Ansel Krut at Jerwood: Interview with artist and first look at new paintings

An exclusive first look at the artist's new exhibition

With paintings called “Arse Flowers in Bloom” and “Giants of Modernism (Carrot Head)”, it is easy to assume Ansel Krut’s work is light-hearted.

His bright paintings of flowers and landscapes may have a playful and cartoon-like quality about them, but a further look reveals they are masking a more sinister side.

A vase of sunflowers turns out to be bum cheeks surrounded by petals, while an avenue of trees leads up to a giant vulva-like shape in the distance.

By subverting the typical still life in a playful way, Krut aims to bring the viewer into the painting before revealing its true intentions.

“You begin to follow the paintings through, as if it is quite light and jokey and then you find yourself in a place that is the opposite of that. The surface comedy has actually led you to a much darker place,” he says.

Born and brought up in South Africa, Krut came to art school in London where he now lives. He initially painted in a classical style before becoming interested in a more anarchic subject matter. He cites Goya, Georges Braque and the German Expressionists as influences, but says he could list thousands.

Critics have been quick to draw parallels between the artist’s upbringing during Apartheid in South Africa and the sinister themes in his work.

Ansel Krut, Giants of Modernism #2 (Carrot Head), 2009 Ansel Krut, Giants of Modernism #2 (Carrot Head), 2009 Krut is careful to make such a crude comparison, but agrees to an extent that his paintings represent a darker side of humanity that has been influenced by his upbringing.

“Because I was white and growing up in a morally questionable environment it made me uncomfortable about moral certainties and what action to take about them. It was difficult,” he says.

“I do think you see things or find yourself in a compromised position at times. You do find it hard to form a benign view of the world in those circumstances….it’s not straight forward.”

His latest exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings is the largest retrospective of his art work to date, featuring new pieces that have never been seen before.

Although the paintings differ quite widely in their subject matter, they are united by what Krut calls an “anarchic spirit”.

“Everything is turned on its head. And in a way I want to make images that don’t allow you to settle on any certainties. Often you start looking at a picture and then you find the carpet has been pulled from your feet,” he says. Ansel Krut, Reclining Cigar, 2011 Ansel Krut, Reclining Cigar, 2011

But while his upbringing made him aware of life’s moral uncertainties, he does not want his paintings to be preachy or contain moral messages.

“You want to ask ‘is the world ok as it is’, but without being didactic about it, without moralising about it, without making too many claims but just to say things are complex, life is complex.”

His new exhibition, full of cartoon-like figures and macabre images offset against phallic symbols, seeks to ask just that.

“Sometimes these paintings are comic, sometimes troubled, sometimes both comic and troubled. It’s as if they all have personalities, histories – as though they have accumulated experiences,” he says.

“They are all familiar characters to me – though there are some I’d prefer not to have to sit next to on the bus.”

Ansel Krut: Verbatim runs at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings from 3 May to 9 July.

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