Grateful to share our interview with London-based artist Nell Brookfield. Nell's beautifully creepy paintings are the perfect combination of the surreal and the tender. The artist's intentional addition of humor gives her works even more character beyond their multiple textures, colors, shapes, and emotions.
Beer Fear, 2022. Acrylic on Linen.
Can you tell me a bit about your background and what led you to your current artistic practice?
I’ve always enjoyed being able to enter social situations and rituals with a slight remove. For years I stood behind a camera, then I studied anthropology and eventually I settled on drawing and painting. My paintings gravitate towards human behaviour I’ve observed, that interests or bemuses me. Humour is a tool to lure the viewer in, only showing them a section of what could be a larger composition, in the hope they will begin to collaborate with the work and imagine what is happening just beyond the canvas.
Grapefruit, 2022. Acrylic on Linen
When the Knife Hits the Plate, Scream, 2022. Acrylic on Linen.
Who are the figures you paint? What are their stories?
They can be based on people I know, or have seen, or have watched in films or even self portraits. Whoever they are, they take on new lives and thoughts and adopt new intentions in my work. By the time they are ready to be shown, especially if they have left my studio, they have become independent from both me and the original person. Their stories are for the viewer to question and make decisions about.
Accessory, 2022. Acrylic on Linen.
Looking at your portfolio, what inspired the change from pastel to acrylic?
I started working in pastel while I was doing my postgraduate at the Royal Drawing School. The work we exhibited in our final exhibition had to be drawing rather than painting, so I started to use pastel because, to me at least, it blurred the boundaries between painting and drawing. Pastels have a raw direct colour that’s quite hard to mix unless you layer it with another one. My intention was always to find my way to painting after my postgraduate, so I eventually made the change by making my own paint to try and mimic that direct colour relationship I’d used with the pastels.
Layering, 2022. Acrylic on Linen.
Is there a typical day in the studio for you? If so, what does that look like?
Once I get into the studio in the morning, I don’t really want to leave the room until it’s time to go home. Sometimes I’ll walk in the park behind the building if I get a phone call or find snacks. I shift between setting a timer and moving between paintings every 45 mins, and painting monogamously on one until it’s finished before thinking about the next. If I can’t focus I’ll stretch, sweep the floor, lie down or skim art books.
Good Grief!, 2022. Acrylic on Linen.
Where do you find inspiration?
I carry a sketchbook on me so I can make notes and draw whenever I see something that interests or inspires me. Recently, I’ve been drawing from film, pausing when I see an interesting still. Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza inspired the painting ‘Day Off From Humans’ and Big Night (directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott) was the impetus behind ‘Good Grief’. The subway is also fascinating because there are so many people crammed into a small space and you end up being very observant, even if you’re not trying to be. ‘Accessory’ was inspired by somebody I saw on the underground wearing such a fantastically fluffy outfit that it took me a moment to notice the little dog in their handbag. I’ve refocused the dog in the composition, but it’s such a close crop that the whole composition becomes fairly abstract and the dog isn’t always seen at first glance. Other works are from people directly around me, often at social gatherings or rituals when people are being performative, such as my paintings ‘Grapefruit’, ‘Layering’ and ‘When the Knife Hits the Plate, Scream’.
Day Off From Humans, 2022. Acrylic on Linen.
Do you listen to music while creating? If so, what are some of your go to songs/artists/playlists?
Yes, if I'm painting patterns I can sort of get lost in the painting and my brain is able drift off into a podcast or album. At the moment I’ve been listening to Changes by Annie MacManus, Off Menu, and The New Yorker: Fiction. If I need to be making decisions I’ll work in silence or listen to music without lyrics, Nils Frahm for example. If I’m drifting between thinking about the work and lyrics, currently it’s Arlo Park’s album Collapsed in Sunbeams and Sloppy Jane’s album Madison.
London-based Nell Brookfield (b.1994) builds up thin layers of natural pigments with acrylic medium and oil paint on linen, offering crops of what could be larger works and asking the viewer to imagine what lurks just beyond the canvas. Fascinated by the strangeness of human behavior and rituals, Brookfield often merges the people she observes with her imagination, creating humorous works that exaggerate the situations they portray. Cadmium red hands demand our attention to be focused on body language and touch, moving our eyes away from faces. Brookfield’s concentration on texture results in intense patterning, tempting you to reach out and stroke the work. Seduced by the bright colors and empathic surfaces, it’s only when you've relaxed into the painting, that you realize things are not as they initially appear.