Author: Charlotte Bearn

Chris Kettle: The Interview

Brighton painter Chris Kettle has been on a twenty-year quest exploring the genre of Still Life in his own unique, rebellious fashion. We've just got some fantastic original works in from the artist along side his exquisite new print edition so we thought it was prime time for a catch up with Chris in his Hove based studio.
Chris Kettle: The Interview | Image


artrepublic: You are a painter of New Still Life which is a modern departure from traditional Still Life painting. How did this style of painting and genre develop for you?

Chris: I started doing portraits a long time ago at college, probably twenty years ago, and I absolutely loved doing them. I didn't get bored of it but I knew there was some other challenge in there for me. I found people accepted portraits quite easily and at the time I just wanted to move onto something more challenging. Objects were harder to make and draw any essence or emotional quality out of and probably in some masochistic way I went for something that didn't sell as easily. At college you can do that, that's the time you can pick something and give it a go. I couldn't really leave it.

It is about that personal challenge of trying to give something a soul and spirit that is inanimate and I'm still on that particular train now. With New Still Life I tried to draw people's attention to the fact that it was Still Life painting, it had that tradition behind it yet it wasn't like anything else people had seen before.


Were there any particular artists you encountered at college that informed this approach?

I think I just absorbed what the installation and performance guys were doing. At Cardiff they were massive on really progressive installation art, much of it inspired by Damien Hirst and really weren't into painting. You had to fight a bit to keep up with them and be seen. I thought I would just start painting little installations; that's where it all began. I did a painting called Fruit and Contraception, it was a small formal set up of fruit floating in a tank with condoms underneath. It was humorous more than anything, but in still life terms that would have been shocking. Twenty years ago people weren't really addressing Still Life but now it's a lot more widely accepted.


What kind of source material do you use for your paintings?

At the moment I've been setting up hanging fruit and taking photos of that, same with the flowers. I use a really powerful light so it's quite dramatic. I also scour the Internet for images of silver and do a kind of magpie search for it. Sometime I'll buy a piece of silverware to paint but it can get a bit expensive that way. Other times I'll paint from life using leaves I've found.


A number of your Still Lives inhabit a very modern looking environment. Your 'Terrarium' series have an almost sinister feeling with a really sense of tension. What is the intention for this?

That sinister edge is really important. I guess my aim is to make an impression, to jar and question people's idea of Still Life. It's important to break out of that nice, Sunday painterly tradition and the only way to do that is with an uneasy feeling. People are more comfortable when there's a figure, a reference point. I like to make people equally comfortable and uncomfortable so that there is that paradox. There are questions in the paintings that I'm asking and not giving any answers, just opening it up and providing this slightly odd atmosphere. With the 'Terrarium' series the room and the background are flat blocks of colour and the punchy bit is the flower installation. I wanted there to be this reverential, precious kind of punch in the middle of the painting. It's a world within a world. There is also a little battle going on regarding what era or time it's set. As soon as I painted the piece I put it in the National Open and it did well. I came in the top three overall, which I was really pleased with.

    Your new print 'Bacchanalia' has just been released at artrepublic tell us more about that piece.

    It's been developing over years, I've had a set up where I've suspended grapes over these silverware receptacles. There's this strange relationship between the two elements. It fits in with Still Life but you generally don't have things hovering, there are also metaphorically questions being asked. It's quite sumptuous, linking to things like Bacchus and ideas of excess. I'm trying to present an image that feels right for today. I wanted do an aesthetically beautiful version of a kind of decay, but one that remands upbeat yet ambiguous.

    Where did you grow up and were you creative as a child?

    I grew up in just outside of Oxford in a little village. I certainly got into drawing just by being bored as a child in my bedroom. My mum was a piano teacher so she swapped music lessons for art lessons for me at Radley College. I didn't attend the college but I got access to all of the equipment. I always did well at art at school. My mum used to make me sit down for an hour everyday during school holidays to do drawings and things. The discipline really came in during my degree. I wanted to really live life so I had some experiences to draw upon in my work.

    Do you work on multiple paintings at once or focus on one at a time?

    Mostly one at a time but now it's definitely changing. I'm doing a bit on a study, a bit on a big piece, so now it has changed to multiple painting simultaneously, especially if I have a show coming up.


    Which of your works would you say you are most proud of?

    I've done four in the Terrarium series, which I'm really please with. Definitely the Bacchanalia paintings and the new print as well. I've been waiting for the exactly right piece to make into an edition. I think that one works on lots of different layers.


    Which artists living or dead do you admire?

    I've been through phases where I've liked different artists at the time who have informed me, and then I seem to move on having carried their influence. At the moment I really like a guy called Nicola Samori who does modern renaissance stuff. Another artist is Neo Rauch; he just creates his own world, which you enter then step back out of. There's no question or compromise in his work.


    When are you happiest?

    I'm pretty happy when I'm actually painting and it's going well. There are fleeting moments of happiness but they don't really last. As soon as I've done a painting the next has to be better. I don't get a lot of moments of satisfaction but I think that's the age-old thing that keeps you developing.


    How long does it take you to complete a painting?

    If I concentrate on them I can finish one in a couple of weeks but recently I've been doing a stage, letting them dry and going back to them. Some of them then can take a month or more by experimenting with layers of paint.


    Finally can you describe an average day in the live of Chris Kettle?

    Up early, get my daughter to school, get on my bike, blast to the studio, paint as long as I can, then back home. Over the past few years I've been doing fasting two days a week. If I'm painting on a fast day I'll be super aware. It's another challenge but it forces you to really focus on what you're doing and times flies.


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    Ivy Mike by Robert Longo
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    Robert Longo


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    Forest of Doxa by Robert Longo
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    Jeff Koons


    Limited edition of 999

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    Mel Ferrer's Nightmare (Grey With Flowers) by Pure Evil
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