Think of surface, texture, paint, process and poppies – and who else could possibly spring to mind but Scarlett Raven?
A critically-acclaimed artist and close friend of Cass Art, Scarlett has held several group shows and four solo shows since she graduated from Central St Martins just six years ago. Most recently she showcased The Eleventh Hour at Castle Gallery, partnered with the British Royal Legion to mark the Remembrance centenary, filling the gallery with painted red poppies.
But it’s a new year and a new time for Scarlett. For now she has left red behind and started to explore the colour blue, with a new set of paintings depicting Bluebells. We wanted to find out about her fascination with the colour and her beloved Winsor & Newton Artist Oil Paints, and give you an inside scoop into her new work.
It’s all about blue for you at the moment, Scarlett - what made you break away from your recent red poppy paintings?
I spent nine beautiful months in the studio filled with poppies, painting and engaging with their symbolism, their colours, their smells and touch. I then unveiled my work in my exhibition The Eleventh Hour at the Castle Gallery. But then my father died, just after that show. I took a break from my studio and started sketching out ideas, pouring my heart out onto drawing paper, ideas that were stored in me for a while that I needed to get out. And they took the form of bluebells.
It felt completely natural, and the bluebells seemed to embody how I’ve been feeling - the good and the bad. They celebrate life like the poppy did. I feel like they embody all waves of emotions, thoughts and feelings. The blue is an outstanding companion. A sea of bluebells is like crashing waves, movement, empowerment, astonishing beauty, overwhelming purity, sensitivity, togetherness, calmness, and has angelic qualities. I am still at the early stages of experiencing bluebells and what they have to offer but I am excited each day to get into the studio and see what I find. I love the way they fall collectively. I love the way blue changes; its shades and the way it’s mirrored in the sky is absolutely incredible. And the impact of flower formation and cloud formation, how they pull and release on one another, creates this amazing energy.
I like my paintings to represent that first experience, where one is speechless, taken aback, shocked, overwhelmed, your breath taken away, thrown into calmness, thrown into chaos. I want my paintings to be an experience, and being an action painter is the best way for me to do this. Nature for me is the best experience and that’s why it’s such a strong theme in all my work. A mass of bluebells takes your breath away. Those first few seconds where you just stop and look, and your body freezes - that is what I want the audience to experience when looking at my paintings.
Blue is so rich with artistic history- the colour of Matisse’s cut outs, of Yves Klien’s colour plains, and more recently Roger Hioms’ blue crystal cave and the blue cockerel in Trafalgar Square. But what does blue mean to you?
I’m discovering or being reminded of what blue means to me but I’m not sure how to put it into words yet. I know it’s something really special. For me it’s something familiar like home, safe, rooted… I am starting to think blue means everything. Each shade of blue triggers something so different, and I’m yet to be disappointed or bored of any type of blue. And I think colour is so personal. It’s never the same for the same person, let alone for different people. We are forever changing, just as the meaning of colour changes.
Can you tell us a little about the different shades of blue that you’ve chosen?
One of my favourite paints is Winsor and Newton Artist’s Oil paint in Prussian Blue. It is the most stunning colour blue I have ever seen. I mix it with white spirit or turpentine and it explodes with richness and beauty; I can always rely on it to deliver. It’s deep and precious and the way it thins out with white spirit and holds its richness and sparkle is incredible. It’s such a proud colour! Also you only need a little for it to do its magic. For me adding liquid to it is when the magic happens. Its runs beautifully; I could just watch it for hours, bleeding blue.
The pinks and purples are spectacular to in the Winsor and Newton Artist Quality range too. Rose Madder Genuine, Colbat Violet, Quinacride Magenta and Permanent Mauve are just so rich and vibrant. I also love Colbalt Turqoise Light. It works beautifully for block colouring, especially for the bluebells in the distance, where the light would hit them.
I had the honour of visiting the Winsor and Newton factory and it blew my mind. It was like the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! The love and care that goes into each pigment and its history is phenomenal; you really feel like you’re buying something spectacular.
I love the chunkiness of oil paint; it feels like a living being. But I have also introduced acrylic to my paintings. I love that it dries faster between layers, because waiting on oils can be a pain and I always get impatient. I use the big tubs of Acrylic paint - the Galeria or the Daler Rowney. The colours are incredible! Adding water is fun as well getting control of the textures. I love paint that runs against paint that is thick and stand its territory. The two dance well together.
Colour and surfaces are so integral to your practice - but what else influences your process?
The way the materials integrate, meet, respond to each other; the making is really important to me and to the final painting. Process itself influences my process. I am guided by my materials and the way they are applied. The movements I make around the painting is documented by the canvas and is evidence to an event. My final painting is that event. A lot of the magic happens as I’m watching the materials collide. Drying times are very important, and art materials behave differently over time as the water evaporates from them - this creates beautiful shifts in the paintings like earthquakes. Then the colours underneath seep through. So movement is really important.
My mood is really important to my work also. If I am going to the studio to paint bluebells, I need to be all encompassed. I need to feel and know my subject matter. Or be excited to learn. I can never force painting; it always has to come from desire, otherwise you can see my indecision, unwillingness, frustration, in the final piece.
What are your plans for 2015?
Painting, painting , painting. I’ve got a new studio by the sea and surrounded by horses and I’m in heaven. I love animals and read into their symbolism a lot, and am very influenced by nature. I want to create a collection of blue themed paintings, maybe just bluebells not sure yet. And definitely work towards my next exhibition at Castle Gallery.
I am also working on another Blippar Virtual reality painting, which I am really excited about, and I dedicate my time every day to research the First World War. I really want the painting to be educational and true to events as well as a completely personal experience. Schools have been using poppies collection as inspiration for their own work and learning about the First World War. I am so honoured and overwhelmed by this; I have been receiving drawings from students in the post and videos of them singing with their own interpretations of the paintings. Teachers have said that the students who don’t normally respond to art are really gaining from it, which is a dream come true for me.
Children are geniuses! It's holding onto that that is the hard bit. I am learning a great deal from them and their methods and hearts - they would definitely know how to describe the colour blue! When I was little I bought my first easel from Cass Art, when I was eleven. It’s the most magical place, and all the staff are artists and know, respect and love the materials the same way I do.
Browse the Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour that Scarlett loves here.
You can view a video interview with Scarlett Raven here.