Christian Furr’s Cheese Paintings
‘As Sensous as Lucien Freud’s portraits’ – Ian Brice
‘Art is the making special of certain objects’ – Walter Burket
‘London based Christian Furr has painted the humble cheese for over a decade. The cheese has become his metaphor for simplicity, tradition and artisan dedication; all of which are attributes many critics have associated with the artist’s own oil painting practice.’ – Artlyst
‘The paintings themselves are discreet, intimate, like little jewels hanging on the wall’ – Luxury London
When the Count of Monte Cristo was locked away in Alexandre Duma’s novel it was cheese that he became obsessed with…
‘Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality’ – Clifton Fadiman
‘It started at 41 New Road in 1992 in my Acme studio in the old Jewish quarter of Whitechapel…
On the window ledge in front of the beautiful decaying period 1840’s wallpaper, a half bottle of milk had gone off, so I decided to paint it. As I painted, I mused on the origin of cheese. Seventeen years after the original seed was sown, in 2009, my portraits of cheese began in earnest and the journey began…
Why not paint cheese? Cheese gets eaten but not often painted. I decided to paint some of the artisan cheeses of Great Britain & France first. I have painted a lot of cheeses I still have hundreds more to paint. I want to go to other countries and find out about their cheese too and discover what their ideal pairings are. Champagne goes well with Chaource.
It is a quest that is worthwhile. The textural quality of the cheese can be portrayed beautifully with thick, creamy impasto oil paint.
As an artist I have a passion for food and drink as well as art. A good cheese is a pleasure to look at as well as eat. The only difficulty I face in capturing a cheese is that if its a soft one, it begins to melt. Forcing me to work quickly to capture the moment.
When I begin a cheese portrait in the morning I know what I am having for lunch. I wanted these humble but also noble cheeses to have the whole gamut of human emotions in them with all the drama of an opera. There’s feeling in every dab of impasto paint. I can lose myself in cheese. A truckle becomes my world while I am focused on it.
I don’t think Cheese is an unusual subject matter. I am inspired by lots of things in life as an artist and I believe that there should be no boundaries to what you turn your attention to. I have always been a fan of the understated. These include still lives by Chardin and the beautiful still lives of the Spanish Artist Luis Melendez. I also love Warhol – so his fascination with the mass produced consumable led me naturally to the processed ‘lunchbox favourites’ like Baby Bel and Dairy Lea.
Here the fascination for me as an artist lies in finding interest in the commonplace. I turn my attention to capturing the packaging. To me they look almost like sweets/candy.
I love one painting in particular by Manet of a single stick of asparagus. The story goes that Manet sold Charles Ephrussi ‘A Bunch of Asparagus’ for eight hundred francs. But Ephrussi sent him a thousand francs, and Manet, who was a master of elegance and wit, painted this asparagus and sent it to him with a note saying: “There was one missing from your bunch”. This painting became the inspiration for a more modern take on this with ‘Cheese String’ a solitary upturned cheesestring on a blue/grey background
My history includes painting people and portraits in the classical tradtion but you could argue that there are similarities with a cheese to a person ie cheese is a living thing, and there are a myriad of differences with each one. I am also a fan of the Surrealists. I called the green background colour – I used in the background of ‘Rosethorn on Lautreamont Green’ – after the writer Comte de Lautréamont which was the pseudonym of Isidore-Lucien Ducasse who was a major influence on the Surrealists. Les Chants de Maldoror – his only work before he died at the age of 24- contains the singular phrase that French surrealist André Breton discovered and that became foundational to the surrealist doctrine of objective chance: “as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.”
“A linking of two realities that by all appearances have nothing to link them, in a setting that by all appearances does not fit them.”
You could argue that the contrast of the lovingly crafted artisan ‘slow food’cheeses and ‘fast food’ processed / packaged cheeses is similarly disjunctive.
But both hold their own strange appeal for me and are equally fascinating and valid. People respond differently to each down to their experience.
Each artisan cheese has it’s own individual skin, veins and aroma. Maybe it should be the land of ‘cheese and honey’ not ‘milk and honey’? Mankind has lived for centuries on bread and cheese, this would be a peasant’s staple diet 500 years ago, a handy form of carbohydrate for energy, protein and calcium for muscle and bone.
When I paint the cheeses I find out about them too. They open doors. I was painting ‘Chabichou’ the other day, it’s a great cheese, it looks beautiful and tastes even better. ‘Chabichou’ from Poitou dates back to as long ago as 732,
the time of the defeat of the Arabs in the area, in the 8th century, after the Battle of Poitiers. Many Arabs left the area, but some settled there with their families and goat herds. The countryside was appropriate for grazing the ‘poor man’s cow’, as the pastures were excellent. The cheese was then named cheblis (‘goat’ in Arabic), which would become ‘chabichou’ thereafter.
I have discovered that Napoleon’s favourite cheese was called ‘Epoisse’. He would eat it with a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin – this cheese is one of the smelliest cheeses known to man. I am not interested in their smell so much as there strange beauty. They have so many hues and colour notes from rose to burnt orange and I want to capture them all.
Every lunch or dinner party that I attend now, people will share with me their cheese stories. Involving people from Charles de Gaulle to Keith Moon. You can also tell a lot from a persons choice of favourite cheese. I was thinking of doing ‘cheese readings’ As a subject It has become a metaphor as well as a trigger. I think Epicurus would like it.
– Christian Furr May 2016Waitrose Weekend 19 May 2016