Monday, 29 June 2009

Charlotte Bracegirdle in her studio in Stoke Newington on 13 June 2009

AA: How did you start looking at prints of paintings and working on them?

CB: I used to search car boot sales for old frames to use with my drawings. Then I started looking at the pictures in the frames and found them quite interesting. Untitled (Falling Doll) was probably the first one where I started playing around and getting more surreal. Gradually I became braver about what I could delete and began altering the image and turning it into something else. They're all untitled. It's difficult to find titles, especially with the famous paintings like the Van Eyck, so I give them simple references.

AA: I like the way you use the word 'delete' to describe what you do. It sounds modern and technical.

CB: 'Paint out' is the term. I like the fact that I am deleting but also leaving something.

AA: And there's a presence created by making this absence. You're creating something by making things disappear.

CB: Yes, I also want to be able to start painting things in more, but I don't feel quite brave enough yet.

AA: Are you intimidated by the paintings you use?

CB: Yes, because whatever I put in has got to work. I don't want to do some Banksy type thing or something that really stands out and is kitsch. I want there to be some awkwardness and naturalness. For instance, I was nervous about using Raphael's The Entombment. The background was hard to paint. In the end I made up a background. I didn't even try to pretend what was there. There was more of me in that painting so I think I can put something back in that's a little bit awkward but it still fits.
AA: The paintings look uncanny and sinister. By looking at them from a certain angle you can see the light reflected on the new paint and the trace of what was there before, making them quite ghostly.

CB: Yes, there is a darkness but they can be quite humorous too. A lot of my work is about disappearance - one minute we are here and the next we are gone and the traces we leave behind. In a sense when you're gone everything else is the same. In the Van Eyck painting everything else in the picture is just as it was except the figures are not there any more. I suppose I have a fascination about what happens when we are gone.

AA: Do you mean just leaving the room, or dead?

CB: Both, for a lot of these painters that was what their work was about. Caravaggio - it's all about death, so it's a more contemporary way of looking at it.

AA: So how much you alter depends on the particular painting. For instance with Untitled (Van Eyck), you've erased quite a lot from the original print. You've taken out the figures and repainted quite a lot of the room.

CB: I chose that painting because of the reflection in the mirror. I wanted to leave something of the figures behind, like evidence. The shoe in Untitled (Swing) is also evidence. In others, it might be more about the shape of drapery and forms, so it's different every time.

AA: You're not looking in car boot sales any more for old paintings; how do you find your prints?

CB: I buy books or postcards. I sometimes get prints from the Royal Academy collection or the Tate, otherwise online. I've just come up with the idea that I want to work on Goya's The Third of May. I want to make three different versions of that painting because there are three different things I want to see and I think it would make an interesting triptyck. It is the first image I've found where I can do a few things to the same image. It isn't just deletion; it's the choice of what you leave in and what you take away.

AA: Is there a particular period you are interested in?

CB: Not really. At the moment it's mostly historical stuff. I have thought about working on more contemporary pieces but that's not there yet.

AA: What is your art history like? Do you know much about the paintings you use?

CB: Only when I decide to work on them. It's a natural passion I have for them. I have a vague idea but I don't know exactly what I'm going to get. It's exciting - deleting and seeing the image change right in front of you. The smaller scale seems to work better. It's a real challenge. With my older paintings I always felt that I was trying to be like the great painters and I couldn't do it. So moving onto prints suits me because I work with what is already a fantastic painting. I've always loved Fragonard's The Swing. It makes me laugh; the cheek of it, and then the beauty of the colours and everything; it's delicious. Perhaps if I knew too much about this period or the artists it might change how I work on them. There's something quite innocent about how I work. I don't ever see myself as being particularly clever in that sense. Some people might feel that they should know everything about the painting, but you know, because I alter it, you can just see it for what it is, or go away and remind yourself of the original image again. That's also part of it. It's all about history. I'm very old fashioned and part of it is taking people back to these paintings and back to when art was 'great'. So reminding people of the past but also bringing it forward again.

Charlotte's work can be seen in This Was Now: The Russell Herron Collection at Sartorial Gallery, 26 Argyle Square, London WC1H 8AP from 8-30 July 2009.

Charlotte also runs the art gallery Madame Lillies, 10 Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 6BD which is available for hire.