Nettle Grellier is one of the most exciting artists on the London art scene at the moment. Having graduated from the University of Brighton in 2015, Grellier went on to spend time working in Spain, co-running a residency in Granada for early-career artists. In 2020 she was included in blockbuster shows such as IRL at Unit London, Anti-Social Isolation by Delphian Gallery at the Saatchi London and Tender Kith at 155a. Nettle is currently included in our exhibition, Back to Back, a duo exhibition with Rafaela de Ascanio.

Interview by Madalena Botto

  • Nettle Grellier painting emerging artist
    Nettle Grellier, Dear (2020) Oil on Canvas, 38 x 28 cm 

    Hi Nettle- thank you for being part of our current duo exhibition Back to Back with Rafaela de Ascanio. Can you introduce yourself and tell us your background as an artist? 

    Thank you! I’m so happy to be showing with Rafaela, I’ve really loved her work for a while now. 

    I graduated in 2015 from the University of Brighton painting BA, after which I spent time working in Spain from a lorry that I converted into a home with my then boyfriend. I exhibited in Barcelona and then went to Granada where I co-ran a residency for early career artists. I’ve since moved back to the UK, and I’m now based in the South West where I am originally from. 
     

    You’ve said before your work has focused on themes of intimacy and lack of physical boundaries between figures. How would you say this plays into the pieces in the exhibition, especially in light of the pandemic and its impact on our perception of touch? 

    Yes, I began exploring these themes when I was running the residency. I had been struggling with feeling isolated for a while, after travelling around for a few years it felt difficult to create lasting connections. I craved familiarity and the ease of female friendship. On the residency I found these things in abundance and my work began to reflect that. In terms of this exhibition, I think I felt that same sense ease between Rafaela’s work and mine. Although I haven’t ever met her in person, thanks to the pandemic, I feel that we have had a meeting of sorts through our work. 

    In terms of my subject matter now, I think this year it’s become more focused on self-exploration. I have a had quite a transformative year regardless of the situation we’ve all found ourselves in, so I think that has been reflected in the way the figures are interacting with one another. 

  • "I often use motifs such as worms and slugs as well as seedlings and bees. I see these similarly to the landscapes in that they can be symbolic of something disgusting and abject or of growth and beauty. The reality is that when I’m making the work I like painting these things because they make me laugh, which is just as relevant I think as adding meaning to imagery. I think it’s important to allow the viewer to take what they need from a painting than to know too much about the artist’s motivation for making it. "

  • What influences the landscapes your figures are set in?  
     

    Since being back the damp and verdant setting of England, I wanted to paint the dry heat and more open spaces of Southern Spain until recently, when greenery started to work its way back in along with some different colour palettes. I think for me the landscapes are part escapism and part doom, with images of beauty and growth set alongside ones of toxicity and dry emptiness. 
     

    What role does nature play in your work? 

    I often use motifs such as worms and slugs as well as seedlings and bees. I see these similarly to the landscapes in that they can be symbolic of something disgusting and abject or of growth and beauty. The reality is that when I’m making the work I like painting these things because they make me laugh, which is just as relevant I think as adding meaning to imagery. I think it’s important to allow the viewer to take what they need from a painting than to know too much about the artist’s motivation for making it. 

     
    You have a very particular colour palette- could you speak a bit more about what influences this? 

    Like the landscapes, a lot of my colours are influenced by my time in Spain. I also like a 70s colour palette, TFL textiles and when I’m stuck the book A dictionary of Colour Combinations published by Seigensha provides a really useful starting point. 
     

    What role does the gaze between the figures and the spectator play in your work?

    I think of the figures as quite nonplussed about the presence of any viewer. They are not necessarily made with anyone’s gaze in mind, but particularly not the gaze of men, being the only people that have ever tried to sexualise my subject matter when talking to me about my own work. 
     

    Most of the figures in your work seem to be female bodies- to what extent is portraying the female experience and female relationships important to your work? 

    Because I started making figurative work on the residency in Spain, I think the basis for them will always be in craving female friendship at a time of loneliness. This is all the more relevant now when isolation has taken on a greater meaning for us in general. 

  • nettle grellier painting buy london artwork

    Nettle Grellier, Don't Be Funny (2020) Oil on Canvas, 28 x 25.5 cm

    Your current work seems to revolve around the idea of the grotesque a lot- is this new and where would you say the inspiration for this stemmed from? 

    Last year I took part in the Turps Banana correspondence course and it was my tutor, Benjamin Senior, who pointed me in the direction of the grotesque. I still have a lot to learn but my understanding of the what and the why is that it is a classic antidote to the male gaze and conservatism of traditional figurative painting. I think it often makes a resurgence at times of political unrest as it fits well with a more liberal outlook both physically and socially, and allows for processing of events with a dark sense of humour. 
     

    How have you found the current circumstances influence your working practice? Have you had to change the way you approach your painting? 

    Over the course of the pandemic, I have gone through phases of reacting really creatively. For example, I decided to dedicate more time to learning about materials like gouache, and gave a lot more energy to drawing. However, as time has gone on, I have begun to feel the inspiration dry up and right now I am in a bit of a creative block. This is absolutely fine, and almost every artist I've spoken to this month has been experiencing the same thing. I think it’s easy to compare yourself to others, especially when our entire industry has moved online. A lot of people, myself included, make it look like we are still making things and feeling inspired because we feel like we need to keep up an outside interest in our work.  

    Could you talk a bit about what you admire about Rafaela’s work, and how you think your pieces could relate and speak to each other? 

    Rafaela has seen the work together in person and she told me that there are curves that start on her ceramics and wind up through the bodies and landscapes in my paintings. I’m really excited to be exhibiting with Rafaela, whose work has always caught my eye. I think we share a colour palette and interest in the figure which makes for a show I am really proud of. To me, Rafaela’s use of symbolism and iconography is more developed than mine and I look to learn from her and her experience as an artist. 

  • Nettle Grellier Sketchbook

  • What artists are inspiring you right now? 

    There are so many that I could bang on forever, but right now I am really inspired by Julia Trybala’s juicy figures who take up so much space that they must be folded up and squeezed into the canvas. I am also forever in awe of the work of Somaya Critchlow and her ability to reference contemporary culture with traditional painting. As of this December I became a blissfully happy owner of a huge painting by Zoe Spowage who’s work I have loved for a long time. And of course, Frances Waite is a big inspiration, she draws like an absolute badass. When it comes to drawing and painting combined, I think there is none other than Jonathan Lyndon Chase who’s honest and vulnerable work nails softness vs. grotesque in a very inspiring way.  

    I also look often at the work of John D Graham who was mentor to Arshile Gorky – another of my favourite painters. And finally as an artist, the life and work of Claude Cahun will always be a big influence. 

     

     You can see more of Nettle Grellier's work in our current exhibition Back to Back until 31st January