Tristram Aver: Using LED neon to challenge the conformity of gold leaf

One of the things I love about working at ColArt (on the Winsor & Newton and Liquitex brands) is that every morning, we walk through Griffin Gallery and are currently surrounded by 99 artworks for its inaugural Open exhibition. I recently picked out a couple of my favourites and got in touch with Tristram Aver, the artist behind the neon-haloed Violas, to find out more about his striking practice.

Tristram Aver

Congratulations on being featured in the Griffin Gallery Open! How did it feel when you found out?

Thanks! Open submission exhibitions are a bit of a lottery, especially as works really have to shine through due to the high volume of entries that they can attract. When I heard the Griffin Gallery Open attracted over 2,500 submissions that was incredibly daunting, yet even more of an achievement when I was selected to show for the final exhibition. It is such a strong show with many artists I have admired from afar for years, so I knew it was an important and exciting platform to show work in.

Which other artworks in the show did you most admire?

With close to 500 people at the Private View/Prize-giving, looking at all 98 works was hard, but ones that stood out to me were paintings by Charley Peters, Gemma Cossey, Iain Andrews, Orlanda Bloom, Stephen Buckeridge and Johnny Green – and Kristian Evju’s drawings were exceptional. I need definitely need to go back and have a second look.

You can take a look at all of the artworks on the Griffin Gallery website here.


Tell me a little more about how your subject matter comes to you.

Most of my work is based very loosely on 18th/19th century paintings of aspects of British life. I use a lot of different imagery, both old and new, to create paintings that are responsive to ways of exploring how modern Britain is perceived, or at least portrayed, in the sensationalist media. I find links to the past through the historical works, and create new vistas of strange, overloaded and familiar compositions that represent the British landscape (socially, politically and geographically) both past and present.

For example, for an exhibition at Cornerhouse, Manchester in 2013, I chose to look at ‘The Chase’ – a wonderful and powerful painting by Richard Ansdell in the Manchester City Galleries collection, and created a triptych of works in response to it.

the chase part 1

The Chase, part 1, Tristram Aver 

the chase part 2

The Chase, part 2, Tristram Aver 

the chase part 3

The Chase, part 3, Tristram Aver 

‘Violas’, the painting selected for the Griffin Open exhibition, is a reworking of some older works that were based around the ‘window sill’ paintings of Winifred Nicholson.

Have you always worked in mixed media or is this a new direction for you? 

I have always worked in a wide variety of paint, enjoying the alchemy and surface tension that the various medias produce. The collaged elements are older discarded paintings stuck back onto the painted surface, or pieces of recycled paint, but I have been working this way for a long time – only the pictorial and contextual elements have changed more dramatically in recent years. Neon is a relatively new medium to my work, and more recently I have been using perspex too; but the main momentum of the work has always been painting.

I often ‘frame’ my work with LED neon tubing around the canvas – presenting the work in a glorious and kitsch halo of light. By replacing the traditional gilded frame with a gaudy ‘ bling’ light source commonly associated with the high-street/City, I hint at and reference the energy and bustle of the modern metropolis. It also plays on the traditions of the gilt frame, for when freshly applied and presented with a painting, the untarnished gold leaf is quite a visually overbearing material, often so opulent and reflective it detracts from the painting itself. When paintings are conserved or re-gilded in museums and galleries today, the frames are often artificially aged to fit in amongst other paintings that have years worth of wear or dust that has dulled the gilt over time. The neon plays on this exuberance, using a commercial material to challenge the conformity and usage of gold leaf.

Tristram Aver

Tristram Aver’s piece was one of my favourites at this year’s inaugural Griffin Gallery Open exhibition. The show is on until 21st August 2015 in West London – more details can be found here

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