Cooke Latham Gallery, 41 Parkgate Rd, Battersea, London SW11 4NP

Interview with Johnny Izatt-Lowry

Cooke Latham Gallery

8 September - 16 October 2020

Interview by Sonja Teszler

“Each subject moves further away from reality as it becomes an image found, manipulated, photoshopped, drawn etc. This world between the familiar and the unfamiliar is where I want my work to exist.” I asked Izatt-Lowry about the inspirations behind his uncanny, dreamlike painterly worlds and his most recent Cooke Latham exhibition: ‘BY DAY, BUT THEN AGAIN BY NIGHT’.

Can you talk a little about yourself, your background and where you studied?

I grew up in a village outside of Durham, studied for my undergraduate degree at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford and finished my masters at the Slade in London last year. Growing up, I remember drawing a lot from magazines and books. I like the way images are presented in textbooks - their simplicity and straightforwardness always appealed to me.

Perhaps because I grew up in a quiet, rural place, I’d always be looking elsewhere for images to work from. That’s still a large part of my work now, piecing the world together from various sources and recollections to create a new, quietly strange reality.

My personal favourite piece of yours is ‘A bird falling, at night’ (2020), which encapsulates many elements of your visual language - the uncanny, an almost lucid-dream-like quality, the night-time, muted colours, a moment frozen in time. Could you talk about the themes you explore through your work?

The uncanny and the surreal are a huge part of my work. Each subject moves further away from reality as it becomes an image - found, manipulated, photoshopped, drawn etc.. This world between the familiar and the unfamiliar is where I want my work to exist. This might also be why it might seem so dreamlike at times. I want it to feel like something we have seen before, but might be remembering in a strange way.

There’s a definite stillness to the work. Perhaps it’s the slow process of painting or the slightly awkward nature of the compositions, but they lack the movement of their real-life counterparts. I was drawn to birds because their movement is so familiar to us, but here they are trapped in the frame of the picture. Something like a bird falling becomes even more strange somehow.

The texture of your works on crepe fabric plays into their overall dreamlike atmosphere - can you describe your practical process?

My paintings are made using dry pigment and pastel, rubbing the pigment into the crepe fabric in thin layers using dry brushes and bits of cloth. The hazy nature of the works is created through this process of the image being almost smudged onto the surface. There’s this sense of fragility in them, as if the pigment could just fall off at any point.

The motifs in your paintings evoke a neo-noir, cinematic world. How do these images come to you?

I’m often not sure how a motif makes its way into my work. I’m constantly taking screenshots on my phone of objects and places which eventually find their way into my drawings and then the paintings.

Things like the smoke or shadows come about as an interest in the way in which something can be depicted. I like how these things can be applied to a composition like a layer on photoshop, partly transparent and flickering across the image. There’s something about them, which is so obviously not real, yet they’re kind of asking us to take them seriously, asking us to believe them.

The birds and the figures in long coats came from when I was making the paintings at night. The crows felt right in this context, like the kind of thing you’d find in these blurred shades of night-time. They were familiar in this sense.

Are you inspired by any author, artist or filmmaker’s work?

Rather than a particular artist, I think it tends to be more specific things in a painting or a film, for example, that I’ll get excited about. Like a plank of wood being carried in a Piero della Francesca painting or some wooden house in a film.

I always like going to the Sainsbury’s wing in the National Gallery. I’m taken with how paintings in early Renaissance art are composed. There’s a real balance between a certain beauty and an awkwardness in paintings from this period which I like.

Could you talk about the inspirations behind your most recent exhibition ‘BY DAY, BUT THEN AGAIN BY NIGHT’ at Cooke Latham gallery?

Although there isn’t a specific overarching narrative around the works in this exhibition, I wanted there to be a feeling that they all came from the same place. In creating the works, it almost felt like I was documenting this place, the titling of each work being so straightforward, as if they were notes in a textbook or encyclopaedia. With an interest in how things can be depicted and what tricks painters use in doing so, I like the idea that night-time can be added to a picture almost like a filter.

Do you have anything exciting coming up?

I have a few group shows coming up in London in the next few months which I’m starting to work on at the moment. Apart from that I’m just enjoying being back in the studio full-time. I’d never really worked on big paintings, like the two fields, before this exhibition. So that’s something I’m starting to think about more now, they take quite a while and there’s a lot of layers of pigment, but I’m keen to play around with these larger works.

Your paintings seem to capture the remote essence of a familiar thing, which then becomes a conduit for subjective emotions, like anxiety perhaps. Has the lockdown period sparked by COVID-19 influenced your work, when we were all surrounded by the repetitive mundane?

I definitely get excited by the ‘ordinary’. I like to use subject matters which can’t be easily tied to a particular time or location - they feel more general. There’s also something slightly absurd in meticulously drawing out each blade of grass in a field or the pattern of wood on a chair, which I’m drawn to. The ‘Self Portrait’ (2020) series sums up my time in lockdown. There’s something very confined and claustrophobic about their compositions, which don’t change hugely.

I guess our immediate surroundings became especially apparent and inescapable during COVID. A lot of the drawings I created for the exhibition were made during the time spent at home over lockdown. In some ways it was a familiar way of working for me, describing an array of things without ever seeing them in person, and just imagining how they look, all from the kitchen table.

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