Nicholas Toovey meets a Brighton-based artist handling a classic subject matter in a revolutionary new way.
Chris Kettle has spent most of his artistic career reinterpreting the age-old genre of Still Life. Heavily inspired by Peter Doig, the Dutch Old Masters and the installation art of Damien Hirst, this unusual grouping of styles fuse to create edgy, urban and contemporary paintings.
The artist’s creativity can largely be attributed to his mother’s influence; she attended the Royal College of Music before starting her family. She allowed Chris to advance and flourish, swapping his music lessons for art lessons, encouraging him to explore his natural talent. Chris obtained his degree in Fine Art at Cardiff and always wanted to live life in a big city. His grandfather was a fisherman on the Sussex coast and his mother had lived in Littlehampton. During the 1960s Chris’ father rode a Lambretta around Brighton in an age before helmets and the artist admits he fell for the romance of inherited stories when choosing Brighton above Bristol and London. He now lives with his partner and is bringing up his daughter in the place where he feels more at home than anywhere else he has ever lived. Does Sussex inspire his work? Not particularly, he admits his art could be painted anywhere, but Chris feels that the sea does influence his work in allowing the space for the freedom of thought. He believes that Brighton is one of the few places where you can be yourself, a diverse city that encourages experimentalism.
His Hove studio is light, clean and contemporary, with an unmistakable hint of fresh oil paints and varnishes lingering in the air, he shares the studio with fellow artist Simon Dixon. Chris’ current body of work focuses on things that sparkle and contrast, beside his easel is a small bookcase of choice trinkets, akin to Magpies’ treasure, orderly and neatly arranged, looking like installation art in itself. Beside this is a table littered with tubes of paint, sponges, brushes and a huge stack of photographs of flowers. A few currently available works hang on the wall, including ‘Botanica’, a fluid, yet almost photo-realistic study of a silver and glass vase issuing an orchestral explosion of flowers. With his distinctive dripping varnishes and touches of luminous colour it is beautifully presented in an ebonized wood frame of solid proportions. Below is a small stack of other wrapped works, some recently returned from a show in Gstaad, others ready to send to the Opus Gallery. Chris’ work is often sent all over the world for various group and solo exhibitions, including New York, Milan, Switzerland and London, where he has hung alongside the likes of Tracey Emin and Antony Micallef. He can also sometimes be found in the Brighton gallery Ink’d as well as selling directly to his database of private collectors.
Chris describes his paintings as ‘journeys’, a culmination of exploring new avenues, constant editing and organic reworking, a process that means it can take up to three months to complete a single work. The finished paintings are imbued with presence and emotion, a harmony of various flowers or fruit contrasting with mysterious glistening vessels. These antique metallic elements are meticulously sourced for their visual aura and their possible enigmatic past. The dripping varnish on occasions adds a feeling of recovered treasure pulled from the deep, hinting towards a nautical inspiration. The varnish is the final act of freedom for an artist that is constantly striving and experimenting to improve his output. Chris recognises that his career started as a whisper, but through self progression he has found his inimitable voice and judging by the current body of work it is big, punchy and powerful.
His latest venture is a limited edition print that he is publishing himself, produced to a high quality in an edition of just 20, ‘My Counterpoint II’ is the inaugural outing of an annual print of the artist’s favourite painting from the previous year. By publishing it himself he can keep the cost lower than his other limited edition prints, offering it exclusively via his own website.
Chris Kettle deserves to be the next ‘big name’ in the contemporary art market, his subversive approach to the often overlooked subject of Still Life uniquely infuses the classic genre with a modern twist that brings the subject refreshingly up to date for a new generation of patrons.
Visit www.chriskettle.co.uk for more information and to see more examples of his work.
Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in March 2011.