Many artists and designers use tea as an integral part of their creative process – to drink and pause and reflect on a work before applying final touches or heading off in a new direction – but the beverage is much more instrumental to the work of the artist Carne Griffiths. He creates what he describes as “drawings in ink and tea [that] offer a form of escapism to the viewer”, mixing portraits with floral shapes and watery smudges and drips for a style imbued with both sadness and strength.
Carne’s solo show, Journeys, is at Gallery 90 in London from Saturday, so in advance of the show we thought we’d find out more about his art and creative process.
DA: How did you first get into the use of liquids such as tea in your work?
CG: “I have drawn with fountain pen for many years, often with plain water washes. When I decided to leave my post of creative director at an embroidery firm to pursue a love of drawing I experimented with liquids such as brandy.
“I liked the effect this had on the inks I was using but decided that an alternative that wasn't such a wasteful crime would be a better option so I started experimenting with different types of tea.”
DA: What does using such materials enable you to do that conventional painting techniques alone do not?
CG: “Colour is a difficult area for me and something that I have become more confident with in recent works. My confidence in using different materials is growing but the benefit of working with a medium such as tea is that it creates a naturally harmonious palette.
“I can introduce vibrant colours but the tea does the job of mixing with these to create a balance in the work. I know this could have been achieved with a reduced palette of colours but there is something about the whole process of brewing the tea and working with a colour that becomes more intense or darker in tone as the work progresses.”
DA: How does your past in embroidery design influence your work?
CG: “I undertook an apprenticeship in embroidery and it was something that I didn't take lightly, there is a great responsibility learning from someone who has devoted 50 years of their life to understanding and developing a trade, and then the challenge is taking that information and making the job your own. That kind of intensity and study of technique is bound to have an influence on both your drawing style and also your approach to artwork.
“A lot of my influences manifest themselves in quite a subtle way – sometimes subconsciously. I think the reason that many of my compositions sit within the page and fit within given shapes is down to this training and obviously the floral elements and pattern within my work derive from my embroidery background.
“Looking back at my work over the past year, the influence of floral pattern seems to be less evident in later pieces. I am becoming more interested in expressive lines and less controlled work, which is one of the advantages of working without constraint.”
DA: Could you give us a brief insight into your creative process for an artwork?
CG: “Spontaneity and chance is the key to most of my work, allowing myself the freedom to change the direction of a piece of work at any time is what excites me most about making art. I can be working on a piece and suddenly have the impulse to tip a cup of tea almost entirely over the work and then to throw the piece around moving the ink away from the underlaying lines. This process of 'destruction' is found in most of the pieces that I consider successful.
“I have a real passion for outsider art and automatic drawing – show me the work of someone who considers themselves unable to draw and I will marvel at their approach. So part of my aim in any piece of work is to reach that point where I become less concerned with the act of making an image and become absorbed in the drawing itself.
“The work of Andre Masson and the incredible tortured drawings of Antonin Artaud are examples to me of the raw power of the drawn line. I am of the opinion that creativity has less to do with technical ability than intuition, freedom of expression and confidence in mark making.”
DA: How did you come to be exhibiting at Gallery 90?
CG: “I was introduced to the gallery by the artist Mason Storm who is also exhibiting at G90 later in December. He's been pretty instrumental in arranging the whole thing and I'm grateful for the opportunity.”
DA: What journeys does the title of the show refer to?
CG: “The show title reflects upon several types of journey. It alludes to the process of creating the work, to the discovery involved during each piece and also to the way I have approached my own artwork over the last year allowing things to happen organically without too much concern for direction.”
The exhibition runs from Nov 19 to Dec 3 at Gallery 90, 90 Mountgrove Road, Finsbury Park, London, N5 2LT. The private view is on Nov 18 from 7pm.