The Power and Beauty of Nature - Katherine Stewart chats to Catherine Eldridge

Catherine Eldridge, born in London in 1986, received her BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art from Leeds University before going on to study at The Florence Academy of Art. Her practice is closely linked with nature, presenting a combination of scenes, figures and still life’s within a contemporary atmosphere. Eldridge lives and works in London. Her work has been shown in group exhibitions in Paris, Florence and London. Katherine Stewart caught up with her to promote the two charming oil paintings she has produced for the UltimART Golden Ticket. 

Reverence I - Oil on board

How would you describe your practice?

I paint figures, scenes and still lifes. They're representations of nature, reality and sometimes the surreal. I like overlapping the relationships between these themes more and more. The works are mostly painted from life but I'll use reference photos sometimes and I like to paint from imagination, nearly always in oils.

How long have you been interested in depicting animals? And is this effected in any way by where you grew up?

It's recent. I grew up in a city so I wasn't really around animals, yet it still felt nostalgic making the work. Perhaps because it’s easier to blur the lines between animals, people and things in a childhood, imaginary world. I find it more unsettling now. I wanted the paintings to be of an animal making a very human but subtle gesture, bowing.

What was it like studying in Florence?

Florence was a seminal experience for me.
Having masterpieces on your doorstep was extremely influential, the bar is so high, so it really drove me to get better technically. I became a lot more focused on detail, structure, colour theory, composition, texture, more conscious of how I was painting and how it was received, rather than only following intuition; it gave me more control, I was more versatile and had more confidence. I was drawn a lot to the the work of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael while I was there. The painting Madonna of the Goldfinch made a big impact in me, a very quiet painting, intricate but delicate, the technical relationships within the painting, especially in the skin, have a harmony through subtle contrasts creating vibrations which are hard to drag your eyes from.

Would you say your art is in anyway influenced by your time there?

Definitely, my technique in particular. The method I studied in Florence was very traditional, very academic. Then I finished and there was the big question of ‘right, now what do I do?’ which people often struggle with: you’ve become institutionalised. I wanted to develop and move forward in my own way and think, when I got back to London, I went through a bit of a destructive phase with my work. I came to the realisation that the method is really just a tool that can be applied, rather than something that must be continued. And in that sense, it very much helped bridge the gap with my earlier studies, which were more conceptual. So overall it gave me more freedom.

Aside from technique, I was hugely influenced by the power of beauty, how enticing and dominating it can be and how it's manipulated by art and artists for themselves and others, people can't take their eyes off beauty, it’s a real force. I became fascinated by drawing the viewer in with beauty and things not being as they seem upon closer inspection, a sort of duality, the aesthetic and the content.

In a broader sense, coming from London, it was the complete opposite, London's constantly changing, keeping up with the moment and that’s the overriding atmosphere but Florence had its heyday and the beauty from that period really overpowers the city. I found it a significant place to grasp how important and influential art is and how it can be and was used for maintaining power and political domination.

Reverence II - Oil on board

Has there ever been a project that you haven’t been able to complete and would you go back to it?

Yes, I was recently looking through work I made when I was younger and developing my practice and it's only in the last few years that I've really started understanding what I was doing. I spent a long time going through the motions with art, I lacked confidence and was unsure I would continue it as a career but I think there was a bigger draw there than I was aware of and I'm glad for that. I thought of my work as very scattered but now I can see certain themes were developing and I was experimenting with different ways of exploring them. I can see now that the work could of gone a lot further, but I was hesitant and would bounce from idea to idea, as though I was circling in on things rather than heading straight for something. An artist I worked with in Paris told me to never destroy any of my art no matter how much I hated it because it changes with time and it does. I wouldn't say I hated any of the work but now my perspective has changed, I see the links and it’s become more meaningful. Even today it is where a lot of my inspiration comes from. The work seems genuine and spontaneous and relevant. .

Are there any particular artists or movements that have inspired you?

I think one of the privileges of being an artist is that you can find inspiration anywhere - from the great artists to everyday things. I’ve always sought out much of my inspiration for figurative paintings and portraiture from the Old Masters and 18th century art and have always been drawn to nature and representation but I’ve never been tied to one genre or movement. I was lucky enough to be granted a permit to make copies at the National Gallery. Last year, I copied Titian’s A Man with a Quilted Sleeve and this year a Rembrandt. Hopefully after that, I’ll copy a Velasquez. Those are three huge inspirations. The expertise they have in drawing in the viewer with beauty, colour relationships and rhythm is really astonishing. I learnt so much copying the Titian, his application and use of colour, for portraiture in particular, was so challenging it raised the level of all my other my work.

I’m also really drawn to contemporary painters like Michael Borremans, whose work is exceptional - the contemporary film-like perspective, effortless use of paint and obscure subject matter. I think it’s important not just to look at painting though and I’m not tied to that as a medium for inspiration. I was at the sculptor Laura Ford’s studio recently and was struck by the extent to which her sculpture share themes with Borremans. Both convey a similar experience of the human condition; a strong sense of nostalgia and a bit of a dance between the real and surreal. I think I’ll increasingly look at sculpture and particularly different materials to paint more obscure representations of the human form, which is something that - for now certainly - I would like to keep at the centre of my practice.

What’s happening in your art at the moment?

A lot. It's developing much faster than it has previously, which is exciting. It took a few false starts before I started listening to all my different influences. Once I did that I could see how things were beginning to come together in a way which made sense for my own style. I'm moving towards introducing more of the surreal into the work, which has given me a lot of creative freedom.

Any exciting projects coming up in 2017?

A few project big and small, a figurative series for a first solo show next year is where a lot of my attention is.  

About the writer
Katherine is 22 year old writer based in London. She graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is an advocate for anything made or done by women. If she’s not devouring books and drinking cups of strong black coffee in downward facing dog, she’s fighting the patriarchy through interviewing women artists or giving you her heartfelt feminist opinion. She believes that the key to life is to be constantly interested in the women around you, only when we are mesmerised by the existence of each other can we truly unleash our greatest human potential. 
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