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.
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.
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.
Discover more of Matthew’s work:
Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018