Carne Griffiths’ artwork is born from a love of drawing and the journey of creating an image on the page. Working primarily with calligraphy ink, graphite and liquids, such as tea brandy, vodka and whisky he draws and then manipulates the drawn line. After graduating from Maidstone college of art Carne Griffiths served an apprenticeship and worked as a gold wire embroidery designer for 12 years, hence floral pattern, repetition and flow play a large part in his work. Our writer Lottie Storey interviewed Carne to find out more about him and his creative process.
How did you begin working with drinkable liquids?
I had always worked with calligraphy ink and water. It was a glass of brandy that led to the first splash of drinkables on the page, and, like most things I do concerning artwork, it was a chance happening rather than a planned one. Alcohol has a curious effect on ink, taking the colour deep into the paper very quickly - it behaves very differently to water and gives permanence to some inks.
What is it about this medium that interests you?
There are two contrasting reasons why I use non permanent inks and tea. Drawing with calligraphy ink onto the paper gives no room for error and records the immediacy of drawing. Underlying all of my figurative work is an exploration of automatic drawing and the involvement of the unconscious in the work. The second reason is that the line can be manipulated using layers of liquid, allowing for spontaneity and chance happenings to guide the work.
Your portraits have a wistful quality. What emotions do you try to express in your work?
I always approach a piece of work with the intention to get as lost as I can in the process. I feel if a piece of work is to be emotive then something has to be given to achieve that - you have to go through a range of emotions when creating a piece of work, and connect with the work on that level. I think I have chosen a style of work that allows me to best use those emotions. From free and bold mark-making to delicate and intricate pen strokes, there is always an injection of something else along with the marks on the page.
You’ve recently become a father. How easy is it to combine your work with your family life?
Life has certainly changed, and my recent works reflect this - the 2 things are inseparable, life and art. Having twins certainly doesn’t leave much time to run to the studio, but I have a new laughter in my life. These things feed in to what I do. Don’t expect faeries and bunny rabbits in the next pieces though.
Has this change made you approach your work in a different way?
It’s made me think about life in a different way, yes. I have lost count of the times that people told me how I would feel after having children but nothing really prepares you for it. I am looking forward to seeing how this new depth of emotion transfers onto the page.
You spent 12 years as a gold wire embroidery designer with prestigious brand, Hand & Lock. How has this influenced your current practice?
Working within a very specific field for 12 years gives you a strong visual vocabulary. There were many things that I learned to do as an embroidery designer that now transfer into the pieces I make. Flow of line was always important when creating floral embroidery designs and it was something that figured strongly in my artwork through college, the transition therefore was a very natural step for me. The most exciting step was bringing these two areas of interest back together again when deciding to create artwork for myself again.
You seem to have a thriving business on Etsy. Have you intentionally sidestepped the traditional gallery route?
Really! I like Etsy, it provides a very good platform for artists to sell affordable works, especially low price collectibles and curiosities. Its strengths are that it takes care of all paperwork and lets you concentrate on creating. For me, Etsy is a great platform to show small editions and collectibles like postcards and small prints.
Do you think the internet has brought more opportunities for artists?
Absolutely - it has brought an international audience to the doorstep of anyone who wishes to share their work. It comes at a price though, people tend not to just stumble over your work. It takes a great deal of effort for any artist to establish a following and there are plenty of pitfalls along the way!
Has your experience working as creative director at Hand & Lock influenced the way you conduct your own business?
Absolutely, yes. My business knowledge was practically zero before working with Hand & Lock. My intention was to fulfill a design role within the company but I found myself becoming drawn into other areas, such as production managing, costing, and marketing. All of these areas are transferrable skills that will help, no matter what industry you are in. The thing I realised early on being self employed is that you are responsible for all of these roles within your own company. The emphasis is on you to create impact with how you conduct that business and how you treat others in your industry.
Can you tell me a bit about your recent collaboration with Rankin?
Yes, the Rankin collaboration came about earlier this year. I was approached by the design team from Hunger magazine who said that Rankin had seen my work and wanted to know if I would create a test piece for an editorial that was a feature in the 2nd issue of the magazine. It was a privilege to work with the material he sent through - the shoot was amazing and I was given free rein to add my own slant to the work, without limits. I’ve been an admirer of Rankin’s work since a friend of mine brought a small black and white book back from one of his exhibitions in about 1999-2000. When I heard about Hunger I loved the showcase concept, and I’m constantly amazed by the sheer volume of work produced by the photographer between editions. It’s good immersive stuff, and I think his support of emerging artists through the magazine is something that benefits both the artist and the publication.
I love the sound of your live performance piece with Michelin Star Chef Nicola Batavia. How did that come about?
I’ve been working with West London art laboratory Debut Contemporary for nearly a year now, and they had seen a project I had recently completed with Hong Kong brand JOYCE, which utilised small metallic eggs. Debut did what they do really well - they saw a connection between two creatives and an opportunity to put them together, network, and finally come up with a concept for a live performance. Following a wonderful 5-course meal at one of Debut’s Art dinners, hosted at Nicola’s restaurant Casa Batavia, we got together and planned an event, which involved the creation of one of Nicola’s speciality egg dishes. Nicola refilled a hollowed-out egg shell which I then decorated as part of the performance, using a calligraphy pen to create individual floral designs on each piece. Edible art was definitely a first for me - it’s always good to try and push the boundaries of what you do.
What other interesting projects are in the pipeline?
I’m absolutely thrilled to be showing with Coates and Scarry at Affordable Art Fair Battersea. I’ve admired their stable of artists for a long time so I’m stoked to have the opportunity to exhibit with them there and again in the future. Other projects for 2013 include solo shows in Italy and Los Angeles, and a collaboration with an East End fabric designer, plus a few more I can’t talk about right now! Should be a packed year though and I am really looking forward to launching the next body of work.