in conversation with Simon Carter
Simon Carter: The paintings on the walls to me – I’m going to take this from sort of like the base point – because I do know quite a bit about your work – but I’ll take from a base point – to me they look like those kind of photographs you find in a box, in the cupboard. And it’s a memory, and you’re not quite sure whether you remember the photograph, or remember the event. What relation has it got to your background? And tell us a bit about your background in as far as it informs these paintings.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, I quite like that idea of a box of memories, because I think in a way, putting together a solo show is about doing that – you’re sort of curating a set of memories that then have a dialogue with each other. And I also think of them as – I mean, memories or even little pools that you sort of enter. I guess that’s one of the things that makes them different from photographs, in that a photograph might be a record, a snap, one moment – a painting I think is about creating a small world around that photo – it’s almost that you could believe that there is a whole scene around that boy and the bull [Boy and Bull, 2012] all in the same sort of colours, and fluidity, and paint. So I guess, yes I really like that idea of something that you can enter like a box or an exhibition space, and enter these little rooms which for me are memories, but it’s not about nostalgia – it’s more about setting up something that’s still living – so it’s almost they’re all in the present, rather than in the past – which of course photographs generally are about the past.
Simon Carter: So, the images – they feel like sort of (I mean you said ‘found’ there, and you also said ‘remembered) – they’ve got that kind of feeling to them. But how do they… with a photograph it is just like that found moment that you’re looking at – but you say that the painting has got more substance to it, more of a complete world to it. I mean, how does that evolve as you make the painting? Because they are one instant still – but set in a world of their own.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes – I mean, different paintings have different strategies as well to them. I think use both the term found, and remembered, because they are both – part of it’s going through old albums and finding an image which triggers – you know, a memory – they’re of people I know, places I know, and so in a way, once you see the photo, you have the memory, and it’s usually, yes, something that appeals to you. Others are started from a memory without any photographic reference – for instance the Boy and Bull and most of these… actually no, the landscape there, the forest with the crows [Forest, 2013] is completely an invented scene, and the altar scene is partly invented – the one with the crow by the altar [Altar, 2013] – so it’s about taking either a memory or a photo as a starting point, and then seeing where the painting takes it.
Simon Carter: So – because your parents were missionaries, is that right?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes.
Simon Carter: So how much does that inform the paintings, or is that just a fact, in the past?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, I mean, this body of work was very much about exploring my childhood, and then, that very particular history: the fact that we grew up in Bangladesh, and partly in India (we’d go to India every year), and both sides of my family were Christian – both on the Indian side: you’ve got my Indian grandfather on the left – and my father was at the time training to be a priest [Two Priests, 2013], and as a White British man, coming to India initially on the hippy trail, then eventually falling in love with the place. And I guess, because that story underpins both my brother Richard, and my life – you know, our origin story – I guess when I look at childhood, that’s something that’s interesting to me. I’d already done most of that painting – I finished it recently – the Two Priests, and a couple of others, even etchings back in 2010, looking at that figure of my dad as a priest, but hadn’t really found a place to bring them together, and then when Robert emailed me about the Crypt, I just thought this was a great chance to generate this body of work, and pull out those old photos…
Simon Carter: Yes, I was going to ask – the next question was how does that fact that this is under a major Parish Church – how does that affect what you actually decided to show?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, I mean it’s funny – because of course it was the impetus, it was the reason I created lots of this work, it also then plays quite a big role in how the works are read I feel, and I felt that at the Private View as well, that sense of – I think if it was a White Cube, you could be far more neutral about your stance in terms of what they represent – and here, you know, a couple of people were convinced that I was a religious zealot having seen the work in this crypt [laughter] – because you know, I mean, you don’t see people painting crosses much in contemporary painting, unless they’ve got a fairly ironic stance, or maybe a formalist stance (like Kazimir Malevich – you know his black Russian crosses), or a critical stance. And I guess what’s interesting is the way that the Crypt adds another layer of the narrative too – and for me, it’s certainly not about you know, lifting up Christianity or religion, but it’s also hard to get away from the overarching narrative of this place – not to mention the icons [already installed in the Crypt hall] as well…
Simon Carter: Yes, there’s an interesting relationship between them. It’s interesting because Robert is a Catholic, and I’m from a reformist kind of background, and I go to a non-conformist church, and it’s interesting because we got no sense of it being… I think the age of religion commissioning art is over – so it’s become a completely secular and personal thing to my way of thinking – so it was interesting that all of a sudden that you just appear with these images. And the one that I find particularly intriguing is the one with the cross and the streamers [Cross with Streamers, 2013], at the end. Because other ones, have got this feeling of characters from this found box of memories. That seems to take all the figures – there’s no figures in it – is it a memory? Are you putting other meaning into it? Because to me, it feels like it’s got other meaning to just memory in it.
Matthew Krishanu: I was wondering how you do read that, then?
Simon Carter: I – you see, I find that quite engaging, because I have no idea how you would make ‘Christian’ in inverted commas painting, because of course that does feel clichéd. How you make ‘Christian’ art – I have no idea how you’d do that, but I find that quite engaging. You’ve got these multicoloured streamers, and this sort of instrument of torture in the middle.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, well that kind of sums it up… Absolutely, I find the whole cross thing problematic…
Simon Carter: I do, yes, I do
Matthew Krishanu: And I did this sort of camp, sort of finery and decorations and lights and things that – I mean, Christmas is very camp [laughter] – but I mean, it’s related to Christmas in Dhaka (the one with the streamers and the bunting). And just the colours and the flowers and the streamers – you know, all the decoration around it, and at the front, there was this back-lit cross, and very heavy dark wooden cross, which of course features in for instance the painting over there [Communion, 2013]. And it is, it’s a very heavy, dense thing – both in actuality, and to paint, and yeah, absolutely, that painting is all about that. It’s about that very – you know, the fluid movement of the streamers, and the fact that they bend, and they curve, and then you’ve got this very heavy, dark cross in the middle. So yeah, it is about those things…
Simon Carter: So there’s a formalist side to it.
Matthew Krishanu: There’s a formalist thing there, it’s also I think quite particularly about church decorations – probably around the world – you know, I’m thinking of South America, certainly India and Bangladesh.
Simon Carter: Because I go to a non-conformist church – I think it’s called a Congregational church, I’m not exactly sure – which means that they’ve got a weird relationship to anything of the arts. So the decoration is very low quality, and it is this problem, because you’ve got this big cross, this fantastic sort of visual symbol, but it’s – how do you – it’s trying to integrate it into the fact that you’ve got cushions and streamers and chairs and things like that which are domestic kind of architecture, and I think with this painting here, which is called Christmas in Dhaka – because it’s populated, because it’s peopled, it feels like it’s you know, a snapshot kind of memory – the other one [Cross with Streamers] – really confronts the problem to me, which is what does all this mean?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, absolutely…
Simon Carter: Do you think that – we can talk about… I’m not talking about religious faith here. Do you think that these paintings are made out of a position of doubt in what you’re doing, or a position of faith in what you’re doing?
Matthew Krishanu: As a painter?
Simon Carter: Yeah, as a painter.
Matthew Krishanu: I mean – certainly that question of ‘can you paint the cross? Can you paint Christian scenes in contemporary practice?’ I think that is an interesting thing to question. You know, I mean it is definitely questioned in terms of the fact that it isn’t tackled very often. I think there’s a conviction in the sense of ownership of the material – I think that can be problematic, because then you can just start painting purely autobiographically, and in a way what I don’t want it to be is ‘come and sit and look at my photo albums with me’. The idea is to extract from that – which I do with Cross with Streamers, because that is a detail of a photo, which was just lying on the floor – I mean, it was another scene entirely, with my father in front of it – and that was the thing that appealed most to me, and then it was painted fairly quickly, having seen that image. So it’s about extracting from those, and I think ownership of the scenes… I’m interested in the fact that I’d like to think that I’m painting material, and subjects are increasingly unique and particular to me. You know, the idea that if somebody else approached the same topic, they probably wouldn’t have the same – well certainly back story – but authority. So it’s finding things that hopefully over time I will develop a body of work which really only I could have painted. So in that respect there’s conviction.
In terms of doubt, how do they relate to this huge body of Christian art – and I don’t think they are ‘Christian art’ – they’re paintings with Christian forms in them, but then, how do you navigate that? And how do you not get co-opted into…
Simon Carter: So, I don’t know if I’ve missed this – is your father still alive?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, he is.
Simon Carter: How does he relate to the paintings?
Matthew Krishanu: I mean – he’s coming next week to the show.
Simon Carter: He’s not seen this yet?
Matthew Krishanu: No – he’s seen bits of it. I know both my parents for the first time really, are particularly excited, because of that sense, about coming to see the show…
Simon Carter: Shared ownership.
Matthew Krishanu: About family… My brother certainly felt it on the opening. I mean, I’ve been painting my brother and me for a while [pointing to Safari, 2013], and in another painting with the Marmite Prize of Two Boys , so that family memory is there. But, I wanted to paint my father, and wanted to paint my father as a White man – for years, right since my BA. And, in a way, painting my brother and I, is a normal standpoint – all the figures in my paintings are brown people – including like Girl on a Bed  which has been on my website for a long time – it actually is of Uschi, my wife – but that thing of ‘it’s normal to paint myself’ in a painting… it’s normal to paint family members. Basically, it’s normal, it’s not ‘other’. Then, when I paint my father in a cassock – it’s ‘other’ to me.
Simon Carter: Oh right, I see what you mean. I see what you’re going for.
Matthew Krishanu: You see what I mean?
Simon Carter: I do, yes.
Just to continue slightly with this sort of conviction and doubt kind of thing – there is something to be said for questioning what you do all the time, isn’t there? So you don’t – as you make paintings, you’re not making them out of this egotistical kind of certainty, you’re making them out of a questioning of everything you do – does that ring true?
Matthew Krishanu: Certainly show by show. I try not to have too much questioning as you are making the work, beyond ‘what do I need to do to finish this painting?’
Simon Carter: Yes –that’s quite important when a show’s coming up, isn’t it?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, exactly – and ‘does it work?’ and ‘is it finished?’ – those are my primary questions in the studio. When it comes to a show, then absolutely, those questions of ‘how does it relate to older work?… where next?… oh my God – people are reading it as heavy Christian art…”
Simon Carter: Yes, so this is about the most objective you get with work, once it’s up on the wall somewhere, and you can’t actually do anything to it, can you, and there’s an audience.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, absolutely, and certainly not during the duration, but I have often painted works after it’s come of the walls. Safari has been exhibited before, with just the boy in blue, my brother, and the figure on the right. So also, how the source material gets re-figured… and the elephant in the background came later, again it was almost one of those things that normally I forbid myself to do as a painter – you know, the Taj Mahal or an elephant, it’s one of those things…
Simon Carter: The clichés…
Matthew Krishanu: … it just needed something in the background, and I was brave, and put it in.
Simon Carter: With um… we’ll sort of loop back and talk about something you were talking about in the beginning… the fact that they are paintings – have you got any reasons why you think they are paintings? We’ve talked a little bit about that at the beginning.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes..
Simon Carter: You could have gone… you’re using old photographs, you could have used family cinefilm or something like that – it could have been other things, it could have been writing…
Matthew Krishanu: I guess because I came to it as an exploration of painting, and this was the subject matter that came in, rather than primarily wanting to explore the subject matter first. I think, if I came to it as – I’ve got this body of imagery, texts or photos or whatever it is that I really wanted to explore, and what’s the best possible way? – I might not paint. But as a painter – as a continuing, ongoing search for what shall I paint – I mean for instance the fact there are multiple figures is quite a big thing for me – I’ve been a painter of solo figures – and also, a lot of them are exteriors. So I guess it’s also about developing my language as a painter, setting myself fresh challenges, and letting the material almost re-fertilize the ground. And, in a very particular note – say, that the paintings around the Girl on a Bed era – I feel I’ve kind of finished them last year there were a couple I just finished off. And in a way to escape being a painter of melancholic figures in interiors, and this material I’ve wanted to research for over ten years, so I’d say as a painter it just flows in.
Simon Carter: So do you feel like you’ve always been a painter then? And you’ve gradually found your subject.
Matthew Krishanu: I’m certainly finding my subject. Always been a painter really only means since the time I started painting with a sense of conviction, which actually, really from – because I studied sculpture right through my BA as well and it was only the last year, the last few months of the BA…
Simon Carter: Oh right, I didn’t know that – there was another list of questions I could have come up with – I didn’t realize that.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, it was in the last year, one of my friends who I went to art college with me – and actually he was quite pivotal in getting me away from something that had died basically – me as a sculptor – I was just repeating stuff I’d been doing from A-level. And partly it was because there was so much subject matter I couldn’t attack in sculpture at all, and it was partly that particularly very quick drawings and quick works of paint on paper – the most humble stuff, were probably the most interesting ones. So the whole of my BA show was just works on paper – but starting to deal with subject matter that I’d never dealt with before. I mean, ‘deal with’ is too strong a word – but starting to use subject matter.
Simon Carter: Yes – because you said humble, because that’s what I get – there’s a real sense of humility to this if you like – which comes across quite strongly.
Matthew Krishanu: That’s nice to hear actually. Because yeah – that’s good.
Simon Carter: What does painting do that other things don’t do then do you think? Is there a – one of the things that Robert [Priseman] and I have been discussing is that painting at the moment is just seen as part of a bigger art world. So you go and study Fine Art – there’s a mass of stuff you can do – you can do dance, or you can do film, drawing – there’s loads of stuff you can do. These paintings – is there a particular thing that painting does? Because we’ve got an idea that painting could be taken out of that a little bit – and given its own little spot.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, I think increasingly I feel that I am a painter before I’m an artist in a way, and before I used to think of myself as an artist who paints – or even a person who paints. Increasingly I think – it’s for me, it’s the same as the difference between say short stories and poems, of course they’re related, but I do think painting is very very different from video art and installation art, and it has its own history, and it has its own feeling. How you feel in front of a painting – because it’s physical stuff. You know, it’s textures, it’s… I mean there are two things – there’s so much that can be put into a painting, but it’s also quite prescribed – it’s within a rectangle…
Simon Carter: It’s got quite tight rules, hasn’t it really?
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, exactly. And it’s one of those things that the more I’ve done, and the more I’ve looked at – the bigger the world is (rather than the other way round). And also I teach painting, and I think part of – my love of painting really – comes out of that as well, because then you’re constantly asking ‘why paint?’ and ‘what is it that painting does differently from anything else?’ I mean for me, the primary thing is that I feel completely different when I’m looking at paintings than when I’m stood in front of a photo – you just look at very different things…
Simon Carter: It’s not something you can necessarily explain either is it? You just know that when painting is giving you some sort of response that other things maybe can’t.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, totally… Occasionally, actually, a bit of real world will give me a similar feeling – you know like you know, bark, earth – you look at it, or of course in the city occasionally like a strip of wall, with peeling paper, and it will arrest me in the same way that a painting…
Simon Carter: Yes, and lighting – something that momentarily happens with the light
Matthew Krishanu: Yes – and the physicality of it, that you’re looking at a real thing that has a sort of ‘I’ voice to it. In a way a photo is always removed from that, it’s no longer a real thing – it’s the impression of light and shadow on paper – you’re not building up, you’re actually staining the white surface. And of course with digital – you’re seeing that everywhere. I mean the most visually obvious thing for us is stuff on screens, and of course billboards and posters. And it’s all two dimensional, and it’s all flat, and it’s usually printed with dot-matrix prints and so on – it’s not got that physicality which of course painting does have. Not that I’m a real Auerbachy type painter that really loads it up, but to be honest I feel there’s a physicality to a very light wash of painting on a surface – on a piece of wood – as there is for something that is more impasto. I’m not privileging thick heavy painting over…
Simon Carter: Even someone like – I’ve just been down to see the Patrick Caulfield show at Tate Britain – in reproduction you just think they’re big areas of flat colour, but you get a physical sense off them standing in front of the painting. Partly it’s to do with the scale, but it is to do with the handling of paint as well.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, and it’s like with Mondrian as well. Mondrian’s paintings look like graphic design in photos, and then you see them – you see the wonky lines, you see the beautiful…
Simon Carter: They feel like they’re breathing don’t they?
Matthew Krishanu: Absolutely. I mean, this is where it starts to get more religious sounding – because it is things like ‘breath’ and ‘I’. You know, you are trying to create something that’s living when you’re painting – or at least I am. I think you are, actually…
Simon Carter: OK – I think probably so. But the other thing I feel is that you want to know enough about your process to enable you to do what you do – you don’t want to know so much that you think ‘oh, that’s what I’m doing’ – you want to enter into (this is going to sound religious as well) – it’s about entering into some kind of mystery, isn’t it?
Matthew Krishanu: Totally – I mean the fact that you don’t know where the end is when you’re painting. The fact that your paintings for instance have layers beneath them – you’ll keep painting until it works, and adapting. Yes, and teaching painting is very much about that question – when does the painting speak? And I think those very practical questions of ‘what does the painting need?’ are really interesting ones, and the fact that you often have to grasp that intuitively.
Simon Carter: When you said ‘that point when the painting speaks’… that point – is that the answer to the question that everyone asks ‘well, how do you know when it’s finished?’ It’s when the painting speaks, isn’t it? I’ll have to think about that – it’s a good answer.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah – and I think also, because have felt I have ‘killed’ paintings in the past. And I think you’ve got – it feels like a wound if you do overwork, and again, I feel this very strongly from students– sometimes the agony of having killed something that was breathing, that did speak, that was right – and perhaps should have been pulled away at that point. And I do it – I will overwork, in that search for trying to get the right piece – you think ‘I’ve got to be brave and do it’, and then you can agonise for any amount of time afterwards.
Simon Carter: Because you’re – I’m assuming you work without assistants (none of us can afford assistants) – but because we’re in control… you’re supposedly in control of this process, it’s just down to you in the studio isn’t it.
My youngest son has just finished the first three years of an architecture course. And one of the tutors who interviewed him three years ago had said ‘are you sure you don’t want to do painting? You don’t want to go to art college?’ – he says, ‘because if you’re an architect you think you’re in control, but if you’re an artist you are in control.’
And I thought that was quite a nice definition, because an architect is a collaborative thing, isn’t it? You know, you think these great architects are thinking up these ideas, but you’ve got to make it stand up, you’ve got to work with builders… I can go to the studio and I can do whatever I want. I can not paint for a month if I don’t want to do it. But you are in control of that purpose, aren’t you? It’s this handmade, small scale process which I like.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, absolutely. I think, probably in the arts – maybe poets because their work doesn’t get tampered with by editors… on the whole [laughter]. But there are very few, you know like if you’re a writer your work – especially if you’re a journalist – will get messed around with. Or directors, all the pains of the cutting-reel floor. Or actors of course – what goes in and what doesn’t. And that collaborative process, unless you’re a solo filmmaker, there are so many voices. And yeah, it is that… I think it’s two things: one thing is control, and the other is immersion, or absorption and the sense of the studio being for me, entirely for me while I’m painting. I’ll address questions of audience later – but while I’m working out what to do with the painting…
Simon Carter: Because the audience almost completes the process. But the audience is after the event, isn’t it really?
Matthew Krishanu: And of course you might – there’s always a dialogue because it can start the event. You can be like, oh god I’m never going to paint another cross again after that one… You know, the audience can have an impact on what you do, but when you’re painting, it’s about you, and what the painting ‘says’. I think there is also a very interesting process of not just exhibiting the work to know what works, but also critical friends and eyes – and eyes that you can trust.
Simon Carter: I think with this Contemporary British Painting sort of umbrella, we’re hoping that this will develop, and I think it is starting to develop. There’s a conversation going on amongst us about what it is to paint, and also quite specifically it’s about relating to each other’s work, commenting on work and things like that.
Matthew Krishanu: And that was nice about reading those interviews [painter to painter] was everyone is coming across those sort of problems, which of course is why painting is…
Simon Carter: It’s reassuring in a way, isn’t it?
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, totally. And it’s very rare – apart from pub conversations – it’s very rare to sort of dissect those questions.
Simon Carter: Well, as we’ve talked about audience, I want to open this out. Is there any question you’d like to ask Matthew? Is there anything you’d like to state? Feel free.
Audience: Do you ever make really big paintings?
Matthew Krishanu: It’s a really good question because scale’s been a real important one for this show, in that I’ve always thought of that painting, which is called Mission, and that – Christmas in Dhaka – as being big paintings. I also wanted to make this show – I came to this show and thought you could just about get away with them on that wall. I want to make really big paintings – partly to find out just what it’s like. It’s funny, because actually after my BA, in my first solo show, I did do really big paintings, and then I went right back and tried to work out exactly what I want to do. And now I feel at a stage where there are images that I do want to work large on – and actually have just got Arts Council funding to develop work for a two person show in January, which is part of the brief – change my scale, and get a couple of painters who are critical friends in who work large already to look. So yeah…
Simon Carter: With scale, it is sort of relative isn’t it? In that my normal size is about four works [gesturing about the size of the paintings]…
Matthew Krishanu: It’s interesting because you were showing here…
Simon Carter: And I can choose – because the paintings I showed here were a fraction bigger than that.
Matthew Krishanu: They all had 30[cm] as a dimension
Simon Carter: Oh dear, it was so difficult trying to get down to that scale. Because on big painting you can do a big gesture, and it takes up maybe about an eighth of the surface, and it doesn’t completely obliterate what’s underneath. But as soon as you start a small painting, the third or fourth gesture in you’re starting to lose the first gesture that you did. And so it’s – I had to move away from it being gesture, and layering up a more graphic – it was a complicated process.
Matthew Krishanu: And I’ve got some larger works on the go at the moment, which I’ve just put to the side…
Simon Carter: I shall look forward to seeing these. A large work – like the Patrick Caulfield scale, the biggest of those I guess were 10 or 12 feet. I mean that to me, would be just – too big.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, and I guess, I think humility is an important point in my work, not to be bombastic. And actually when I went to India – and I’d seen shows, solo shows of Indian painters – they tend to be more bombastic, and the more sort of ‘I am Indian’ kind of work that Saatchi – for instance – would buy, and also the Serpentine put on in their show. Really big, really explicitly Indian – had a cow in it, or you know, dung or turmeric or something. And so, I think politically speaking, to make it autobiographical, to make it intimate, were important to me. But yes, working larger is interesting to me, but to keep a similar tone, to not… actually the painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (Turner nominated this year) – she I think has a very interesting intimacy to her figures at a very large scale, which I think is exciting. And actually, on that point – also scale is important in a tiny figure in a tiny painting as opposed to a big figure in a relatively small painting as well, and that’s part of the thing in these miniatures, the icons, as well – the fact that scale is so important in those – if it’s a huge Madonna with a tiny baby, or multiple figures, I think how big the figure is in relation to the ground is really important, and not just the size of the canvas.
Simon Carter: Anything else anybody would like to ask?
Audience: Yes, I would like to say something about the painting you talked about…
The one with the streamers [Cross with Streamers]?
Audience: Yes, because it seems to me that 1/ there’s an element of photography in sense it feels like a close up of that painting [Christmas in Dhaka] – editing that . The other thing is that it emphasises the comparison – well for me – between the religious and the secular.
Simon Carter: I think it’s interesting what you say about that photographic idea of sort of zooming in and enlarging things. I guess that, because photography is so ubiquitous it just becomes part of our psyche, the idea that we can – you know, you can zoom in and see something. And the way – one of the things I’ve been thinking about was the way that when you’re in a large landscape, and someone walks across it in the distance, you automatically see them, but you see them bigger than they actually are in relation to the landscape.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, because you think of them as a human being rather than a dot, or an ant.
Simon Carter: And so automatically they’re enlarged – you know, in your mind. Whereas if you photograph them, they’d just be a little couple of pixels in the distance.
It’s the same with – I remember years ago, it might have been a green woodpecker or something – it just landed on the lawn, and I clicked a photograph of it because it looked enormous. In the photograph, it’s just this little blob in a mass of green. And it’s not how you see it at all. So in a sense you’re using that idea of photography zooming in, sort of editing – is how we see things. I hadn’t thought of that as an enlargement of a photograph – like zooming in though.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, and I think especially having them on the same wall, it adds that sense of going in. I think also my palette has often been quite muted, so – it’s partly an excuse to paint some bright colours.
Simon Carter: The colour in that is lovely.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, the colours alongside the dark wooden cross – and yeah, I guess what I want is for people to think of the cross as an instrument of torture – not explicitly in there – but not just to read it as a cross and not think about it, but by drawing attention to it, in relation to another physical thing – the streamers, which have completely different properties – they’re delicate, they’re soft, they’re organic, in how they flow, and they’re brightly coloured. And so hoping then that people think of the cross at least for a second in a new way.
Audience: And also, how it divides the space.
Matthew Krishanu: Absolutely – and I guess… for me ‘Mission’ is a series that I want to explore more of, and the formal qualities of altars, and you know, in the way the bottles on the left [of Communion, 2013] is kind of a still life – on the little table, by the altar. And I think the formal properties of churches and divisions, and the cross itself are really interesting to explore. So yeah, it’s both those things really. It’s both first of all looking at the formal set up, and secondly how does that relate to its content.
Audience: Just to go back to that one [Cross with Streamers], because we all seem to be interested in it…
Matthew Krishanu: It’s funny, because nobody mentioned that one at the private view, so I’m really pleased, because when I painted it I felt really happy with it.
Audience: Obviously there is something there that makes you question. And the cross is a really big symbol. But also the streamers, the bunting, I mean which are used for setting for celebration and so on. So when I was looking at it and thinking ‘what’s going on here, what does this mean?’ if you’re a Christian then you could also see that as the joy of the cross, apart from the suffering of the cross, there’s also joy and celebration.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes, totally. Which is essentially what I think it plays in Dhaka. I think it is that – and you know, the whole thing of Liberation Theology – that often it is the ones that are most oppressed, the ones that find the most joy, and of the course the slave experience in America, that sense of the oppressed finding joy, finding salvation in the cross. I think it’s important, so yes I – for me as a contemporary painter, I’m leaving that to the audience. It’s not ironic, and it’s not critical, and actually a couple of people while I was installing – you know, a woman who was actually coming to pray – was asking more about the painting, and I think that’s something she related to, which is great, because it’s about that line of – yeah, it can be both things.
Audience: It’s certainly fascinating because it’s so simple, but it can have such a multiplicity of meaning for people.
Matthew Krishanu: And I think it’s about just giving it over – setting up the scene. And of course the crypt over determines it a little bit in terms of who comes in here, and how it’s read, but the work then hopefully has those elements in it. Talking just now, it’s made me think of the difference between the subject and scene. I think of that [Christmas in Dhaka] as more of a scene, and the other one [Cross with Streamers] as being more of a subject. In a way the Crow [series] is always a subject when it features in my work, or a single figure is a subject, it’s not a scene. And so I’m very interested in that – when are you an observer of a scene of multiple figures, and when do you step inside the painting, and relate to it as a subject.
Simon Carter: I think it’s entirely commendable that you can do that, and not feel you have to comment on… you’re giving these images to the audience without commenting, without weighting it one way or the other.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah – which was scary.
Simon Carter: Yes, I think that’s a brave thing, and entirely commendable.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, I kept it as brief as possible in terms of the autobiographical elements as well.
Simon Carter: You can – there’s no sense… usually Christian imagery or Christian iconography in contemporary art would tend to be weighted with that sort of negative comment upon it.
Matthew Krishanu: Yes
Simon Carter: But these don’t feel like that, they’re quite open, honest and whole.
Matthew Krishanu: Yeah, totally. I like to think of my work… if I’m going to paint I want it to have a generosity… not self indulgent.
Simon Carter: Generosity, yeah, that’s it.
Anybody else, or are we OK?
Well, thank you very much. We’ve talked for a long while. We’ve got quite a good idea of background to the exhibition, and got into quite a lot of detail on processes and thinking behind it, so thank you very much Matthew…
Matthew Krishanu: Thank you
Simon Carter: And I shall look forward to seeing these larger paintings next January.
Matthew Krishanu: January – Nunnery gallery. It’ll be on for 12 weeks as well. And on July the 5th, on the Saturday at 2pm – the first Saturday of the month – I’ll be interviewing the next painter: Claudia Bose.
Simon Carter: And Matthew and myself, we’ve both got paintings in the Marmite Prize for Painting, which opens next – this coming Thursday, at the Tannery arts centre in… is it Bermondsey?
Matthew Krishanu: Bermondsey – the new hot place to be… apparently.
Simon Carter: Oh, is it? Oh right, OK – I’ve never got off the tube at Bermondsey, so I’ll find out. I think there’s an opening do on the Thursday night, then it’s on for about a month after that.
Well – thank very much for coming.
Matthew Krishanu: Cheers all, and do stick around for some drinks.