How would you describe your work in three words Christabel?
Minimal, observational, colourful
What is your earliest memory surrounding the art world?
We used to have a tiny deKooning in our house which I remember so vividly. A distant relative was in a relationship with him so we managed to acquire it. I don’t think my parents have it any more though. Fools!
What is your studio like? Do you listen to anything while you work or have any other rituals?
My studio is in an old purpose built Victorian building for bachelor artists at the turn of the centrury. It has a large window with lots of north light and is full of colour. Depending on what I’m painting I listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks all day, I rarely work I silence. If I’m filling in background I can listen to an audiobook but if I’m being creative I need music. I get through a lot of books this way, otherwise 5 minutes before bed each night just wouldn’t cut it. I like to discover new music so I’m always on Spotify radio, or Shazamming 6 music tracks.
This is a tricky one I know! - If you could own any piece of artwork, what would that work be, and where would you hang it Christabel?
It IS a hard question because the answer changes depending on one’s mood. I don’t think I’d ever be sad if I had Hockney’s Bigger Splash transporting me to sunny California every day. But I would have one of Rothko’s Seagram Murals which id hang in my barn conversion I hope to do one day. What do you think are the chances?? I often stand in the Rothko room at the Tate and soak up their grounding energy.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you and your work Christabel?
I work almost entirely from photographs. I’m also not a colour theorist, I know hardly anything about colour but I feel it instinctively.
Can you select a piece of your work and tell me about it?
‘What am I Supposed to See’, is a portrait of a stranger I saw in the Tate Britain. She represented everything I love about visiting a gallery. The solitary time to be alone with oneself and with the work, it challenges ideas about identity, hers, mine, and the viewers. Self-reflection is a big part of my work, inviting the viewer to exchange places with the subject and the artist. As soon as galleries open again I want to do more paintings like this one.
Does your inspiration come from external or internal sources?
It’s a combination. The primary inspiration comes from the ordinary, the day to day, the people and buildings around me. Then I look inward and it’s the relationship I create with those people which in turn make me ask questions about myself. It’s about human-kind.
Tell me about your time on Sky Portrait Artist?
Wow that seems like a long time ago now! When I started I was pregnant with my second child and she’s now 1, so it seems like so much has happened since then, not to mention the pandemic.
It was one of the very best experiences. When you’re doing a competition especially one that’s filmed you learn a lot very quickly. It was intensely nerve-wracking but it was fun. I got to meet some amazing people, especially the incredible Niall Rogers who I’ll never forget- what a legend. I am forever grateful to the judges for choosing me as the winner and to everyone who worked on the show. It taught me what I was capable of, which I think many artists don’t realise. It gave me a lot of confidence.
A lot of the figures in your work appear to me to be so isolated, taken in their own world, but content rather than lonely? Who are the figures? What are they feeling and what do you hope they say?
Viewers can take what they wish from the figures, they can be lonely if that’s how they see them. I see them as solitary but not lonely. My favourite thing about living in a city is how being on your own is not feeling alone.
What do you hope your work says to the viewer?
I hope the viewer will see themselves in the work. Each figure is really a self portrait of me, of them, of mankind. The process of painting for me is extremely cathartic, so I also hope that will resonate with the viewer and make them feel a sense of calm.
How has your practice changed over time?
In the twelve years since I left LARA, where I learnt how to paint figuratively, my work has become more minimal and colourful. I’ve learnt that it’s the bare essentials that matter in my paintings, I could paint a lot of clutter and detail but it wouldn’t mean anything to me.
What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in the art world?
Don’t be afraid to get it wrong, humans and animals learn from mistakes. Keep experimenting all the time and look at other artists, go to as many galleries and shows as you can. And enter competitions, get good at Instagram, get people to see you.
How would you reframe the conversation around art to get more people involved?
I think art is seen as an elitist subject. Get disadvantaged children and adults involved with free online classes and government art materials packages. Things come and go, the world is going through a pandemic, but art will always be there.
What are some things you’re committed to fulfilling in your career?
I would like to be in a position to take fewer commissions, only the ones which really interest me. I’d also like to be represented in America, I would love to have galleries in New York and LA.
I love this question - If you could have a meal with any artist from any time:
a) what would the meal be
A pub lunch
b) who would it be with
I’d pick her brains about what it was like being a female artist in the early 20th century. I would get all the goss on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group as we drank ale and ate salted peanuts.
Who is your favourite historical female artist?
Again, changes depending on mood, but today Frida Kahlo, her use of paint and colour as well as her exploration of identity and progressive themes. She’d be a good one to have a meal with, I love Mexican food!
And who are your favourite current practicing women artists ?
My favourite living artist is Lynette Yiadom-Boake . I just saw her exhibition at the Tate and it took my breath away.
Others include Tracy Emin, Amoako Boafo, Amy Sherald, Brett Amory, Philip Lorca diCorcia and Bill Viola.
Is there anyone else you want to Shout Out?
Id like to shout out Blue Shop Cottage for its incredible support of emerging artists, especially women. Also a new auction on Instagram called Art For Charity Collective started by Lucy Kent. It holds an auction every few months where artist and charity share the proceeds. Each auction donates to a new charity, so far they’ve raised over £40,000 in just two auctions. Also Kate Bryan and Alex Eagle for being incredibly supportive.
Is there anything else you wanted to say?
Thank you Mollie for this interview and for relentlessly championing female artists. Being an artist, male or female, is a tough path but it means you are never alone. Stay sane and stay creative!