Snooping Through Studios column: Christopher Tansey

By February 10, 2022

Art & Photography. Hull.

Christopher Tansey is a painter based in East Yorkshire. He describes his work as autobiographical and self-reflective, and through his work explores existence, experience, memory and sentiency. His paintings are also an exploration into materials used and their core qualities and properties. Questioning, meaning and understanding are very much part of his creative process.

Court Spencer caught up with him to find out more about his practice and what he’s working on this year.

Three large square paintings by artist Christopher Tansey. Layered, rounded shapes of grey, white, yellow and black.

Routes North exhibition at Messums Harrogate. (Credit: Chelsea Van Zyl).

Court: Hey Christopher. It was great to meet you in person at the opening of Routes North at Messums Yorkshire. And fab to finally get to see your work in real life! I really liked your paintings that were in the online Leeds Summer Group Show last year and I’ve been following you on Instagram since, but it just doesn’t replace the experience of seeing work in real life. You’ve done a few online exhibitions. How does that experience compare to showing in a physical space?

Christopher: Many thanks Court. The online exhibitions were vital during lockdown and I’m extremely grateful to you and others for putting them together and hosting them. I think it’s brilliant also that the artists and curators didn’t stop and give up during the pandemic, and actually found ways of doing things. It meant that I was able to exhibit my work on some fantastic social media pages and websites and connect with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have. It is important however that I am able to show my work physically in galleries again. There’s nothing like being in the gallery environment with other people (or alone) and seeing the physicality and materiality of art.

A Secret (detail), 2021, mixed media on paper, 152 x 152cm. (Credit: Chelsea Van Zyl).

Court: Yeah, that’s so true. How did you arrive at painting? And why use newspaper for the larger works and board for the smaller pieces?   

Christopher: I’m a collector of things. I use a sketchbook and my phone to make drawings and compositions, I take photographs and I even collect words and sounds. There is a huge amount of stuff that can inspire, trigger and inform a painting and in the early stages, it all goes in to the painting. I start with a small study and a large painting side by side.

Wood/board seems natural for my studies and paper feels natural for my large paintings. I throw everything that I have collected at both surfaces and slowly pull out a composition that I can work with and that I’m happy with.

Only ever on board (12×12 inches) and paper (60×60 inches). Over the years I have arrived at these sizes and materials and they work for me. To me personally canvas is boring and flat. Paper (at that size) is terrific to work on. It saturates, tears, droops and crinkles – perfect in my opinion for what I am trying to achieve and communicate.

Court: Did you grow up in a creative household?

Christopher: Not so much a creative household but my mother was very encouraging of my creativity. She bought me materials and cameras etc and facilitated my interest in art. My father was creative and painted but died when I was six weeks old. He worked on the railways and after his death my family was given free rail travel. My mother took me to London frequently where I was able to see an enormous number of galleries and museums (repeatedly) and this most definitely influenced me.

I grew up in a visually exciting place. I lived in a high rise flat in the centre of Hull. The views, the architecture, the concrete, the metal, the contrasts and the whole environment was visually and atmospherically exciting. I posted photos of the area a while ago and someone commented that it looked sad, harsh and oppressive – it most certainly was not. My favourite place was the garage tunnels where hundreds of car garages were housed for the tenants. Very long tunnels with black/grey concrete walls and floors, white garage doors and with at intervals shafts of bright light. Something between a David Lynch, Ridley Scott and a Mike Leigh film.

Christopher Tansey at his exhibition Grey Matter at Fruit Market on Humber Street, Hull.

Court: Wow, so you were exposed to some incredible artists and influences at such a young age. Did you always want to be an artist?

Christopher: I was exposed to some incredibly important and influential artists and museums at an early age on my visits to London including national galleries, tiny galleries and overall viewed wonderful art. I have always been creative, but didn’t ever think I would be (or knew how to be) a ‘painter’ or an ‘artist’. I worked as a printer when I left school and left that job to go to art school, encouraged by my then girlfriend and now wife. My wife was and is very supportive of my practice and she gave me the confidence to take those early steps.

Court: Why do you paint?

Christopher: That’s an interesting and hard question to answer. It’s just what I do. Something in me drives me to pick up a brush and try to communicate in a visual language rather than a spoken one. I do find paint and painting incredibly exciting though, it has a physical effect on me, both pleasurable and stressful.

Court: It feels like you’ve maintained an ongoing practice amongst many other commitments. How do you balance this and how often do you get into the studio?

Christopher: I’m fortunate to have an incredibly supportive wife and family and they help me to balance my painting and family life, they make it easy for me to paint. I work full time and paint as much as possible, most days to be honest. My studio is in my home and I’ll often paint late at night.

Workers II at the Ferens Art Gallery.­­­­­­­­­

 Court: What are some of your career highlights to date?

Christopher: I’m fortunate to have exhibited my work in some incredible galleries and I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. Highlights for me was when I exhibited my first painting in the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull and when I turned a disused warehouse space in to a gallery last year.

Court: Do you have a dream project you would love to make happen?

Christopher: I’ve often thought how interesting and different it would be if I was to take my work to the places that have influenced and inspired me and simply put my work on nearby walls! Untraditional and outdoor exhibition spaces to see how my work fits in.

Court: That would be brilliant! You’re currently in the show Routes North at Messums in Harrogate until 19 Feb (Read our review of the exhibition here). And you have your Instagram and website. Do you have any other shows coming up where people can see more of your work?

Christopher: Yes, I have an exhibition of my paintings at the Old Parcels Office in Scarborough from 12–27 Feb. I’m also very proud to have a painting in a group exhibition consisting of artists from Hull curated by Caprani Arts on Humber Street, Hull from 26 Feb – 6 Mar.

Court: You’ve got loads on the go! Thank you so much for your time and for letting me virtually snoop through your studio and I really hope to get across to Hull later in the month to see more of your work.