Jake Grewal Vocalizes His Inner Landscape

I sat down with Jake Grewal during his recent visit to New York to chat about his work, travels, and what the future holds. Having recently completed a month-long residency at the Rhode Island School of Design, he is now taking time to explore a new city before heading back home. He finished his postgraduate work at The Royal Drawing School last year, and it was here where he was able to further explore his own imagination and find the endless possibilities in nature and life itself. His work has evolved in the past few years to the point where the supplementary influences of nature are inextricable to his observational drawing method. He looks to natural settings as an “access point” for self-reflection. Grewal’s work is a vocalization of this inner landscape, where he uses the environment allegorically in order to be as truthful as possible. He claims, “there’s nowhere to hide and you have to confront the essence of yourself,” when it comes to that emotional frankness we must face regarding our personal experiences. It is a difficult subject to tackle; being truthful with yourself and voicing that to a broader audience, but one Grewal powerfully confronts. He successfully channels this raw emotion, though, attracting other artists and viewers alike (you can view his Instagram, here). Pushing his practice further, it will be interesting to see what he creates back on his side of the pond.

What are you up to in New York during your visit here, and where are you originally from?

I’m originally from South London, I’ve lived there my whole life apart from the three years I studied in Brighton where I did my BA in Fine Art: Painting.

I’ve finished a month long residency at RISD, an opportunity awarded to me by The Royal Drawing School at the end of my postgraduate scholarship. On my way back to the UK I’m taking a pit stop in New York. I’ve often wondered about the city, two of my friends have ended up moving here, and I wanted to have some time exploring it. Real time to settle in, not just the touristy stuff. I’ve made some great artist friends so far and I’m enjoying uncovering the plethora of galleries the city has to offer.

The residency was a real period of thoughtful incubation and these two months have been an amazing way to start 2020.

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How would you describe the artistic community in London?

I’m very lucky. Artists I respect surround me, many of whom I’ve known for years and years. We’re developing together and have an open dialogue about the work we’re doing and the situations we find ourselves in. I’m never at a loss when I’m having trouble with a painting, want to go to a private view or need advice. There’s so much to discover and discuss. It’s never boring.

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Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies?

My work has always been rooted in a dialect exploring our relationship to nature. I’m interested in using natural settings as a space to enable reflection. A space that allows an uncovering of what it means to be human and acknowledging the different sides of that experience.

When I’m in nature it encourages an internal frankness that I find hard to grapple with in the city. It’s easy to lose yourself, you know? Natural settings are an access point. There’s nowhere to hide and you have to confront the essence of yourself. It’s kind of like a return to adolescence, to imagination. I use natural spaces as allegory in my story telling. To frankly talk about personal histories, there’s power in that vulnerability.

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Landscape versus portraiture. Your practice consists of both, but with which do you feel most comfortable?

I try to treat them abstractly and equally. I don’t think they’re easy to separate.

For me you can say as much with the way a tree bends as you can with figures. When I present a landscape, the scene becomes a portrait, it tells its own story. When two figures interact they become a landscape. I like that dialogue.

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

I try to be fluid with the way I work. I’ve found that when I have too many expectations or regulations, it feels claustrophobic and the work becomes stagnant. Each day I try to listen to what the work needs and what I need, then adjust accordingly. This means everyday is different which is exciting.

The only rule is to draw something. Be it from my head or from life. It means everything and helps me to stay engaged and open.

I often walk in the park or The National Gallery, forming close relationships with trees and paintings. There is a tree on my way home from the tube station; it looks regal no matter the season. I like having these anchors, landmarks – it’s grounding.

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From where do you draw inspiration?

It goes without saying that a core inspiration is found in natural forms. I find nature mystifying. There’s so much to learn and investigate. As I explore I enjoy toeing the line between truth and fantasy. I remember being young and using my imagination to find endless possibilities in things, a twig could become anything. Nothing is as fun when you know all the answers.

I often turn to an internal landscape. I try to search and uncover what is inside to create something that is outside. This means there are often autobiographic elements that are littered throughout the pictures. They’re fragments that when pieced together, give an idea of a whole.

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How would you describe your color palette in your more recent work?

I often draw from life to guide me in my palette. Recently I’ve leant towards darker earth tones. I try to challenge myself and often change things up if it gets too comfortable. For me, colour and tone play a large role in the narrative or atmosphere of a work. It can really create a sense of the obscure or ethereal. I’ve recently returned to Turner and have been looking at how he draws objects out of darkness within his compositions, how he allows things to be lost and then rediscovered. I’m always finding new mysteries in his work.

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Does your work reference any art historical movements?

I look a lot at The Romantics. They were rebellious and reveled in the expression of personal feelings. There’s a commonality in how we look to the natural world. When I’m in natural spaces I feel an inherited pathos, it reminds me of my place within time.

The idea of the sublime, specifically, is a concept that has resonated with me throughout my personal development. There is honesty to the acknowledgment and surrendering of oneself as insignificant in the face of the vastness of nature. The idea you are part of something. I am not the world though I live on it.

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You teach in your free time. How is teaching similar or different to creating, and how might your students help inspire you? 

Teaching gives me an excuse to talk about the artists I love. I’m rediscovering my references through the young people I’m teaching and the exercises I create. They’re often discovering my favorites for the first time and it’s exciting see how different everyone’s interpretation of the same exercise is. Young people tend to not have as many inhibitions. They work in such an intuitive way, it’s great to observe.

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What are you looking forward to in the future?

I’ve loved my trip, but I’m excited to get back.  During my residency I’ve had a lot of time to learn and think. There are many threads if inquiry I want to continue to pursue, so I need to go to the studio and focus on painting for a bit. There’re ideas I need to actualize and I’m excited to push my practice.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask if there are any artists you love for us to check out. Do you have any to recommend?

Michaela Yearwood-Dan is London based and someone you should definitely already have on your radar.

While in New York I’ve had very open and tender studio visits with Justin Liam O Brian, Jon Key, Jarrett Key and Mark Ryan Chariker. Everyone in the recent exhibition at Hales, ‘The Moon Seemed Lost’. I also really enjoyed Kyle Thurman at David Lewis and Mark McKnight at Klaus Gallery…I could go on.