Beatrice Hasell-McCosh (b.1990, UK) is an artist based in South London. She makes work that explores emotional themes through the lens of traditional landscape painting and representation of natural form. Drawing is vital to her practise and she travels widely making multiple small studies closely observed from life which she uses to make large-scale paintings back in her studio. Her work is included in collections in the UK, Europe, Japan and the USA .
Beatrice speaks to Cassandra about her influences, her working practice, and her curatorial projects
Where are you currently and tell me a bit about your studio practice as well as a little bit of your history and CV
I have been painting professionally for the last couple of years but only recently felt like I’m really finding my feet as a painter. I am an assistant to two artists and having their support and guidance has been important since moving to London. I’m also lucky to have recently been part of a few exciting group shows and those have naturally lead to other projects. I went to Leeds to do English and Classics then Leith School of Art in Edinburgh and The Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch. In some ways I wish I’d gone and done an art degree but probably it has informed my practise coming to painting down the route I have. It’s good not to regret any choices as they usually bring you to the same conclusion in the end.
Tell me more about the pieces you have included in the exhibition?
The work I made during lockdown was primarily a gathering of information which the smaller watercolours stem from. The Past Was Asleep is line from the Robert Browning poem The Bust and The Statue about never acted upon love and fear of time passing which was something I was exploring and reading about a lot over lockdown. I like the feeling of these natural bars that the palms evoke keeping the vine leaves on one side away from the viewer in the same way that this invisible barrier of covid was keeping human interactions to a minimum.
How important are the preparatory works in your practice and how much do you do before beginning a larger or more substantial piece?
From the Drawing School I learnt the importance of a continued practise of observation and after a trip to Japan a couple of years ago the way I worked became much more memory based rather than from life so it’s important to have as much information as possible before returning to the studio. These two small pieces were among about a hundred drawings I did during lockdown.
Was this always a way that you worked or have you come to it more recently?
The trip to Japan really changed things for me. Because we were traveling quite quickly by necessity I just made loads of drawings and when I got back to the UK I decided to try to work from just these monochrome works and see what came out of it. It was such a big moment for me as In working in large scale I realised how much I enjoyed the act of painting itself and how important colour choices and gestural mark making were. It just means that drawing now is the most important thing as those small pieces might inspire 6 months of work so it’s so important to draw all the time for me.
Whose preparatory works/drawings do you admire or are influenced by?
The Bonnard show at the Tate a couple of years ago was a big inspiration but I also love the Rubens oil sketches which were in the Royal Academy show about 5 years ago and I have always loved the large scale cartoon by Holbein in the British Museum. I also recently bought a small oil sketch by Flora Yukhonovich which I really treasure and a print by Tom Hammick which is really inspiring.
This is the second show you have curated, tell me about the choices you have made and why?
I chose all the artists on the basis of their preparatory works or the stories and inspirations behind their main pieces really, I love that they all give the same importance to these works (and to drawing) as to their large scale or more worked up pieces. All the artists are people I have followed for a while and having instagram is really helpful in terms of finding people, particularly when studio visits or chances of meeting artists are much less possible at the moment.
You have been working recently on a series of diptychs, why are you particularly drawn to that as a structural choice
I saw Joan Mitchells work in real life in November last year in the new rehang of MOMA and it was so so incredible. Obviously I’d seen photos but (as with having an online show) there is no substitute for seeing paintings like that in the flesh. I think I spent about an hour looking at just her work. I love the idea of a dialogue between the parts and particularly with these natural forms with the synergy of their roots and tangles it felt like a very natural choice.
Tell me about your colour choices?
The colours I chose for The Past Was Asleep were much darker than my usual palette. I wanted the bar like forms to stand out in front of the leaves behind but on an almost flattened plane with them so they might be cut outs. I love the silhouettes of Mary Evans and William Kentridge’s work whose shadow projections I saw when I first moved to London at the Whitechapel Gallery and I loved the story and personality they evoke without being fully described as forms. I’ve been reading a lot about colour theory and emotions they evoke so the colour choices are very important for me. I spent a lot of time drawing from tapestries (there are some great ones in the V&A) so there’s a lot of muted tapestry vibes going on.
Did attending the Royal Drawing school make a difference to your practise?
It gave me a huge amount of confidence in drawing but there was never any particular bridge to how you might work from the drawings or use it in your painting which was something I have spent the last couple of years really working out for myself.
You’ve said before that community within the art world is very important to you, tell me more about that?
People think being an artist is lonely but I would say it’s more solitary i.e you choose to work alone. So for me the most important thing is to be surrounded by others doing a similar thing for you then the fear and the shared experience can bring you together and support each other. Also you can bring each other into your successes when they come which is really nice. The main piece of advice I would give to anyone wanting to be an artist is find a community!
Your larger pieces zoom in on landscape, abstracting these small pieces of ground and giving them a monumentality and importance of a traditional landscape, how did you begin working like this and why?
Growing up in the Lake District I have always been attracted to large vistas and ‘the sublime’ and unknown of the natural world and until the end of 2018 my work was incredibly figurative and representational but it never felt like it gave me a particular buzz. I love living in London but there is also an escapism in my work taking you back to places ive been to, you feel like the viewer might be able to tumble in and get lost moving about the work. So much of the painting becomes about the act of paint itself and in building up from small figurative sketches it’s possible to shift the focus towards the joy of painting itself which is an incredibly satisfying way of working. This way of painting feels like a method of exploration with so many more possibilities.
Photography by Hermione McCos