in conversation with: Pippa El-Kadhi Brown

Unpacking human nature in its domestic environment, Pippa investigates the enigmatic sense of being through painting. Deeply contemplating what all comes together in the domestic space, she paints interiors that have more to do with emotions than physics. A terrifying yet mystical concept, she plays around in her brush strokes in a way that is heavily gestural. In this conversation with Pippa, we learn about how she confides in tea, her fascination with the way we as humans are, her new journey as an MA Painting student at the RCA and her upcoming residency in Latvia that is postponed due to Covid.

You trained at Camberwell then University of Brighton, can you tell us about your thoughts on these two schools?


I studied at Camberwell College of Art for my foundation year, it felt like it went by very quickly; I loved the explorative process at the beginning, but I remember feeling a little lost at times towards the end of the year. I think as it was a bit overpopulated and not having access to wall space as a painter was a bit frustrating, but I did enjoy my time there and it was a nice transition towards a degree. 


It was really refreshing to arrive at The University of Brighton School of Art and receive my first proper studio space. I loved working there, it really felt like a little world. My tutors were always really supportive and keen to push us to step outside our boundaries. I left with an enriched understanding of my practice and a deep love for the gestural process of painting. Brighton is such a unique place and I had the most amazing time living there as a student and studying there as an artist.


Do you have any routine/rituals before you start working? 10 cups of coffee? 10 cups of tea? Or maybe yoga?


I like to clear the space before I start. This is a new ritual; I haven’t always been so organised. With the way I like to work, the studio can become rather hectic quite quickly, with lots of everything scattered everywhere. It feels really nice to begin each session with a fresh frame of mind, so I’m trying to introduce organisation to my painting routine, so that each time I can mess it up again!


Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, 'Lucifer', 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm 


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


Merging the physical with the psychological and the whimsical with the tragic, they are like windows that invite you into the enigmatic and often chaotic, home conscious. Thick oil paint sits sculpted on the surface, breaking the barrier between the exterior and the self. They are nostalgic, energetic and playful. The colour pallet is broad, the marks are bodily, and the imagery is both simultaneously ordered and disordered. 


Perhaps a tricky one, but your artistic style is very distinctive. How did you arrive there? 


I’ve always been really drawn to the human condition and the oddity of being. It’s a terrifying concept, but also very intriguing, as it feeds into everything we see, feel and do. This led me to explore presence in my very early works, where I tried to encapsulate a sense of presence without drawing any figures present. In order to achieve this, I handled the paint in a highly gestural and bodily way, so as to highlight human participation in the creation process. This energetic and painterly way of working has stayed with me throughout my practice. 


Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, 'Takeaway?', 2018, oil on canvas, 238 x 209 cm



Can you tell us more about your experience in Organhaus Studio Residency in China? 


Along with fellow artists and good friends, Georgina Stone and Maddalena Zadra, I travelled to Chongqing, China in May last year. We lived and worked in Jiulongpo District (九龙坡) for three months as part of a studio residency with Organhaus Gallery. It was an incredibly unique experience and a truly amazing part of my life. 


This was the first time I had travelled to this part of the world, staying in one place for so long. This enabled us to really get to know the local people and surroundings, as well as being able to explore wider Chongqing and neighbouring cities. Exploring was key to my creating process, as all of the work I created was a direct reflection of my time there. 


I found inspiration everywhere in the everyday; architecture, food, agriculture, people, animals, traditions and so on. Before we left Chongqing, we put on Cat’s Mother; Her, She, an exhibition which explored the intimate relationship that grew with our surroundings. 

Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, 'Two of Hearts', 2019, acrylic on canvas, 148 x 148 cm


You won the Overall Award for the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize in 2020. How do you feel about the exposure?  Has it affected your art in any way?


Since the results came out, it’s been a really exciting couple of weeks. Having my art shared as much as it was, with such a great response was a little overwhelming at first (in the best way possible!). This kind of acknowledgement is so uplifting and has really made me excited to push my practice even further.


You seemed to play around with the idea of contortion of beings, what is the main message or story of your works? 


The figures in my works are more so suggestions of humans rather than specific individuals. These figures resemble the human character by taking on the troublesome role of bodily matter and human psychology, but they are by no means human beings. I understand them more as domestic creatures, who tend to merge with the space around them, whilst simultaneously maintaining a conscious presence. 


Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, 'Chop and Shop Medley I', 2020, digital collage

What do you do to unwind after a stressful day?


A cold crisp refreshing pint is my ideal end to a stressful day and the perfect way to reflect on the week that has gone by. Otherwise, a lovely cup of tea is also a wonderful cure!


What’s the weirdest thing that you ever encounter in the streets of London?


I did see a very lavish dog funeral travelling down the road in a miniature Victorian hearse. The hearse was made of glass, the horses had large black plombs and the carriage master wore a top hat. It was extremely decadent and very odd!


Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, 'April', 2018, oil on canvas, 239 x 209 cm 


What’s next for you in 2020/2021? 


I have recently begun to embark on my masters in Painting at The Royal College of Art. I’m really enjoying my return to academic research and the energetic process of creative exploration. I’m so excited for my upcoming solo show Around You, Within You, or Nowhere at All. It is set to open to the public on the 9th of November at Ashursts Emerging Artists Gallery, although this might have the potential to change with regards to new government measures.


I have some exciting upcoming projects; a clothing collaboration with Boutique Kaotique and an exhibition Create for the NHS, which will raise money for Gendered Intelligence and the National Health Service. I also have an upcoming residency in Liepaja, Latvia, which due to the pandemic has unfortunately been delayed until next year. In this strange time of such uncertainty, it’s impossible to know what lurks around the corner. 


Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, 'Cold Noodle'

To follow the projects Pippa 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.