Corrie Chiswell Draws on Relative Values

Former Welsh Artist of the Year Corrie Chiswell has drawn on her love of her Scottish grandmother as inspiration for her exciting new exhibition, as Matt Thomas discovers

THE figure of Corrie Chiswell’s late grandmother looms large in a new show by the Scottish-born, Cardiff-based artist – not in a physical form in her paintings, but as a source of inspiration for her work.

The 25 pieces that make up In Remembrance which opens this week at the Off The Wall gallery in Llandaff, found Corrie drawing on entirely new resources to create the exhibition.

The pleasure of the experience was thrown even more sharply into relief by the source of its inspiration – the death of her gran, Catriona, last year.

“It was one of those peculiar things, it only really came into focus as I was putting together the proposal for the Arts Council of Wales development fund that has enabled me to work in such a concentrated fashion on this collection,” she says.

“You have to create a rationale for what you’re doing and it forces you to think about it and I realised that a lot of the themes and ideas that were cropping up in the work had to do with my grandmother or at least the way I thought about her.”

Corrie, who was Welsh Artist of the Year in 2009, has also worked a favourite object belonging to her grandmother into some of the pieces.

The green glass fishing float is particularly prominent in The Princess and the Pea.

“She came from the Scottish islands originally,” says Corrie.

“And that informed the way she was. She spent a lot of time in the countryside, alone, with her mother running the farm, her father out at sea. She was very centred and comfortable being alone.

“She had a deep connection with nature, which I tried to bring out in the work The Bee Charmer, and she always kept the fishing float with her to remind her of that time.

“She moved to the mainland eventually and married a much older man, he was 40 and she was 20, so throughout her life she had to always have this great reserve of inner strength.”

The exhibition tells something of a story without being strictly biographical, says Corrie.

“It’s not narrative necessarily, in any conventional sense.

“It has more to do with my exploring her life though my own feelings about her, the way those feelings were reordered after her death.

“There’s another layer to it as well, in the fairytale atmosphere I’ve laid over some of the scenes, with reference to Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

“Hearing her telling me those stories is the earliest memory I have really of her, the foundation of our relationship, and it seemed fitting to frame some of the images in that context.”

Despite the fact that the collection deals with what seems like an intensely personal area of her life, Corrie says that in a way she feels more detached from the work than ever before.

“Part of that might have to do with the fact that I worked almost exclusively with models,” she says.

“Previously I had been engaged largely in painting myself, but thanks to that development grant, I’ve been able to bring in models and create this more narrative way of painting.

“Because you’re not focussing on yourself so much, you’re freed up to work with larger themes and ideas.

“Ideally I like to work with people I know, or people who aren’t really professional life models.

“It can bring in a whole new way of thinking about a piece. The girl who posed for the Red Riding Hood piece, Homo Homini Lupus Est, was a chemist. And that’s where the idea of having her mixing a love potion, turning the tables on the wolf, came from. It makes the process so rewarding.”

The show also represents another departure for Corrie.

“I’ve shown at Off The Wall in Llandaff as part of a group. In fact this will be my first full solo show in Wales,” she says.

“I’ve been working on it since the beginning of the year and I’m still not quite finished. There’s one big canvas that I think I’m going to have the hairdryer on as I’m bringing it through the door of the gallery!

“It has been an absolutely frantic process, but it’s opening up so many avenues for me. Working with models has really changed the way I look at my painting.”

In Remembrance runs at Off The Wall, Llandaff, Cardiff, from Thursday to October 12. For more information call 029 2055 4469 or visit

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