“nothing is really natural”. Studio Visit with Jake Grewal

Jake Grewal is a 22 year old painter based in South London who has recently graduated from The University of Brighton with a First Class Bachelor of the Arts (Honours) in Fine Art: Painting. He has recently been awarded a Judges Discretionary Prize as part of the 2016 Woon Foundation Prize at BALTIC 39 and the Cass Art Award as part of the 2016 National Open Art Competition at Mercer’s Hall. Jake’s other recent achievements include an installation as part of the Recent Graduates section of the Affordable Arts Fair Battersea 2016 and Winning Creative Debuts #ArtForTheUnderground competition.

AMM: What is your background as an artist? When did you decide to dedicate your life to painting?

JG: I’ve always wanted to do something creative and selling my first painting at 17 solidified my direction. I attended Kingston University for my Foundation course where I struggled in choosing between Communication and Fine Art. I knew I had made the right decision when I moved to Brighton to complete a Fine Art: Painting degree. Working primarily in one medium was not limiting, as I had feared, but engaging and immersive instead. Though painting is a specific medium there are limitless ways in which one can paint. The fluidity inherent in the medium is what keeps it alive and there are countless ways in which one can perceive and practise it.

I completed my course with a first class (Hons). At the risk of sounding corny, painting and creating is my true passion and I cannot imagine doing anything else. There is a certain type of selfish gratification I get when I paint. It’s like being the only one with the solution to a frustrating mathematics equation. Everyday offers new challenges that allow me to be mentally and physically active. I get to focus on a creative way of problem solving. I am currently living off painting alone, a dream of mine since I was about fourteen. I had imagined a glamorous life, swanning around in a kimono. In reality I’ve worked nearly every weekend for two months and get covered in paint every day.

AMM: What was your first work like, and how did you find your artistic voice? What influenced your recent body of work? 

JG: My first oil painting was a traditional landscape of a lake, with trees reflected in the icy water. I think this was the first piece that pushed me towards landscape painting as a genre. I’ve always been interested in the beauty of the natural, and my current body of work was born out of the love I have for the landscape. I made the decision to draw a contemporary connection between man and nature where I focus on the truth that man has touched and has influence over nearly every aspect of the modern day natural.

The realization that nothing is really natural was made apparent to me last summer, during a trip to the island of Borneo. I had a preconceived idea of what the wildness of the jungle would be like. This was challenged in reality when I observed the effects of deforestation, especially in the cases of palm oil farms and human-caused fires. This human controlled destruction, paired with the sections that are closely monitored and protected by man, led me to the idea that the natural, in its truest form, is now a mythology.

“Nature is simply another eighteenth and nineteenth century fiction”

Robert Smithson

AMM: You currently work and live in London. What do you think are the biggest challenges and advantages for emerging artists who are establishing their careers in a place like London?

JG: I think a key challenge is the practical problem of earning enough money to create work and live. The cost of living is so high in London that most people make just enough to live, let alone fund their creative careers. I am lucky enough to be able to live with my parents hence why I can afford to rent a studio.

This benefit isn’t particularly London-centric but upon leaving university I was taken aback by the sheer number of opportunities available through digital platforms. I know the people around me have been shocked by the amount of open competitions and opportunities that are waiting for emerging artists to take advantage of.

AMM: Do you feel your work is evolving in any way, if so how?

JG: An artist’s work should be constantly evolving. My work has recently arrived within a distinct conceptual sphere so I have been consciously focusing on refining the practical side of my work, literally making a painting.

This is a continuous project and there is no fundamental solution, as every painting demands a new answer. Being hypercritical about the technical standard of my work comes easily to me and I think this can be a benefit but also a hindrance. I have focused on challenging colour combinations and compositions whilst experimenting with paint materiality and new techniques. My paintings are getting larger, bolder and hopefully more refined.

AMM: The colour in your work is incredible. Where do you find inspiration for the palette in each painting? 

JG: Thank you. My enthusiasm for colour is somewhat of a recent development. I wanted to push landscape painting into the modern age through an artificial colour palette. The palette for each work is born out of my working process. I begin editing photographs, adjusting the colour levels and saturation, creating a coherent palette to ground the fictitious scenes.

I then print a physical photograph and draw out certain photographic tropes, such as the glossy quality of the image. When painting from this image I enhance certain colours aiming to push the vibrancy of each work to breaking point, encouraging harmony and clash.

AMM: How does each painting come to life? Do you use photographic references or strictly construct the space?

JG: My process is heavily influenced by the mediated image. Using primary source material I edit images on my laptop and challenge myself to paint from the materiality of the photograph or print. The source material becomes an object as I notice its different photographic tropes. The quality of the image interests me as it changes depending on the type of print; for instance, one printer may have less yellow ink. As each source differs I work from a combination of two to three prints creating a composite image.

When working on a painting I use a combination of free hand paint application alongside application aided by a projector. I enjoy the irony of using a man made projector to paint the natural. It also presents marks and patterns from the digital source material that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious if I were painting from the object of a photograph alone. It offers a variety of mark making, allowing unique patterns to sit alongside free hand painterly elements

AMM: Describe a perfect day in the studio. 

JG: A perfect day for me would have to start with a work out in the park with my mother. I’m not a particularly active person but I love the feeling of exercising outside on a cold morning. It really wakes you up. I’d wear my favorite outfit to the studio and no paint would get on it, a near impossible feat. It would also have to feature a Eureka moment with a painting and possibly a friend could deliver me a delicious hot lunch. Hint hint. Ideally the painting is finished by the end of the day so I’m allowed to have a glass of wine somewhere covered in fairy lights with outside heaters.

AMM: What inspires you the most when you are not painting?

JG: I think creative people have a capability of being inspired by almost everything. All creative fields interest me as they are all interconnected and feed one another. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love cinema. I enjoy the feeling of being completely transported somewhere elsewhere for a couple of hours. I have a real interest in cinematography and religiously follow certain directors. If I were not a painter, I would want to be a filmmaker.

AMM: Who are your favourite artists or makers?

JG: There are honestly too many to name. A few key influences for me are Adam Lee, John Mcallister, Michael Raedecker, Mamma Andersson, Hernan Bas and Carol Rhodes to name a few.

AMM: Where can we see your work? Are you involved in any upcoming exhibitions/shows?

JG: I’ve had a handful of exciting things lined up for December. I was lucky enough to be showing in The National Open Art Competition’s Winners Exhibition in Chicester from the 6th– 18th of December 2016. I also recently won Creative Debuts #ArtForTheUnderground competition and my work will be featured on the Westbound Piccadilly branch in Kings Cross Station for two weeks, so keep your eyes peeled. I’ve been working on a commission for Norton & Sons, a tailor in Saville Row and these two paintings are on show from January. I regularly update upcoming opportunities to view my work on my website and social media so check that out if you are interested and want to see more.

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