks would provide an excellent opportunity to showcase related prints from the Courtauld’s collection of works on paper. In my role as a Print Room Assistant, I began searching through the 26,000 prints to select a small group for a temporary display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room. What I found was the first full set of widely distributed illustrations for Dante’s epic poem.

In 1792, British sculptor John Flaxman (1755 – 1826) designed 111 plates depicting the complete narrative of Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Although other artists had responded to the visually evocative text before Flaxman, he was the first to draw an illustration for every canto (an Italian term for the sections of a long poem) and, through print, disseminate his work to a wide audience. Flaxman was praised for his ability to reduce Dante’s complex language to simple symbolic icons that still managed to capture the spiritual essence of the story.

Flaxman Dante Title

Title Page: Compositions from the Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, by John Flaxman, Sculptor. Tommaso Piroli (ca.1752-1824) after John Flaxman (1755-1826), 1793 (1807 edition), engraving.

The prints certainly look modern when compared to Botticelli’s depictions, yet when they were first published they were celebrated as belonging stylistically to the age of Dante himself. Flaxman was living in Rome when he drew the illustrations, actively studying artworks made by ‘primitive’ Medieval and Renaissance artists, and sometimes copying exact motifs into his illustrations. This influence, combined with the simple outline design, led Flaxman’s contemporaries to associate his drawings with Dante’s own era.

The sixteen prints on view in the Prints and Drawings Study Room correspond to specific drawings of the same canti by Botticelli in the Gallery. While it is unlikely that Flaxman saw Botticelli’s own illustrations, the comparisons query whether the viewer today can see the Renaissance influence in Flaxman’s prints.

Installation Shot

 

‘Drawn from the Age of Dante: John Flaxman’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy’ is on view in the Prints and Drawings Study Room until 15 May. See opening times here.

There is also the opportunity to hear Alexander do a lunchtime talk in the Gallery on this exhibition at 1:15pm on Thursday 10 March. 

Crazy in Love

According to the shop displays and florists since New Year’s Day, the celebration of love and chocolate is around the corner. To celebrate Valentine’s Day here at the Gallery, we took a look at our collection’s best depictions of love.

 

The Nerli Chest, Biagio d’Antonio, 1472

Chest and spalliera with the arms of Vaggia Nerli and Lorenzo Morelli (The Nerli Chest)

One of a pair of chests made to celebrate the marriage of Vaggia Nerli and Lorenzo Morelli, the Nerli chest was intended for the bride.

Though made in celebration of matrimony, the chest itself seems more a celebration of maternal love than marital affection. It shows the story of the punishment of schoolmaster in ancient Falerii who wanted to offer his pupils to the Romans, betraying them. The Roman officer Camillus saved the children from this fate and gave them rods with which to beat the schoolmaster, a reminder for Vaggia Nerli to protect her children.

Perhaps the moral is that to love your children is to teach them how to protect themselves… with a big stick.

 

Peter Paul Rubens, Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1613-15

Peter Paul Rubens, Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1613-15

This one is so sweet it hurts, rendering me unable to make a joke. Rubens and Jan Brueghel were close friends and Rubens created a tender portrait of his friend and his family. 

Catharina Brueghel sweetly draws her two children closer, gently touching her son Pieter’s shoulder as he plays with her bracelet. She clasps hands with her young daughter Elisabeth as the little girl stares adoringly up at her mother.

 

Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Mrs. Gainsborough, Circa 1778

Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Mrs. Gainsborough, Circa 1778

Family legend holds that Mr. Gainsborough painted a portrait of his Mrs. every year on their wedding anniversary.

Sadly we only know of 5 portraits of Mrs. Gainsborough by her husband, but this portrait is a beautiful testament to their (sometimes fraught) relationship. When painting family, someone the artist knows well, the experience is vastly different from a commissioned portrait or working with a professional model.

This painting is more informal, the technique looser than in other Gainsborough portraits.

 

Georges Seurat, Young Woman Powdering Herself, ca 1888-90

To finish, a secret love. The woman in the was Seurat’s mistress Madeleine Knobloch. It was only after Seurat’s death that his family learned of her relationship with Seurat and the two children she bore him.

As can be seen in this infra-red photograph, which shows the paint layers underneath the surface, Seurat originally represented himself in the small mirror, painting Madeleine as she applied her makeup.

A friend, unaware of the romantic relationship between painter and model, made fun of Seurat’s inclusion of himself and Seurat angrily painted himself out, replacing his face with flowers in a vase on the corner of a table.

In 1890, Madeleine lost both Seurat and their eldest son to an infectious disease, probably diphtheria.