Inspired By Literature: An Interview With The Artist.

Hello everyone and welcome to a very exciting Friday’s Choice. 

As you all will know by now, I believe that English Literature is a wonderfully enriching subject to study because I think that a love for literature can open many doors and it can be an inspiration to so many people. 

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to chat to the incredibly talented artist Annabel Carington. Annabel is fascinated by the relationship between language and images and I reached out to her after seeing one of her beautiful paintings, a piece that was inspired by Elizabeth Bowen’s short story The Back Drawing Room. This is one of my favourite stories, I have written a review about it which you should check out if you haven’t already and I am going to take this opportunity to recommend the story again because it is simply brilliant. It is a mysterious and complex take on the ghost story and I adore the idea of the past haunting the present which is a theme that Bowen explores in this story. I saw Annabel’s painting and as someone who greatly admires art, I loved that she captured the mystery of this story on a canvas and I thought it was wonderful that this stunning piece was inspired by a piece of literature. 

So today’s Friday’s Choice is all about the interview I conducted with Annabel Carington over zoom. I asked her all about her love for art and literature and what inspires her and the conversation we had was just wonderful so stay tuned. I would also like to say thank you so much to Annabel for taking the time to chat with me. It was a fascinating conversation. I learned so much. It is always so lovely to speak to people who enjoy the arts and who enjoy literature and one of my favourite things to do is listen to someone talk to me about something that they are passionate about. Annabel was so lovely and so kind and I could not have asked for a more lovely chat so Annabel thank you very much. 

So let’s dive into the interview. 

When did you start painting? Have you always enjoyed art?

“I’ve been painting all of my life. I’ve always loved reading and writing, drawing and painting and as a child I was always spending my money on books and art materials. Not much has changed!”

Have you always had a love for literature or did that come later?

“I’ve always loved to read. When I was younger I might have thought of reading, writing, painting and drawing as separate things but, over time I found that they are complementary. If you look back through history it is common for writers to also be artists and for artists to also be writers, so there is something there about the two working together. I have also always been interested in these as different forms of expression and why someone chooses to express themselves in the way they do. Perhaps there are things that one can express in painting that can’t be expressed in writing. I find that very interesting.”

Would you say that literature inspired painting or was it the other way around? Did one come before the other or have they always worked together?

“I’ve always loved reading and painting but over time I’ve developed an interest in the way art is portrayed in literature. Lots of writers write fiction about art and I find the crossover or differences in interpretations of art in literature fascinating. I’m particularly interested in early 20th century art and how this is portrayed in writing. 

The nature of what I paint has changed over time. I’ve always been inspired by the natural world and have made a lot of seascapes and landscapes. But this interest in the connection between art and literature has really developed further over the last three years, and I have become especially inspired by literature in my painting during that time, and so the ‘landscapes’ that I make now come more from this.”

Was there a specific idea or moment that made you realise that you really enjoyed creating pieces inspired by classic literature?

“Since the mid-nineties I’ve carried around T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets with me. I have read it everywhere: on public transport, in queues, in waiting-rooms, etc. I always had it with me. Then, about three years ago, I don’t know why but I decided I wanted to create a painting about these poems, so I made a painting called ‘Burnt Norton.’ The process of making that painting made me realise this was actually an entire series I wanted to make, so that one painting led to a forty-eight piece collection! There are now twelve paintings for each of the four quartets and the names of the pieces come from the name of the poem itself and then from quotations within those poems. This was a defining moment for me and a real shift in my work and the ultimate ambition and focus became to create pieces from works of literature. I now can’t imagine doing anything else. When I was making the Four Quartets series, I really gave myself to the work, and it consumed me, really. A lot of sketchbook work went into it; I made several trips to East Coker and the other locations in the poems; and I went and did the walks that Eliot did with Emily Hale to get a feel for the landscapes he walked through. I really absorbed myself in the work. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up every morning. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of the poems as well as what they had meant to me at different stages of my life. So the paintings are a mix of personal, real, and fictional landscapes. I had to paint them and, as I say, I was consumed by the work. It’s part of me.”

I would imagine the creative process is very personal and that it can be quite emotional at times. Would you agree?

“I think the creative process can be viewed by some as self indulgent and people who don’t have that mindset are often perplexed by the thought of spending so much time on your own, working on what can be very personal ideas. You put the work first. You spend a lot of time alone and you make sacrifices because the work comes first. You never know if you’re going to be financially recompensed, or even if anyone will ever ‘get’ the work that you’re making, but all you can do is make the work that you know you have to make, because it is a compulsion. I have to make these paintings. I can’t tell you why I have to but, I have to. It’s an ongoing thing — you never switch off when you have this kind of mindset — there is the potential for inspiration everywhere, but that’s ok…I don’t want to switch off…I see it as a good thing.”

You have said that you are very interested in the relationship between language and images. Can you tell me more about that?

“It goes back to the idea that there are so many different forms of expression and I’m interested not only in why someone chooses to express themselves in the form that they do, but the ways in which these forms overlap. If you look at a writer like Elizabeth Bowen, for example, her writing is very visual. On the one hand, this isn’t a particularly unusual feature in writing of that period because of the influence of the rise of cinema, TV and advertising, so there was a shift in focus towards the visual anyway but, on the other hand, there are aspects of her work which I think are especially cinematic and so it does lend itself to some form of visual interpretation, whether that’s painting or film adaptation. She was, of course, very interested in painting, so maybe that’s another reason why this is a particular feature of her writing. When you study literature you spend a lot of time discussing imagery and the visuals that the writer creates, as well as what that does for the reader and how it affects interpretation, so I think my interest in language and images and how they work together is a natural extension of that.”

Is it frustrating if an idea is not translating onto the canvas the way you envisioned it? How does it feel when a work is complete? I’d imagine it is quite emotional. 

“I think all artists look at their work and find flaws. I think it’s a common trait because we are always striving for something which perhaps feels just out of reach and so, yes, there can be times when it can feel frustrating. Over time, though, that has evolved for me and I see it as part of my practice and process now, so rather than feeling frustrated, I tend to feel excited about where the process might take me and the work. The idea — that envisioning you mention — is something I now see as just the starting point and a lot of it gets worked out at the sketchbook stage. I’m creating a piece inspired and informed by literature, rather than illustrating words, and so I am necessarily taking myself to the work as well and so the painting can change and evolve — that is exciting! An example is my painting that was inspired by Bowen’s The Back Drawing Room: the house started off as a much larger feature in my head because I’d always envisioned the house as rather large in the story, and it is such a crucial feature of the story, but of course the painting is a different piece of work from the story and is not an illustration of it, so conveying an overall atmosphere and feeling was more important than a conventional idea of ‘adaptation’ or ‘accuracy.’ I wanted to convey the idea of dreamlike ideas, or places you can’t fully remember, because for me, that’s critical to the story and is more significant than technical descriptions.

The best feeling in the world is when you are in the studio and everything is going right. When you finish a piece it is extremely satisfying, but it can be disorienting too, because then it is finished, and this thing into which you’ve invested so much doesn’t need you anymore. The gap between finishing one piece and starting another can be strange, and it can be hard to settle on and have certainty in a new idea sometimes, but that is all just part of it. This kind of feeling is particularly acute at the end of a whole series, rather than just one piece of work, and you can even worry about losing your ability to paint altogether… that maybe what you’ve just finished is the best it’s ever going to get! Experience tells you this is never the case though, so you just have to keep turning up to the studio and carry on until the next thing starts to fall into place. This can sometimes take a while but it always happens in the end — you just have to keep going.

When someone connects with the work it is so lovely and very humbling and you feel that you have communicated something.”

How will you pick your next piece? What is inspiring you at the moment?

“I’m currently working on a series entitled Sleep. I am very interested in nighttime and how nighttime is portrayed in literature and how dreams, nightmares, sleeping and insomnia are written about in fiction and poetry. The idea of exploring what we mean when we talk about dreamscapes and dreamlike things is fascinating because dreams are so often linked to the imagination and what we regard as ‘acceptable’ cultural expression — or not! It’s challenging in a different way to the Four Quartets series because I’m creating pieces inspired by many different writers, rather than just one, so doing that while maintaining a sense of cohesion in the collection is part of the challenge and there has to be something that links the literature I choose other than simply the thematic commonality of nighttime subject-matter. Night is interesting in the history of art: artists have always painted the night but of course no one paints the day as a subject, because day is the default. Night is seen so differently, as a place and landscape in itself. And you can’t paint the night without also painting some form of light, so it’s interesting to see how artists over the centuries have chosen to illuminate their paintings of nighttime, and to then see how I can take this idea to instances of night in literature and bring those into my own painting, and think about what illumination might mean when I’m making my work.”

One thing that I like to ask people is do they have a favourite book so is there a particular book that you love?

“I love Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris. I think Bowen is a very painterly writer and this is by far her most painterly work. I actually think the book is structured like a painting and works in a similar way, so in a way it’s bound to be my favourite!”

Where can people find you?

Instagram –

I would highly recommend going and having a look at Annabel’s website and her Instagram page because as highlighted in the wonderful chat we had above, Annabel is an incredibly talented artist and I think it is amazing to see someone’s ideas expressed on a canvas in such a beautiful way so if you are an admirer of art then this will definitely be something you enjoy and if you love literature then you’ll enjoy seeing the art that literature inspired. 

Annabel has very kindly given me permission to share photographs of some of her pieces so I’m going to share them below. I hope you enjoy this Friday’s Choice. I personally love it and I’m so glad that the opportunity arose. I hope to do more interviews in the future and again thank you to Annabel Carington for sharing her time, her experience and expertise and most importantly for sharing her work. 

I hope you all have a lovely weekend. 

Kate xo. 

A Dream Oppressed and Shifting – by Annabel Carington.
In My Beginning Is My End – by Annabel Carington.
Night Walk – by Annabel Carington.

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