Make has a chat with artist Nancy Cadogan to find out more about her life her creative process and what gives her hope.
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself (how you started, any formal training, any artists in the family etc?)
A. I have always drawn and painted and always been drawn to the visual world. I come from a family of academics and writers, but my life has also been steeped in pictures too. My great-grandmother trained under Monet. I was lucky enough to see huge amounts of art from a young age.
Q. Who or what motivates you to pick up your brush?
A. That’s a really good question: I think of it as the calm in the middle of the big noisy world. Everything makes sense when I am painting and that sense of things being true becomes very clear. I love it. It can be a battle and extremely tough, but for me, it makes the world make sense.
Q. We love the bold colour palette you use and your calm, domestic interiors. Has your style always been this way or has it evolved over the years?
A. I think I have always thought about things in terms of colour. But my style has changed considerably over the last few years. I used to paint highly observational paintings and now I paint from imagination drawing on twenty years of observational painting as my backbone. It is a huge release and really exciting. Every painting feels like a new beginning.
Q. Painting is a very personal form of expression, how attached do you become to your work, is it sometimes hard to give away?
A. Paintings are deeply personal, yes that is totally correct. I think I consider whether a painting is finished and whether I am happy for it to go to a new home. If something is still niggling, and doesn’t ring true yet, then I hold it close and think hard about it. I don’t want my paintings to reveal themselves undressed, so to speak. But when they are ready, and at the point that the work is calm and complete then I like to think of them heading out into the world and telling their story, putting their best foot forward. There is no more I can do at that point.
Q. Was there ever another career path you considered?
A. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a hairdresser as that seemed to be a great job to connect with people and hear their stories, and have a lot of chats! Everything seemed to come out in the hairdresser’s chair. And then I also thought I might like to be a lawyer, as again, I like to talk a lot.
Q. I also tried for three weeks to have a job with a regular income, as I wanted to be as secure as to whether I was content heading into a world of insecurity and if I was ready was I for that decision. And so far, that decision has worked out beautifully.
A. How has the pandemic been for you and has it affected your work?
Q. The pandemic was something else, wasn’t it! During lockdown one, I was working night and day for a show in the Keats Shelley house in Rome for an exhibition celebrating the bicentennial of Keats’s death. It became a very intense process; I was making work about his confinement when we were also confined. The world’s situations mirror his. It was quite extraordinary!
A. We managed to install the exhibition on Keats’s birthday in Rome, but then three days later the museum, sadly had to shut its doors. While the exhibition sat sleeping in Rome, I started working on a body of work called All the Good Things, which were paintings celebrating the immediate world around us and our natural environment. These were to go in a book collaboration with The Land Gardeners. So, it was a very busy lockdown, particularly as all the while, my three children were at home trying to home-school. What a lot everyone had to juggle!
Q. Is social media important to your work or the way you communicate it to the world or is it more of a necessary evil?!
A. Social-media is so extreme; it leads to great highs and great lows. During lockdown, there were times when a single Instagram post would leave me ridden with anxiety. In contrast, there are other moments of great connection which feel completely wonderful. I am not sure how important it is in my life, but I am mindful that its effects need to be monitored and kept in check. I am interested that people say how much artwork has genuinely changed because of social media and how we view pictures. It’s something I would love to think about some more and find out whether that rings true in the long run.
Q. Can you name a painting you would love to own?
A. There are so many, so I have to answer with the first which jumps into my head. I would love to own Seurat’s Bathers. It’s the ultimate calm painting. It’s intellectually rigorous, challenging and brave, and yet the overall effect is one of complete peace.
Q.The theme of this issue is hope. What gives you hope right now?
A. How wonderful the theme of this issue is hope! Without hope there is nothing. I think it is a really complicated time to be alive with so many crises and so much suffering. I recently did an artist in residence at the Ambassador’s Residence in Paris and made a painting in response to their conference on Green Week.
In the process of creating that piece, I really thought about what painting can offer in the midst of these big huge problems and global topics. The conclusion I came to is that a painting can be the opening of a conversation, a possibility and a moment for pause and reflection. And what gives me hope in general (in broad brushstrokes) is that people are good, life itself is wonderful, and most people will always work towards doing the right thing… I really hope that!
Q. What is next for Nancy Cadogan?
A. Well, I have a show opening on Monday 13th of June at the Gillian Jason Gallery in London. I am also starting work on a really big project called the Lost Trees; it is still in its genesis but I am really excited about it. It’s about our relationship with nature, books and the written word and why this is so important.