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 

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

Coming soon: Regarding Trees in the Drawings Gallery

With our new display Regarding Trees in the Drawings Gallery opening later this week, we ask Curator Dr Rachel Sloan to tells us about it: 

Regarding Trees
Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517) , Tree in winter, c.1504
Thomas Hearne (1744-1817), The Chestnut Tree at Little Wymondley, Hertfordshire, 1789
Gilles van Coninxloo (1544-1607), Wood landscape, c. 1598-00

Devising a display of drawings of trees is a task as daunting as it is tantalising: how do you narrow down your selection to a reasonable size for an intimate gallery when you’re working with a subject so common and so central in the history of art? When I was first asked to curate Regarding Trees, I was overjoyed, until I did a keyword search for ‘tree’ in our collection database and turned up a total of 528 drawings. How could I ever cut that down to twenty – and how could I give the display some shape?

An answer appeared, in all places, in an 18th-century treatise on the aesthetics of landscape: the Reverend William Gilpin’s Remarks on Forest Scenery, and Other Woodland Views (1791). Gilpin was a highly influential theorist whose writings were very important to Romantic artists and writers, and he organised his book in a way that actually does allow the reader to see the forest from the trees: he begins by discussing individual trees with a level of almost portrait-like detail, moves on to the role of the tree within landscape, and finishes with a meditation on forest scenes. I decided to follow Gilpin’s framework in creating a structure for the display, which opens with ‘portraits’ of trees, followed by drawings of single trees within landscapes, and concludes with four forest views.

The earliest work in the display is a delicate study of a leafless tree by the Florentine artist Fra Bartolommeo, one of the earliest known European drawings of a tree apparently produced for its own sake, rather than for the background of a religious or mythological scene. Fra Bartolommeo was a Dominican monk, and his obvious delight in nature stemmed from the teachings of Saint Francis that the beauty of nature should be regarded as evidence of the love of God.

Many of the other drawings on view are remarkable for their vigour and animation: the trees look as if they’re about to move of their own accord. Gillis van Coninxloo’s enchanting Wood Landscape plunges the viewer into the understory of a wood with its thick crowns of foliage and deep shadows. Coninxloo’s energetic penwork conveys a sense of movement, as if the trees were tossed by a strong breeze. If you’ve ever been entranced by the dark energy of the forest paintings of seventeenth-century Dutch artists like Jacob van Ruisdael, Coninxloo’s forests are their starting point.

One of the most exciting discoveries I made while working on Regarding Trees was a watercolour of a huge, gnarled tree in a landscape by the eighteenth-century British draughtsman Thomas Hearne. It was catalogued as Landscape with a large oak, but a bit of research determined that not only was the tree not an oak, it was a chestnut, and a famous one at that – the great chestnut at Little Wymondley, Hertfordshire. When Hearne made the watercolour, in 1789, the tree was recorded as having a girth of forty-two feet and local legend claimed that it had been planted by the Romans. Best of all, it was so celebrated that Gilpin devoted a page to it in Remarks on Forest Scenery.

The Little Wymondley chestnut still stands today, although now on private land that is difficult to access. Why not come instead to see Hearne’s watercolour of it at its most splendid – and some of its many cousins throughout the ages?

 

Regarding Trees runs 18 June-25 September 2016

Book Tickets

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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.