“I think about when you’re sitting next to someone you know a little bit but not intimately and you touch their arm or leg with yours and you’re so conscious of it and you keep thinking that they can feel it too and how your presence must be uncomfortable for them,” says Cornwall-based artist Nettle Grellier on the themes in her work. “I want to offer the viewer a new way of being in which we are at ease in each other’s presence. After establishing this new way of being, I want to give a sense of safety against the turbulence and disjointedness of society in today’s world.”
Studying Nettle’s oil paintings and drawings, these concepts are evident in her soft use of colour, which is comprised predominantly of fleshy pinks and reds and earthy browns and greens. Equally, her intimate compositions present the viewer with bodies that touch and embrace and coexist on the canvas in a way that is both comforting and alluring.
“My work is about tenderness. I want to encourage unity and kindness and support for one another,” explains Nettle. “I think a lot about romantic friendship; depicting people who are used to an affectionate physical relationship, beyond what is considered conventional in stereotypical British/Western culture, and what it could mean if we treated each other like we all deserve to occupy space in the same way.”
Growing up in Gloucestershire in the bosom of a family filled with artists, Nettle later moved to Brighton to pursue painting at university. After graduating, she and her boyfriend and fellow painter, George Lloyd-Jones, built a house in an old removal lorry. Driving across France and then Spain, the pair found themselves painting and exhibiting in Barcelona, before eventually co-running a pop-up residency just outside of Granada. “Los Artistas del Cortijo was an artist-led live and workspace with an emphasis on community and affordability for emerging artists,” says Nettle.
During this time, inspired by the communal nature of her accommodation and the sharing of food, Nettle painted mainly vegetables. But it was with human figures and interaction that her real desire lay: “I really wanted to paint people but struggled with the intimacy of it, often finding myself overworking the portraits in particular and eventually cutting them out of my subject matter,” she says of this period.
It wasn’t until she returned to Gloucestershire in 2017 and began processing private feelings of grief due to the illness of a loved one, that she found the capacity to change her focus to people. Having furthered her practice since, she explains that she has now developed a process that allows her to “step back from the subjects and use the figures and their interactions to represent more universal feelings.” Though the subjects still have personal origins to the artist, Nettle wants them to be familiar to anyone.
Having just closed her exhibition Easy Peelers at That Art Gallery in Bristol, she is currently preparing for her next group show in June, which will take place at Unit London.
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