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In The Studio: Catherine Goodman, artist

'India heightens my imaginative life and continually surprises me'

Karen Wright
Thursday 30 August 2012 17:00 BST

Catherine Goodman welcomes me into her Chelsea portrait studio, ensconcing me in the only chair, which resembles a throne. I ask about the letters painted on the carpet. "G," Goodman says, "is for Gillon Aitken." He's the literary agent whose portrait she has recently finished. "There is a mark for the easel and one for the chair."

Goodman has dubbed this the "light-box" studio, flooded by natural light from north-facing skylights; she has been here for almost three years, having previously been working "in a container building under the Westway". Behind me, shelves crammed with colourful masks, a series of boars' heads and stuffed animals, signifiers of an artist who travels widely, bringing back souvenirs. Goodman paints her portraits here, her landscape works are too big so she keeps an industrial space in Acton, too.

She was born in London and won the NPG Portrait Prize in 2002. Her "prize" was to paint the founder of the hospice movement, Dame Cicely Mary Strode Saunders, completing the tough-yet-tender portrait shortly before Strode Saunders' death: "She was fierce and brave and compassionate and loving all at the same time", she recalls. She also finds inspiration in India, a country she first visited as a foundation student at Camberwell and to which she returns at least once a year. She says: "I sometimes wish I had never been to India, once you've been there, there is no going back... What India does and has always done for me is heighten my imaginative life and continually surprise me. I think what first astounded me there was the extraordinary scale of the landscape."

When she is there she draws constantly, charcoal drawings with the odd burst of colour, but "holding that memory of colour and light is a challenge to making the work here".

At the Drawing School, where she is artistic director, she relishes taking her students to draw outside. "They have never stood and responded to a tree and made a drawing or painting from it. It is very Zen, painting in nature. You have to respond to the moment. The weather throws all kinds of things at you, insects, wind, rain and you have to go with it." I ask about the other letters of sitters stencilled on the rugs. What is the I for? Goodman admits to not remembering: "When I vacuum them they get fainter and eventually disappear." Like all memories.

Catherine Goodman: Worlds Within, Marlborough Fine Art, London W1S 4BY (020 7629 5161) 12 September to 6 October

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