“there’s no arrival point, there’s always more to do”. Studio Visit with Ilsa Brittain

Ilsa Brittain was born in the UK and led an international life for many years. She obtained her MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2014. Then, after spending a couple of years in Vienna, Austria, she returned to the UK. Ilsa’s work has been exhibited with several galleries: the Flowers Gallery in New York, The Mall galleries in London, Lacey Contemporary Gallery in London, and has recently been selected to be part of ‘Art Rooms London 2017.’


AMM: Share with us your story of becoming an artist and how you started living a creative life.

IB: My earliest memory, from around the age of four, is wanting to be an artist. I have drawn and painted ever since. I keep persisting and I keep pushing, there’s no arrival point, there’s always more to do.

AMM: What is your creative process like and how has it developed as youve matured as a person and as an artist?

IB: I start work early every morning, continue all day and recharge at night. I don’t usually like to stop, but life demands it. As I have grown older I have managed to negotiate more and more studio time, which I am very happy about.

AMM: Your works are dominated by human portraiture with hints of narratives; what is your vision behind this approach?

IB: I am currently working on a series of ‘non-portraits.’ They portray specific people, but are not necessarily portraits of these people. The work is about the options we have in the way we perceive. Ambiguity is an important factor. The various elements within each piece can be read in different ways, and interpretation becomes a matter of outlook.

AMM: Your painting technique is very unique and exquisite. How did your painting style and use of materials develop?

IB: My technique has developed from a long trail of investigation, searching for that certain unknown something that most often arrives unexpectedly. I use different techniques to render different elements within the work, to add additional layers of meaning to the imagery or to unravel what is expected. I like things to look good, to create an appealing environment, and to engage the mind.

AMM: Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you begin a new piece with an image in mind or a particular idea? When do you know a painting is finished?

IB: I gather a lot of reference material, occasionally with a specific purpose in mind, but mostly randomly. People’s faces give me certain ideas and I build the concept from there. Different elements of the painting require different techniques so I need to have a strong strategy-of-execution in place before I begin. Once I start the painting, the process dictates whether the concept solidifies or goes in a different direction. I’m open to change. I am wary though, of being seduced along the way by the under layers of the painting which often look attractive and I become afraid to lose what I have. I push myself on, telling myself it’s better to go too far (at least then you know all the steps) than not far enough.

AMM: Name one quote or piece of advice that stuck with you throughout your career.

IB: ‘Be yourself.’ It’s a quote that goes back a long way, everybody has heard it a million times and read it in many iterations. It rings so true. You are the only one that can be you, and, as hard as you try you can’t be that ‘somebody else’ that you admire so much. But as soon as you accept it, breath the sigh of relief and allow the simplicity and sense of it, it all unravels, the ease and simplicity of it slips away. How do you work out which bits of yourself are true and which are imposters? Which bits can you truly claim as your own? The struggle to untangle it never stops, but it feels like a better struggle than trying to be something that you’re not.

AMM: What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them?  

IB: Writing about my work is the most challenging aspect of the creative process. Imagery is mobile in terms of interpretation, there is no beginning or end, elements are in view simultaneously. But writing seems so frustratingly linear, and demands an exactness which is almost the opposite of what I wish to achieve in my painting. However, the struggle almost always helps me clarify my thoughts and has a positive feedback into my work, so in the end I’m glad I’ve persevered with it.

AMM: What is your favourite creative non-painting activity?

IB: I love being outdoors in nature, lazy days in the sun and big fires at night, good conversations and great books.

AMM: What would be your advice to emerging artists who are at the start of their careers?  

IB: My advice would be to follow what you love, or feel passionately about, because this isn’t an easy undertaking and you need a good source of motivation to push you on.

Find out more about the artist: www.ilsabrittain.com