It's your last chance to see Christian Furr's exhibition dedicated to The Humble Cheese. Crackers in hand, Luxury London discovers what all the fuss is about
Inspiration can sometimes come from the most unlikely of sources. For British artist Christian Furr, the inspiration for his latest on-going series of paintings comes from the fridge.
Or rather, a staple foodstuff that sits within it: cheese.
Imagine a world without it. You may have nibbled it, gnawed it, let it slowly soften on your tongue. But have you paused for a short while to look at the panoply of cheeses on the supermarket shelves, or in your own fridge – the myriad of differences in texture, colour, shape and allure?
Christian Furr spends a long time looking at different types of cheeses. He has been painting them for over a decade, after observing a half bottle of milk that had gone off on his window ledge in his Acme studio in 1992.
There was something bizarrely beautiful and profound about the soured milk against the decaying period 1840’s wallpaper, and so Christian decided to paint it
As an acclaimed artist accustomed to painting portraits (to date, he is the youngest artist ever commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II), he found that strokes of thick impasto paint were perfect for capturing the textural quality of cheese. From here on, he began his venture into cheese portraiture, spurred on by a fascination in finding interest and a pleasing elegance in the commonplace. In Christian’s capable hands, the waxy rind and soft, creamy inside of a freshly cut cheese is quite beautifully, and tenderly translated onto canvas.
Indeed, Christian is heavily influenced by a number of still life artists. These include 18th century French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and acclaimed Master of the Spanish still life, Luis Meléndez, who depicted fruit and nuts, alongside objects such as barrels and oblong boxes.
Like fruit, cheese has a transient nature – it has a slow and visible decay, and this makes it an interesting focus from an artistic perspective. There is indeed something of the Vanitas about the cheeses-the pleasure of taste and the putrefaction process as they mould. Perhaps this is what gives them such a dramatic presence in paint, or what, as Christian aims to conjure, ‘the drama of opera.’
He continues; "I am interested in a cheese’s strange beauty and I no longer consider cheese to be an unusual subject. I believe there’s no limits to what you can turn your attention to and I have always been a fan of the understated."
"I am interested in a cheese’s strange beauty" – Christian Furr
He paints very much in the moment, sweeping the paint quickly and loosely for cheeses that are particularly prone to melting, capturing the moment the cheese softens, on the cusp of disfigurement. He says that for him, the process of painting is meditative: "There’s a feeling in every dab of impasto paint. I can lose myself in cheese. A truckle becomes my world while I am focused on it."
The colour of the background is chosen according to the colouring of the cheese and mood that Christian wants the painting to evoke. The Époisses affine, a gooey French cheese, is on a midnight blue background. It is dreamy and melancholic: a cheese to share with a lover on a starry night.
The artisan Ribblesdale, a goat’s cheese from Yorkshire, is painted on a brown background, with subtle tones of gold-yellow. It is rustic and robust: a cheese to round off a family supper.
The weird and wonderful names of the cheeses signify their unique heritages, and other such crackers include Neufchatel, Romadur, Berkswell and Barkham Blue. In contrast to traditional and lovingly crafted artisan cheeses, a number of processed cheeses make up the collection. They are the mass produced fridge fodder we all recognise – Cheese String, Baby Bel and Dairy Lea. Cheeses that are instantly recognisable because of their ubiquitous presence on supermarket shelves and bright and elaborate packaging (Warhol eat your heart out).
In paint, they have a different disposition – they could be added to the centre of a Dutch still life from the 17th century, retaining the plastic wrapper, and not feel at all out of place. Perhaps this is what is unexpectedly transfixing about paintings of cheese, and wherein lies Christian’s fervour in discovering different varieties and continuing the collection to include cheeses from around the world.
Cheese is an ancient food, the origins of which predate recorded history. It has an everlasting place on the table spread of humanity, and whether round, square, blue, white, veiny, smooth, silky, hard or soft, it is possessed of a strange but salient beauty. Christian’s humble cheeses have so far included English and French varieties, and for him, these are just the appetisers.
The world has a wealth of many more, and if Christian has proved anything so far, they will all look as good on the wall as they do on the plate.