TOAST Magazine

In the Studio with Painter Ella Walker

ARTS & CULTURE

The Royal Drawing School and Glasgow School of Art alumna Ella Walker explores medieval narrative and costume in her compositions, which mix drawing, painting and design. 

After graduating with a BA in Painting and Printmaking from Glasgow School of Art, Ella attended The Drawing Year at the Royal Drawing School in 2018. “I moved to London to complete the programme and it gave me the opportunity to have a studio and explore museums and galleries, which has been formative in my development as an emerging artist,” explains Ella. “The Drawing Year course offered me ample time to focus on observational drawing from models in the life room as well as drawing from art in museums and venues around London, gaining a look into art history,” she adds. 

Based in Hackney Wick, Ella now works as a visual artist and painter completing large-scale works using a ladder and mezzanine floor level to afford her different perspectives. Combining painting, drawing and fresco, Ella applies colour in washed layers to achieve an interplay between layers and mediums. 

Here, Ella talks us through her day-to-day studio process and what inspires her most in her current body of work. 


Tell us about your studio space. 

My studio is in Hackney Wick, which is a short commute from my house. The studio building is an industrial unit, which means the ceilings are very high, allowing me to work on a large-scale. I enjoy the space most for its south facing window, which allows good natural light throughout the day. The space has a ladder leading to a mezzanine level, which allows me to view large paintings from different perspectives.

What is a usual day in the studio like for you?

Usually, I wake up and go to the studio, where I eat breakfast and drink coffee, I set the radio. I begin working on small studies and move on to larger works in the afternoon. I have multiple works ongoing at one time which stops me from getting stuck on one work and allows the paintings to develop as a series.

What themes and concepts drift into your work?

My work is inspired by medieval narrative and symbolism, and the paintings often directly reference iconography and pictorial techniques found in medieval painting and pre-Roman ceremonial art objects. I often paint from books and found imagery, which I archive in my studio.

What processes and materials do you employ when creating your paintings?

My practice combines painting, drawing and fresco like mural installations, utilising acrylic watercolour and ink. I use pigments combined with fluid mediums to build the image, applying the paint in thin layered washes of colour.


Tell us about the themes of medieval narrative and costume in your work.

I am drawn to literature and imagery from the Middle Ages as a period of decline from the high culture and civilisation of the Classical world. The Middle Ages is viewed as a time of ignorance and superstition. I think there are interesting parallels between this period in history and our lived experience in the present day. I also find objects from this period, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, mosaics, a fascinating look into the stories and rituals of past peoples. I like Medieval sculpture in general for its defining characteristics including iconography, elaborate patterns and decoration, and stylized figures. The figurative sculptures from this period are particularly interesting to me as they are usually modest in size, often carved from wood, with brightly painted garments.

Are there any artists or designers you particularly appreciate for their originality, designs and thinking?

I am looking forward to seeing ‘Artemisia’ exhibition at The National Gallery, which is the first major exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi’s work in the UK. The show will be a chance for me to see her best-known paintings including her iconic and visceral ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’. I appreciate her originality and ability to tell stories that are both dramatic and violent through painting. She was working in the 17th century, at a time when women artists were not easily accepted, but still she takes on themes traditionally associated with male artists and transforms her subjects from ‘meek maidservants into courageous conspirators’.

Tell us about your latest body of work.

I am working on a series of paintings in my studio at the moment which are loosely based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. In these works, I have tried to capture Chaucer's mix of satire and realism in lively characterisations of his pilgrims. Researching the tales offers me a fascinating insight into English life during the late 14th century, creating a world of lecherous ladies, ugly old husbands, willing and ready pages, ending with a superb final fling in a gaudy hell.

Has this year shifted the way you work or the themes you explore?

The current situation has not changed themes in my work. I have been isolating at points and thinking a lot about, as many of us have, the impact of the current pandemic. I have experienced a shift in my routine, and I am trying to be productive with my time.

Images courtesy of Ella Walker.

For more information on Ella’s work see her website. Ella is currently participating in a group show at Arusha Gallery titled ‘Ancient Dieties’. The Royal Drawing School offer a variety of courses taught by a faculty of over 75 practising artists. See their current courses and explore the online exhibitions including works from the Drawing Year, 2019. During our Virtual Creative Residency, 2020 Stephanie Forrest and Rosie Vohra, practising artists and tutors from The Royal Drawing School, will be leading a workshop exploring the notions of Flux & Flow through ink drawing and collage. Drawing from observation, words and imagination, and later re-purposing these drawings through collage, the workshop will embrace uncertainty and encourage chance in the creative process.

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