Feel Uplifted in The Courtauld Gallery Shop. Interview with Artist Jonathan Fuller

Inspired by our fantastic Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings exhibition the shop team have been exploring all things Cornish!

Jonathan Fuller Wall Sculpture

Currently featured at The Courtauld Shop, is a lovely sculpture by the Cornish artist, Jonathan Fuller. We’ve had a chance to speak with the artist to discover more about his unique and stunning works.

Q&A with Jonathan Fuller

Q: What attracted you to using sea glass as a medium?

JF: I grew up in Cornwall, in North Cornwall, and it was something that I always collected as a child. Whenever we traveled to the coast we would collect it and it began mounting up around me.  Upon moving back to Cornwall I decided to put it to use.  It was something I started initially in my textile career that was different from the normal day job.  My first sculpture took about a year to make and everyone who came to see it just loved it.  Galleries became interested as well and it’s something I do whenever I can now.  Even though it’s waste, the sea transforms it into something lovely and smooth and I wanted to use a recycled waste material to make artworks.

Q: Do you spend time everyday looking for glass?

JF: Not every day as I make the frames and mounts that go along with the sculptures and that can take a very long time.  I often take a beach or coastal walk so I will be looking.  It’s really just luck of the draw and depends what you find.

Q: How long does it take you to collect enough sea glass to create a work?

JF: It varies.  The main colours I find are white, brown and green.  It’s the aquamarines and blues that are harder to find.  I’ve got a lot of the more obvious colours but it is the special tones that make the pieces unique.  It’s very difficult to put a time on it.

Q: What do you draw inspiration for your works from?

JF: It’s about colour and form and texture.  It comes from my textile background.  It’s the simplicity of the shapes, whether it’s the ring or the circle and the linear pieces.  What I find interesting about what I find is that with the changing of the tides, four times a day, it’s a circular movement.  It’s always a motion of change.

Q: Do you have a favorite coastal line you have visited throughout your travels? And what was so special about it?

JF: I traveled a lot with my textile career but when you’re working and doing trade it is always difficult to visit the coast.  We lived in London for ten years my wife and I.  I always missed the Cornish coast.  I do not believe you can get much better than the Cornish coast.  There are real differences in the Cornwall coast alone that are fascinating.  If I had to pick a coast I would have to pick the one I live on.  There is a beach in America (Fort Bragg) that I would love to visit as it is made entirely of glass and there are a few beaches in Hawaii that are spectacular.  But if I had to be honest, I think my little piece of coast is just fine.

Q: Is there a specific artist or genre that influences your work?

JF: I’m very fond of the St.Ives school.  One of my favorite is Peter Lanyon who is in your gallery at the moment.  I think Lanyon is definitely one of my favorites as well.  I wanted to see the exhibition when I came up to drop the sculptures off.  I couldn’t actually find parking when I was there.  But I’ll be up very soon to see it.

Q: Does sea glass hold a specific meaning for you?  Is it representative of something you could share with us?

It’s something I’ve always been attracted to.  I spend my time looking at the sand and not the view.  It can be quite compulsive and you keep hoping you’ll find another bit. I also really like the fact that it’s recycled and that it’s had a life cycle; some may be two years old or two hundred years hold.  They all have a history.  Sometimes they have words on them.  You can tell where they’ve come from sometimes.

Q: I know you have a whippet dog, Nell, and that you were hoping to train her to retrieve sea glass.  Has that come to fruition?

She’s a lovely dog but she is more of a chasing dog.  So to answer your question, I would have loved to but I am afraid the answer is no.

Q: I know you own a Will Eastham Surfboards red long board.  Is that going well?

I’m doing pretty good.  I’m not as good as him because he is incredible.  But it’s a lovely thing just to look at let alone ride.  I was in recently since it’s been pretty mild so it’s been going very well.

Q: What does the future hold for you and your work?

I found a beach recently with very white wood on it.  There are all kinds of twigs and branches that the sea has basically stripped the bark off and the sun has bleached.  They appear almost like bones.  I am currently making a piece made from these sticks and branches.  I also look at different forms of marine debris such as plastics.  There are so many human things that have been discarded that have ended up in the ocean.  It saddens me the amount of wildlife that is negatively affected by it.  I would like to make more pieces to highlight the impact we are having on our oceans.

Own a piece of Jonathan Fuller work for yourself from our Shop.

Book now to see Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings 

Contemporary Greats: Finding Inspiration in The Courtauld's Collection

Pierre-Albéric Coulouma, Marketing and Communications

Regrets is a haunting series of painting and drawings by Jasper Johns, inspired by a photograph of Lucian Freud posing in Francis Bacon’s studio.

This display at The Courtauld Gallery has prompted me to look at other works within the collection which have inspired contemporary artists. The artworks I discuss below are drawn at random, but have a common thread of using female characters to convey different stories.

Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is one of the Courtauld’s most famous paintings, and continues to intrigue.

This masterpiece helped define modern painting at the dawn of the 19th century with its unorthodox composition of figures in space, and with the barmaid’s notorious look conveying mystery and melancholy to the viewer.

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

Jeff Wall pioneered conceptual and post conceptual photography while establishing The Vancouver School with fellow artists Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, and others. Hey may have initially encountered A Bar at the Folies-Bergères when researching his PhD at The Courtauld Institute of Art between 1970 and 1973. 

Like Manet’s painting, Jeff Wall has challenged tradition with his groundbreaking work A Picture for Women. Also writer, lecturer and art theorist, Wall is known for making references to art history in his practice and A Picture for Women is directly inspired by A Bar at the Folies-Bergères.

View of Jeff Wall, Picture for Women, 1979, transparency in lightbox, 142.5 x 204.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist

Jeff Wall, Picture for Women, 1979, transparency in lightbox, 142.5 x 204.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist.

Both Manet’s and Wall’s works make use of a mirror image, where lights in the background provide spatial depth.

Manet depicts a myriad of distracting elements providing some clues on the context and narrative of this original work, while Wall’s work is more minimalistic, and gives priority to the interplay between the two main figures and the camera standing in the middle.

Both works seem to internalise a connection between two characters and the viewer. Whereas the barmaid in A Bar at the Folies-Bergères strikes the viewer with her look; A Picture for Women engages the viewer both through the female character’s expression and through the central camera.

The women in the two pieces have the same posture, and most strikingly, look out of the frame in the same way. In both cases a male figure stares at them from a shadowy background; emphasising their evading gaze.

The identity of the man in A Bar at the Folies-Bergères is not confirmed, though most agree that Manet himself is the most likely candidate. Jeff Wall echoes this theory by portraying himself in his photograph.

The relationship between the model, the artist, and the viewer produces a tension by turning the viewer into a sort of witness on the scene. This mise-en-scene is said to depict the ‘power relationship between male artist and female model’ (1) and author David Campany also takes a gender themed approach and comments on the patriarchal contemporary visual culture where ‘women’ connotates ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ (2).

Other contemporary artists have found inspiration in Impressionist masterpieces. A recent exhibition at the Hayward Gallery called The Human Factor presented two works derived from Edgard Degas’s Dancer.

View of Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on the Stage, 1874

Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on the Stage, 1874

Ryan Gander has produced a series of bronze sculptures based on Degas’ Dancers. With playfulness, Gander creates a new life for Degas’s subject.

View of Ryan Gander, Out of sight (all on my own), 2011, 2 Bronze sculptures, two blue cubes and two empty plinths, est size 45(h) x 35(w) x 40(d) each (sculptures) © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

Ryan Gander, Out of sight (all on my own), 2011, 2 Bronze sculptures, two blue cubes and two empty plinths, est size 45(h) x 35(w) x 40(d) each (sculptures) © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

As in a fantasy the model comes back to life and starts to wander off the gallery space. Off her plinth for a cigarette break, or seemingly crying in a corner, the ballerina becomes an individual leading us to believe in new narratives. Gander points out this is not about replicating Degas’ sculpture, ‘it’s about reproducing the character of the ballerina who posed for him.’

Yinka Shonibare is often known as the artist who put « Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle » for its occupancy of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism and a hallmark of his art is the brightly coloured fabric he uses.

View of Yinka Shonibare MBE. “Girl Ballerina,” 2007 Courtesy of the artist

Yinka Shonibare MBE. “Girl Ballerina,” 2007, Courtesy of the artist.

Shonibare reinterprets a masterpiece by dressing up Degas’ dancer with his signature African-inspired costume, adding an 18th century pistol to her hand. The outcome is a juxtaposition of three strong signifiers: Degas’s dancers, the African inspired costume and an 18th century pistol.

Consequently, this work strongly suggests issues around colonialism and/or post-colonialism as it draws parallels between the occident, Africa and colonialism.

In sharp contrast to Jeff Wall who focuses on art history to challenge photographic tradition and Ryan Gander’s concept of introspection in the Dancer, Shonibare uses art history as a platform and a tool to express this thinking on colonialism and/or post-colonialism.


See The Courtauld Gallery’s collection for yourself – open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.

Images provided courtesy of Jeff Wall, Ryan Gander and Yinka Shonibare.



(1) From the gallery guide for the exhibition ‘Jeff Wall: Photographs 1978-2004’, Tate Modern, London, 21 October 2005 – 8 January 2066; and quoted in D. Campany, ‘Jeff Wall, Picture for Women’, Afterall, 2011.
(2) D. Campany, ‘Jeff Wall, Picture for Women’, Part of One Work Series, Afterall Books, 2011.