Infusing the beautiful colours of various teas in his artwork, Carne Griffiths, a UK based Artist, swaps paint for a cuppa to create intriguing portraits, working primarily with tea, vodka, whisky, brandy and calligraphy ink.
Carne’s approach to painting, which often includes drawings of faces that break down at the edges into floral motifs and exuberant painterly marks and stains, has captivated viewers globally, with his work being exhibited from Milan to Hong Kong, as well as at The Royal Academy in London. Griffiths’ celebrity subjects include Heidi Klum and Kate Beckinsale, and his illustrations of Donald Sutherland and Jesse Eisenberg can be found in recent editions of The New York Observer.
In an exclusive conversation with LoveforTea, Carne takes out some time during his recent solo exhibition at Westbank Gallery in London, and shares his inspiration and vision behind his emotionally-driven work and why he adores painting with tea.
1. Carne, you paint with tea, ink, alcohol, gold leaf powder and diamond dust. How did such unique elements land in your work and how did it all begin?
CG: Alcohol was the first unusual material to appear in my work, and it appeared merely by having a drink of brandy nearby – sometimes when I am working I do so in a very chaotic way so if there is something nearby that can be used to create I will use it. The water I was using was dirty so I used the brandy instead – not quite an accident but utilising something as a replacement. The brandy had a very subtle but interesting effect on the work – so I decided to pursue it further but using a non-alcoholic alternative – and tea seemed to be the ideal way to reproduce the colour.
This led to the exploration of using different teas, different hues and colours and also different strengths. It had the effect of providing an earthy palette to my work and I was able to build confidence using colour – I liked its chaotic nature and the way it could be steered around the page gradually becoming darker in tone as it dried. Tea became a key component in my work and certainly helped in raising awareness of my work as it created an unusual story.
2. What types of tea do you use in your work and which are your personal favorite?
CG: Early work focussed on using chai and jasmine teas – I worked mainly with Twinings but every time I travelled I would collect unusual teas – basil tea from India – different chais, wrapped teas and loose leaf teas, herbal teas such as sage and rose hip teas both from turkey – it was interesting to see the subtle differences in each and also – various teas would change dramatically in colour as they dried.
3. Which are your favourite teas and the time of the day you enjoy drinking them?
CG: I mainly drink the teas as I am using them but as I leave the teas to steep indefinitely they become bitter, as a side I normally have a cup of builders tea to hand! My favourite summer tea is Jasmine and it’s also a fine tea for painting – it has a honey like colour on the page and can give very subtle effects. It also combines really well with turquoise inks to form a palette of blues and greens.
4. Your portraits are an amalgamation of different elements and art forms. How do you approach the blank canvas?
CG: I approach each piece of work with a very open mind – quite often the particular theme or collection of elements evolves slowly through the process of creating – I begin with a sketch which will form the basis for the composition but then the process involves layering marks and then building up and destroying areas using the hot teas or sometimes just plain boiling liquids.
5. Tell us about your ongoing solo exhibition at Westbank Gallery.
CG: My solo opened on the 8th of June and will run until the 14th – it is a collection of works on paper using teas and inks but also a small collection of newer works on canvas. I want to try and develop my style of painting to using a more versatile media – teas and inks work very well on paper, I use them almost exclusively on bockingford watercolour paper from St Cuthbert’s mill which I always stretch before working – this helps to keep the surface flat and prevents pooling of liquids in areas you wouldn’t want.
6. How has your work matured over the years as an artist?
CG: My work evolves very slowly and subtly – as an artist I have found that interesting projects will steer the direction of the work and force you to think how you can combine your main message with the subject of say a group exhibition. I also work as an illustrator and with some brands through my agency Beautiful Crime, these projects bring new elements into the work and often result in changes to the overall style. I have a passion for detailed observational drawing but I also have a passion for the abstract and the act of automatic drawing or drawing from the subconscious – I try to fuse these two areas in my work as it keeps me interested and excited about the subject.
7. Which are your favourite works from your journey so far?
CG:I always find it difficult to select favourites but there are pieces of my work which have been key to progressing a style, the early piece Rose, was the one that defined my work as a combination of nature and portraiture, then there was the piece Strength which broke boundaries with colour and gave me a real platform to showing my work. Following this was a piece from a triptych series called Eleven, that series had a lot of meaning for me – it was based around numerology and was created at a real junction in my life.
8. Is there an artist you admire. Tell us who and why?
CG: I spent my college years working alongside artist Dan Baldwin, when we went our different ways after college I worked the 9-5 but he painted constantly and now is established as one of the most exciting contemporary artists of today. I always admired his drive and energy – there was barely a time when he was not an artist and I think this sort of drive and creativity are what result in a truly authentic creative.
9. How is your ideal day when you are not painting?
CG: I enjoy spending time in nature, cycling or even just in the garden – it’s small observations about the natural world that influence the work and it’s the main message in my work – returning the importance to the natural world.