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Cara Nahaul

Feb 15th - March 10th 



40 x 50cm

Oil on board

Pas Faire Comme Moi


106 x 90cm

Oil and acrylic on linen

Study of Moderna 1972


Pen on paper

31 x 25 cm

Feb 15 - March 10 2018

Exhibition launches at 'Primary Late' 6pm - 9pm'

In conversation' Saturday 3rd March

Gallery Open - Thurs - Fri 12pm - 5pm

Wed and Sat by prior appointment.

I remember first seeing your work ‘Pas Faire Comme Moi’ at the Pump House Gallery, could you tell me more about that work?


Yes, ‘The Trouble with Painting’ exhibition curated by your friend Hannah [Conroy]...That was the last painting I made when I was studying and living in New York, and I consider it a game changer. I learnt a lot from that painting - how to achieve a certain atmosphere through minimal means, balancing colour, and the importance of drawing. Since that painting, my interests have varied but I thought it would be interesting to revisit that painting and see how it related to what I am currently making in my studio. So the new paintings in the show are part inspired by that work.


Also, the painting Pas Faire Comme Moi is named after a Mauritian Creole song, and it translates as ‘don’t do it like me’. At the time I was thinking of what symbols and images evoked a sense of the exotic and the tropical. I was listening to creole music, and it occurred to me the songs were doing something I wanted to recreate in my paintings. The melodies and beat of the music were very languorous and leisurely, yet the lyrics in contrast were melancholic or spoke of something more sombre. I am inspired by this kind of antagonistic tension, and how it can be replicated in a painting which is a silent and motionless language.


Its noticeable in your paintings that the walls are playing with perspective, what’s your interest in that?


The places that I paint aren’t necessarily from real life - even though I’m dealing with still life and landscapes, I’m not observing the objects actually in front of me or painting ‘en plein air’. It’s usually from memory, personal photos or a story about that place. I’m more inspired by the observation of something rather than the thing itself. When I paint I’m trying to translate and transform objects and space through colour and composition, rather than portraying it accurately. Like in Alice in Wonderland, I think of these places as an imaginative space where it’s hard to tell what’s very large or very small, it’s deliberately unclear in the paintings whether we are viewing the same space from different angles and distances.

So it allows you to be more free? Not restricted to representations?


I’m constantly trying to challenge my own tastes, especially when it comes to colour. I have to be aware when I rely too much on certain combinations. For example, I’m always drawn to using blues and pinks so I have to pull back and force myself to choose a different colour. I love the way colour combinations can reach certain vibrations or energies, and the way shapes can function together like an answer to a puzzle.


I wondered in a different way about the high walls in the work, I was thinking about them as prisons, they have this oversized nature to them.


It’s funny you mention they are prison like, a lot of people say to me the paintings feel very lonely.  The spaces are usually pretty empty, and that’s because there is an attempt to understand the tension and relationship between objects and their environments. Particularly in these new paintings, I’m looking at the arrangement of the objects and trying to get the distance just right. I also wanted to paint objects that were familiar and more everyday.

You've mentioned before when talking about your work a sense of 'home', where is that for you?


Home is England, but my family are from Malaysia and Mauritius. It’s fair to say my understanding of my cultural heritage has been largely from a distance. My visits to Malaysia and Mauritius as a child however, were incredibly profound. My psyche has been shaped by these visits, as well as growing up in England so naturally that has fed in to my work - the exotic fantasy of these tropical countries and my experience as an “other” growing up.


But home has a very elastic meaning for me and I’m interested in the feeling of longing. What makes us want to travel to exotic locations? Or decorate our homes with souvenirs from our holidays? I’m curious how we project our desires on the exotic and foreign, and how we can locate the source of these desires. In painting scenes of domestic interiors, I’m looking for the everyday symbols and images of the exotic and tropical. For me, the tropics are more of a psychological landscape.


Where did you study? Was it a painting school?


I studied my BA at Goldsmiths University, and my MA at Parsons The New School in New York. Funnily enough, neither of them are renowned for their painting departments but when I got a scholarship to study in America, I wanted to be in New York and knew I’d make the most out of my time there regardless of the school.


At Goldsmiths I got bogged down in continually defending why I was painting. My conversations in crits would always jump to the act of painting rather than looking at the work first. But I was introduced to critical theory which helped to see my work in a historical context. In New York, I had the opportunity to meet tutors who were painters that spoke of the importance of keeping a studio practice. I learnt so many simple things like stretching a canvas properly or how to clean brushes. The conversation about painting seemed more open, and I was looking at a lot of American abstract works whilst out there like Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin and Helen Frankenthaler. It seemed like the legacy of the abstract expressionists was still very present and I became more interested in paint as a physical thing, how to switch between clean planes of colour or more complicated layers.


So you've mentioned your 'fall back' colours are blue and pink, have you any other particular other colours or thoughts about colour for this exhibition?


I’ve thought about starting with the colour yellow for this exhibition, it might be that I start with one wall in yellow and then build up wall drawings and arrange the recent works in response to that. For someone like Derek Jarman the colour yellow is colour of madness, disease and bodily fluids, which is completely inverse to my associations. His autobiography ‘Chroma’ is important for me and helped reveal my own relation to colour. For me yellow is about family, the sun and food. When you think about colour in this way you build up your own private lexicon to make paintings from, and over time the colours start to read as a form of language in its own right.

Exhibition supported by Arts Council England

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