Written by

Where's the frame

September 21, 2020 4:12 PM


A lover of fancy sketchbooks she doesn't even use, Khushna is an artist trained at Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University and Slade School, University College London. Her work confronts the complexity of human bodies and expressions, as she tries to channel it from the initial photograph captured. Her method allows for continuation of thought, not only from object to picture, but picture to picture. In this conversation between the London based creative and where’s the frame?, she gave her insights on how her style evolves and how her intentions are set after the BP Portrait Award 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery and lastly how COVID interrupt her impromptu trips to museums and galleries around London.

You were trained at Ruskin School of Art and then Slade; how does your style evolve throughout the years? Can you tell us about your thoughts on these two schools?

Whilst at the Ruskin, I was getting to grips with my painting technique, learning the importance of anatomy for my figurative paintings, understanding why I’m attracted to painting people in the first place and learning about the history to which my work speaks  - I feel like since being at the Slade I have learnt more about the responsibility of portraying people and what it means for me when placing my work in front of an audience. I feel like my practice has evolved since I have understood my subject matter and what visibility means for both me and my subjects. 

Khushna Sulaman-Butt, "Ascension"


Do you have any rituals or routines before you start working?

Before I start a new painting, I like to make a trip to the national gallery and absorb the work of Rembrandt, Velazquez and Caravaggio to feel inspired. Because of lockdowns, it has been harder than usual to make a spur of the moment trip, so I’ve been looking through lots of books and listening to documentaries.


You use photos as a starting to point to create your works, why do you choose the medium (photography) specifically? Is this why in some of your works there are vignettes around the corner of the canvas? 

Photography is used as a tool to help me document and choreograph a scene, it feels very objective. Only when I start painting, I feel a spiritual and meditative connection with the painting, and it starts to take on a life of its own- different to the source material.

Khushna Sulaman-Butt, "Two Figures", 2020


Can you please describe your artwork as if you were talking to someone who can’t see?

Dark shadows and strong highlights bind together the bodies of strangers and friends alike. 


Your work ‘Society’ is selected for the exhibition of the BP Portrait Award 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery. How do you feel about the exposure?  Has it affected your art in any way? 

The exposure was fun and important for me at that stage in my life. It meant a lot to be seen and it was one of the first times I was learning how my work was being received by a wider audience- this really helped me ground some of the intentions behind my work today.  

Khushna Sulaman-Butt, "Society", 2017

Do you think the way we exhibit artwork and any other artistic production will be different after COVID?

I can already see a shift from physical exhibitions to online viewing rooms- but I think it actually strengthens peoples’ desire to have a face to face encounter with artwork- back to basics.


What’s your favourite London gallery? And why?

It’s really hard to pick just one- I love Victoria Miro Gallery because she represents some of my favourite female figurative artists like Chantal Joffe, Alice Neel, Celia Paul and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?

Louise Bourgeois, Caravaggio, and Basquiat.


What is your greatest indulgence in life? 

Sketchbooks that I don’t need with fancy paper that I’m too scared to actually make work in.

Khushna Sulaman-Butt, "Young Pretenders",


What are you currently working on? Any projects we should know of and that you can reveal?

I’m currently working on three paintings- a portrait of: three sisters, my aunty, and a friend.

To follow the projects Khushna is working on , you can visit her instagram and her website

All photos courtesy of the artist. 

where's the frame - ‘in conversation with’ is a weekly series featuring London-based vanguard artists. Stay tuned for more interviews, published every Friday. 



Suggested reading: