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Carne Griffiths tells Amie Mulderrig how he uses brandy and tea to get the effect he wants for his paintings
Swirling the brandy around his glass, a strange thought crossed artist Carne Griffiths’ mind.
Taking a sip of Dutch courage, he plunged his paintbrush into the amber liquid and dragged it across the paper.
The image of the woman he had so lovingly sketched moments before, began to rapidly metamorphose, as ink mingled with alcohol. This gamble, to destroy a piece of artwork by incorporating an unknown medium, would ultimately pay off for Carne, whose reputation is growing thanks to his stunning ink drawings which incorporate unusual liquids such as tea, vodka and of course, brandy.
“I’d taken the plunge and left my full-time job as embroidery designer, for a company I’d been with for 12 years, to create my own work,“ the Leytonstone artist explains.
“On that first day I sat at home contemplating what I was going to do, it was very daunting, so I poured myself a nice, large brandy. Maybe the brandy took over a little bit and I ended up dipping my brush in and painting with it over the inks.
“Some people might think, what a terrible waste, it was a nice bottle of brandy, but it had an interesting effect, it manipulated the inks on the paper, and from there I went on to experiment further.“
Armed with a strong cup of coffee to satisfy his thirst, Carne starts by drawing an image with inks and a fountain pen, perhaps using a photograph for reference or something from his imagination.
After years of drawing floral patterns, he admits there is a library of natural imagery in his mind, so it tends to feature in all of his drawings. Then he pours liquids; predominantly tea, sometimes alcohol, over the piece.
“I let the inks run on the page to form new shapes and the work takes shape naturally. It’s all based on spontaneity and what happens when that process is repeated over and over.
My drawing is quick, it’s not laboured and there’s a lot of layering. “There is a lot of destruction in my work too and that’s a very important part. A lot of it is about not becoming too precious with the marks you create as an artist.
You destroy pieces, you ruin them and you just have to get over it and think – it just wasn’t meant to be.“
At present, Carne, who has collaborated in the past with famed British photographer Rankin, is exhibiting seven limited edition prints of his work at The Slate in Leytonstone. These pieces are reproductions of paintings he has exhibited recently in a number of different galleries including one in Hong Kong.
According to Carne, it takes him between one to two days to create a smaller drawing, and up to five to six days for larger pieces. The control he has over the creative process is a far cry from his days as an embroidery designer, where he produced intricate designs for the military and the film, theatre, fashion and advertising industries.
“It was a more structured discipline,“ the 39-year-old says. “But I’ve got this freedom to follow my own path now. “
With embroidery I was always part of a process, I did some projects I loved for prestigious clients, from Asprey’s first catwalk collection to costumes in Valkyrie and The Last King of Scotland, but then you see your designs change, they’re adapted or they’re part of something else and you lose creative control.
“I like to know what’s happening with my work every step of the way. I even like to know who is buying it. I don’t want to lose that connection with people.“
Even though he is busy making pieces for sale and exhibition, Carne admits he is always seeking inspiration for his art.
“I’ve been looking at a lot of William Morris; his use of pattern is reflected to a degree in the natural imagery in my work,“ he says.
“I’ve also been asking myself why it is we surround ourselves with floral patterns – from clothes to decorations. Is it because we’re isolating ourselves from nature?
“As for the liquids I’m using; tea is in every piece of work I make, alcohol is a bit tricky to work with, so I’m using it less and less, and as for something like coffee, it bungs up my fountain pen.
“So I think the future for me, is to stick to drinking the coffee and painting with the tea.“
Carne Griffiths will be exhibiting at The Slate, Church Lane, Leytonstone, until April 13. www.slate-arts.com