Constance Regardsoe is an artist who specializes in capturing water and figures in water in oil paint. The fleeting moments captured in each of her paintings juxtapose with the time-consuming painting process she employs, and the moment is painstakingly recreated over weeks, like an insect being preserved in amber. The use of a figure in her painting serves to remind the viewer of our collective smallness; in her more abstract pieces, the form of the figure is radically altered, a visual reminder of our own ephemerality and the inevitability of being changed by our surroundings.
Retro Kolkata : First of all, thanks a lot for accepting our invitation for an interview. It's a great pleasure to have you as our Guest. Let’s start from the first question… Let's jump into the past. Do you remember your first interaction with art? When did you decide you wanted to become an artist?
Constance : My first interaction with Art - I definitely owe some credit to this to my parents. I was the first person in my family to go to university, but I remember from a very young age, my mother taking my sister and me to local museums and galleries - particularly the Harris in Preston where I grew up, something I am immensely grateful for. There were some works by Waterhouse, and I remember becoming fascinated by representational paintings. We were often attending free workshops run by the museum, and I really think it is so important for local government to invest in arts and culture, it definitely helps foster a creative mindset. Both my parents could draw, so it was a way they entertained us as children, we were often encouraged to sketch or do creative activities like make models. I became really interested in being an artist young, probably early high school or even earlier, but it was one of those things that you considered as 'out of your league'. I didn't know any professional artists growing up, and it seemed unattainable. It was until I was in my twenties when I began to seriously consider it as a viable choice for a future life. I'd attended Nottingham University to get an English degree, graduated, and started working for a university, but I slowly realised that art was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, I got a part time job, studied art part time for a year, painted as much as I could, and gradually, became an artist.
Retro Kolkata : What role does drawing have in your creative process and what’s in your sketching “toolkit” right now?
Constance : I'll be honest - I don't sketch so much these days, but I invested a lot of time honing drawing and observation in my early practice. Basically all my tube journeys in my early twenties were sketching time, and I'd work in biro to force myself to learn strict accuracy (you can't erase so you had to get it right). These days I mostly get stuck straight into full scale paintings. I do however teach a beginner art class one day a week. I think there's something really valuable in the skill of observation, looking at the work of others, checking angles and alignment to keep those observation skills razor sharp.
Retro Kolkata : What do you consider to be the ingredients for a strong composition?
Constance : I think I'm quite instinctive. I use photographs that I either take myself or model for as a basis for paintings. Generally, I just look at them, and 'know' what will work on canvas. But I suppose in the background I'm thinking about lightsource, focal points, the rule of thirds, a sense of movement and narrative, tension, temperature and colour. Tension and movement are very important for me, a lot of my work tries to capture the sense that we are seeing a frozen split second.
Retro Kolkata : Can you talk a little bit about your painting technique and method? How do these great artworks come about?
Constance : So I mentioned that photography is the first stage, and it's an important and technical one. I paint people in water, and this can be tricky in the UK, in terms of lighting, and also taking steps to keep models safe and warm when working outside. I was in the sea for a shoot in Canada just a fortnight ago, and was really trying making myself think 'right, you can't feel your fingers anymore, you need to get out of the water'. I use an SLR camera and dry bag.
Once I've gotten the images, I work straight on to canvas. I don't grid or project my work. I suppose this might change, but right now, I feel like these methods would rob the image of part of their organic quality, the little mistakes and compromises the human hand is forced to make. I sometimes use underpainting but not always. When I started painting I was very 'tight' and controlled, depending on small brushes, often focusing on patches of detail at a time. I'm slowly incorporating looser strokes and more gestural marks into my work - which just feels like I'm unlocking so many possibilities about how to paint and how paint operates as a substance - I think it's going to be a really interesting time in my practice.
Retro Kolkata : How do you view the concepts of the real, the hyper-real, the authentic and the imagined playing out within your works?
Constance : I think when I was still developing as a painter I was very interested in hyper real and photorealist painting. I'm still very impressed by the skill of these kind of works - I understand what it takes, and there is always something intrinsically impressive about it. Now though, I can't help but question the value of an artwork designed to solely mimic an image produced by a sophisticated machine. I'm interested in painters who blend elements of real and unreal. Alyssa Monks looser marks and intermediary surfaces, Anna Wypch's blending of hyper-real and surreal dreamlike elements. The reason I like to be present for the photography, is that you have a memory as well as the image, and a sense of the place and mood of the moment you captured the image. This gives you something to use other than just the photograph, and something to try and draw into your work other than the image right in front of you.
Retro Kolkata : Your pieces are incredibly detailed. How long does it take to create a single piece and what is the process like?
Constance : A large painting (a meter by a meter say) used to take approximately 100 hours. I am managing now to maintain the same level of detail but work much quicker. They will never be a fast process however. I like to work a minimum of 8 hours painting a day.
Retro Kolkata : You seem to be interested in reflections on water, water splashes, bubbles–is this a technical curiosity or something else? What is the relationship between your figures and the water?
Constance : I absolutely love water. When I'm not painting, I'm often swimming, and swim outdoors in my local river once a week, even in the winter. For me, water is a great way to express ideas about time and impermanence; if I posed a model in a living room, I could paint them, and pose them the same way a year later and produce an incredibly similar result - but the distortion and refraction you get between the interplay of light, body and water, is so specific and unique to a single moment of capture - and this fascinates me, the fleetingness of it.
I also think there’s something about the physical sense of it, water can make you feel powerful, a muscled streamlined body cutting through a moving solid, but at the same time, it is dangerous and reminds you of its power and your fragility. I like this tension. A lot of my work features a submerged figure, and I'm very interested in the idea of a swimmer pushing themselves to uncomfortable levels - holding their breath - but ultimately having the power and autonomy to set that limit.
Retro Kolkata : Tell us more about your workspace. What is the funniest or weirdest thing that happened to you in the studio?
Constance : During the lockdown I painted in the converted loft above a garage. One day a very large dragonfly came in and kept me company.
Retro Kolkata : What’s the latest project you are working on?
Constance : I've just completed a month long residency in Canada. It's been incredibly exciting, and having a big designated space to paint in has done some really interesting things. I've gone bigger that ever before, one 1.5 meter by 1 meter painting, and one even larger 160x120 cm! Working at this scale forces you to adopt some new techniques and methods.
Retro Kolkata : Artists and art lovers often have one painting by a great artist that has especially influenced them or holds special meaning. What is the one painting that had the biggest impact on you as you were beginning your career, and why?
Constance : It's really tough to pin it down to one. When I was younger it was probably John William Waterhouse. The Preraphaelite brotherhood, and particularly Ophelias, was one of the first ways I accessed art. From being a teenager though, I'd have to say Alyssa Monks. She is simply phenomenal, and I've really enjoyed watching how her work has developed and changed over the decade plus I've been following her. I got to see some of her pieces at the Pontone gallery in London in 2018, and I almost cried, it felt like a religious experience.
Retro Kolkata : What feelings or reactions do you hope to arouse in people who view your work? Are you surprised by the reactions that you get?
Constance : People relate to the work in different ways. Some of my favourite reactions have been "thank you, for bringing this into the world" "Your work is like holding a breath and letting it go" and "damn, I only came here because there's supposed to be a really good burger van nearby, but this, this is really good, I wasn't supposed to buy art today".
Some people enjoy the sensual nature of water. Some like the interplay of light. Some think about the healing nature of water and find the work cathartic in relation to old trauma. I like that it appeals in different ways.
Retro Kolkata : You have received several iconic awards in Painting. Has there been any accomplishment that you are especially proud of?
Constance : I was in a bit of a dark place in the Autumn/Winter of 2020. The lockdowns had been hard and I was struggling to balance painting more professionally with the job I had at the time. In the middle of that I got a call saying that I had won the Bath Society of Artists Young Artist award, and the grand prize (I entered two artworks). It was the only time an artist had won both in the society's 115 year history.
I really haven't entered many awards this past year, and I must get back on it.
Retro Kolkata : Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Constance : Someone wrote to me a while ago, asking for advice on how to sell their paintings, saying they needed to do so 'desperately'. It was a little heart breaking to write back, but I don't think it's possible to make your best work from a place of desperation. I worked really hard and lived really carefully for several years before I took up studying art so that I would have a cushion to prevent me from being desperate. If you don't want it badly enough to do that, you probably don't want it badly enough. It's not a fun answer but it is an honest one. You need to be willing to give, not all, but really the better part of yourself to doing this.
Retro Kolkata : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundaries can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.
Constance : Many thanks for trying to share the work of artists with the wider community, it's getting harder for artists to be seen these days. Thank you for finding importance in the work out artists. I have to disagree a little though, artists are not the most beautiful creation, we are just trying to reflect back the beauty and complexity in the world around us.
Follow Retro Kolkata on Instagram