Throughout the Threadneedle Prize 2013 exhibition I shall be taking a closer look at my favourite exhibited art works, currently at the Mall Galleries. This is post number 2 of 6, looking at the submission from British Romantic Colourist painter Hugo Grenville. We hope you might have a chance to pop in and see the exhibition this weekend!
Hugo Grenville, Home Thoughts, From Abroad, Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 107 x 152 cm
‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’ stands out from the rest of the exhibition as a painting that glows with the exoticism and richness of a luminous palette of colours and an arrangement of decadent floral patterns that dance across the canvas. The reclining figure seems lost in her own thoughts, a look of wistfulness in her eyes, and despite her beautiful (possibly foreign) surroundings I feel that she longs to be elsewhere. There is something very theatrical about the painting; it transports you to another world and hints at a narrative that gradually reveals itself the more you allow yourself to be immersed in its splendour. There is also a timelessness to this painting – it strips away the world in which we inhabit in order to present to us the both the vulnerability and the strength of the girl, placed within an idyll that celebrates the joy of light, colour and pattern. I asked Hugo Grenville a few questions about his submission to this year’s Threadneedle Prize, ‘Home Thoughts, From Abroad’.
Lisa: Tell us about the title of this particular painting.
Hugo: “Home Thoughts from Abroad” is the title of Robert Browning’s poem about longing….Written in Berlin, he imagines a perfect spring morning dawning in England. In the poem England is less a place than an idea, an idea that is full of memory, loss, beauty, nostalgia and a longing for something almost paradisical that might no longer be there. My painting evokes a similar sense of something imagined or remembered, a place of beauty and hope, not entirely of this world, but of somewhere that I would like to be. The face of the girl lying on the bed is turned towards the viewer, engaging them in thought, her expression enigmatic – is she challenging the viewer, or sympathisizing, is she wistful, or resigned? As it happens, the model for the picture was herself in a foreign place, and was probably also thinking of “Home Thoughts from Abroad”.
Lisa: Can you tell us how you went about selecting the colours that you used for this painting? And what made you decide to also use gold leaf?
Hugo: I tend to think of a single dominant colour, and then try and create harmonies around it. In this case the key colour is a deep, warm, yellow, which is balanced by the cool degraded sea greens that inhabit much of the picture. I try to make colour groups work in a similar way to a key in music, so that they all relate to each other, and reinforce the emotional mood of the painting. The gold leaf contributes to the mood, recalling the heartfelt intensity of early Renaissance painting, and the decorative innovation of the Vienna Secession. Depending upon where the viewer stands, the light affects the gold leaf differently, sometimes scintillating, sometimes restrained and dark, so that the surface of the picture is always in motion, its mood flitting between the contemplative and the joyful.
Lisa: What art materials could you not live without in your studio?
Hugo: I love paints that are transparent, rich and saturated, so that they can be rubbed back onto a light ground, and allowing the ground to glow through the colour: this means for me Old Holland or Michael Harding. Almost all my paintings begin as drawings, so a big box of charcoal, compressed charcoal, conte and soft pastels is indispensable, so that the idea can take shape swiftly, or be altered swiftly. Gouache also plays a role in the early stages, trying out washes of colour on paper. I also use lots of different brushes, hard ones, soft ones, round, flat, short, long, old and new ones, all play their role in creating a dynamic surface to the picture!
Lisa: What are the essential ingredients of a successful painting?
Hugo: I am deeply inspired by the belief that beauty can be transformative, that we can be uplifted by it, and that we can celebrate its delight. There is comfort and pleasure to be found in the harmonies of colour, and the balancing of shapes. The thoughtful arrangement of lines and patterns, of areas of light and dark, offer order and tranquility in a world which is turbulent, cruel, greedy and violent. Colour and light can express joy and serenity, hope and grace.
To create this effect, the picture must work very well, and that means initially getting the design right. A picture is always an abstract design first, and a narrative second. If the composition is wrong, the picture won’t go anywhere! The design must be the visual expression of the idea, and the painterly language must support it, so that the whole is linked into a coherent vision. Easier said than done, I know, but essential if you want to succeed.
Lisa: Where can we see more of your work (online and in the flesh)?
Hugo: I am represented in New York by Wally Findlay Galleries International, and in the UK by the Morningside Gallery in Edinburgh, and Cricket Fine Art in London. You can also view both recent work, and from the last ten years, on my website at www.hugogrenville.com.
Visitors are invited to vote for their favourite paintings – if you think Hugo Grenville’s ‘Home Thoughts, From Abroad’ should be awarded the £10,000 Visitor’s Choice Award remember to vote for work #47 when you pay a visit to the Threadneedle.
The Threadneedle Prize for Painting and Sculpture is open daily from 10am – 5pm from the 25th September – 12th October 2013. Admission Free.
The Threadneedle Prize for Painting & Sculpture 2013, at The Mall Galleries, The Mall (near Trafalgar Square), SW1 All images are copyright of the artist.