Asking an artist how they brew their tea may seem like an odd question when discussing their materials, but for Carne Griffi ths’s illustrations the British staple is as vital as the ink itself. Look at any painting from his latest exhibition, Nature’s Riches, and you’ll begin to notice the tea’s presence, from the soft vanilla hues of a freshly-made jasmine tea to the earthy browns of a more robust blend.
Alongside the eye-catching colours created by this unique combination of ink and tea, the drawings themselves also bring together pristine portraiture, intricate floral motives and free-flowing, abstract marks. The more you look at a piece, the more it fascinates as layer after layer of incredible detail reveals itself.
In Nature’s Riches, the London based artist wanted to explore how advertising uses imagery to entice us and to show what would happen if opulent products like high-end fashion, perfume and jewelry were replaced by nature. “The idea is that we should have this pride in nature, this appreciation of the natural world,” Carne explains. “So, I suppose the exhibition asks the question, what if we were to sell or advertise these items? And if we were to find them in a magazine, what would they look like?”
Themes of nature and consumerism are particularly powerful in light of the global pandemic. Many of us have taken solace in the natural world and found ourselves in a position to question the necessity of our spending habits. But although the illustrator completed the exhibition during the lockdown, he came up with the concept before it began. Likewise, his style and choice of subjects can be traced back to his time at art college and his background as a gold wire embroidery designer.
Born in Liverpool in 1973, Carne studied illustration at the Kent Institute of Art and Design, where a life drawing teacher made a lasting impression on him. “He changed the way I understood drawing,” the illustrator explains. “He took it from something that was very clinical and small and trying to record something in detail, to bold, expressive marks. It connected me to drawing in a different way. It was more impulsive and intuitive. “I still think about it in my work a lot, the different ways you can make marks on a piece of paper,” he adds. “Like very delicately, in a meaningful, controlled way, and then in an impulsive way that comes from somewhere else.”
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