Visiting Granada this July? This exhibition inspired by the city is a must-see!
If you’re in Granada this July, you can’t miss “Cautivada por Granada” for a free, unique and authentic experience of the city. Granada Insider caught up with the artist – Natasha Phillips – to find out the story behind the exhibition and talk about her life as a British artist living in Granada.
Natasha, tell us about the exhibition.
The exhibition consists of over twenty original paintings of streets, views and landscapes around Granada – each one with a story behind it. This exhibition came around just in time for the 10th anniversary of my first visit to Granada, all the way back when I was a uni student studying Spanish abroad. I fell in love with the city that summer and came back as soon as I could. Granada just has something special; there’s something about its light and the feel of its streets… It tends to pull people back! I find walking around Granada to be a great tonic for the soul. If I’m having a bad day or feeling in need of a boost I just go and walk around my favourite places and I always find something to make me smile. There are so many beautiful sights and I feel lucky to be able to enjoy them. That’s what I wanted to transmit with this exhibition – not just Granada’s beauty but its unique spirit.
What does the exhibition’s title “Cautivada por Granada” mean?
Good question! The truth is I had quite a bit of trouble deciding on a good name for this exhibition. When I first got booked for the space I wanted to come up with a name right away, but I just couldn’t find one that fitted. Plus, it had to be in Spanish! It wasn’t until maybe a fortnight before the opening night that I finally decided on “Cautivada por Granada”, which translates literally as “Captivated by Granada” but also has a more figurative meaning of “enchanted” or “mesmerised”.
What has been the most challenging thing about this exhibition?
Definitely the timescale! When the opportunity came up to exhibit at the gallery, I just couldn’t say no. I hardly had any originals left so I knew I would have to make a whole new collection for it. I realised it would be a mammoth task to complete, but I think it’s good to challenge yourself every now and again, although I have to admit I didn’t fully appreciate just how crazy it would be! I said yes on 7 April and the opening night was on 8 June. So that gave me 2 months to do everything: decide on the theme, plan the layout, make the artwork, do publicity, send out invitations to the opening… so many things! I already had commitments for the first 2 weeks so it actually turned out to be 6 weeks of intense preparation in the end. Plus just mad, unexpected things kept happening that would set me back: the electricity was cut off one day, an elderly neighbour got trapped in the lift and I had to have him rescued, there was a water leak in the building, one of my pens snapped just days before the opening…the list goes on!
Another aspect, which I don’t think many people would automatically consider, is that the non-stop drawing of the fine details also took its toll physically. Rather than tennis elbow, I had drawing hand! By the end I was drawing with my hand strapped up, a plaster on my pen to provide some extra cushioning and two sponges under my elbows!
Tell us about your method for making the paintings.
A really wonderful thing that came out of being short on time was that I was forced out of my comfort zone. Due to having limited studio space I tend to work quite small, so for me this gallery was a large space to fill and I knew I’d have to make at least 20 new pieces. Before this exhibition I worked mainly with watercolour and ink on paper or with acrylic on canvas, the latter with lots of layers of paint. I knew from the very start that I wouldn’t have time to use either of these methods for the majority of the paintings as they would have been too time consuming and also any paintings on paper have to be framed, which takes time as well. So I decided to see if I could somehow translate my illustrative style typical of my works on paper to a new surface: canvas. So I did some experimenting and came up with this technique of acrylic and ink on canvas which you can see in most of the artworks in this exhibition. First I draw out the composition in pencil, then I add the colour with acrylic paint and finally draw the details in ink. Once a piece is finished and dry I spray it with several layers of protective varnish to protect the colours and the surface.
How did you choose which places to paint?
There are no end of beautiful places in Granada, but just being pretty isn’t enough to inspire a painting in me. I can’t really identify one thing that makes a particular scene stand out; I think it’s a combination of factors: the way the buildings lean, the composition of the space and the feeling it evokes. While I’m out and about on one of my wanders I’ll take photos and then go through them back in my studio. When one catches my eye then I begin the process of converting that photo to a drawing or a painting.
What has been the best thing for you about this experience?
Granada is a very beautiful place and tends to attract artists of all kinds so you’re surrounded by art wherever you go, but paradoxically it isn’t the easiest place to make a living as an artist and at times it can be frustrating. For me, there were 3 wonderful things that just shone out at me amongst all the madness. First: the support from my family – if it wasn’t for them I would have just eaten apples and biscuits for 6 weeks! Second: two wonderful humans at the gallery, Diana and Braulio, who made everything so easy and worry-free for me, working extra hours to get everything just right and being so positive and encouraging. And last but not least, the amazing reaction of people on the opening night and the comments and messages of support, encouragement and enthusiasm from them as well as people who have visited the exhibition since, or even those who haven’t been able to make it but have seen it online.
My absolutely favourite thing is being able to talk to people about the paintings and hear their reactions and impressions. As I don’t currently have an open studio and I sell a lot of my work online I don’t normally get the chance to hear people’s comments about the paintings and places. Being able to have that face to face interaction and exchange stories with people is what’s been really special about this exhibition for me. For example, just the other afternoon I was sat in the gallery working away on a new painting when I saw a man hovering in the doorway. He’d been wandering past when he saw the sign on the door and decided to come in. We got talking and he told me what he was doing in Granada and a bit about himself. I noticed he had a map with him so we went around the exhibition and I pointed out where some of the places were so he could go and visit them as he’d only just arrived and hadn’t had a chance to explore much yet.
That evening I got a lovely email from him telling me how much he’d enjoyed seeing the exhibition and how he was going to use my paintings as a guide for his walks around the city. He came back the next day and I marked all the paintings on his map for him and explained the stories behind some of them. He’s messaged me since and told me how much he’s enjoying his walks around Granada and how he’s gradually ticking all the paintings off the list and picking his favourite places. Isn’t that lovely?
Tell us about the opening night.
It was a brilliant evening! I was so happy to see everyone who came to support me and, again, it was great to have that in-person feedback about the paintings. There are times when I might do a piece and think it’s going to be a popular one but when I post it online it doesn’t get a lot of love, and vice versa.
So on the opening night it was brilliant to hear which paintings were people’s favourites and why. Also, it was really funny because I discovered something new about my work! Basically, when I sign a finished piece I take a while to find the right place to put the signature so it blends into the composition. I don’t like my name to be a distraction and so I tend to write it quite small and somewhere where it won’t stand out. I’d never thought of it as a distinguishing mark of my work but a lot of people spontaneously ended up playing the “find the signature game” as they walked around – it was hilarious!
One man even brought along an original watercolour he’d purchased from me online and a pen for me to sign it as he couldn’t spot the signature and thought I’d forgotten! The painting in question is a few years old and I have to admit it took me a while to find it but eventually I did! Lots of people also went around trying to identify all the places in the paintings before checking them against the price list to see how many they’d got right. So there were those two unexpected games going on in the background which was fun. By the end of the night a third of the paintings had sold. It was amazing!
Watch the video from the opening night:
What advice would you give to someone visiting Granada to get the real Granada experience?
I would say the best way to get to know Granada is to put on a comfy pair of shoes and walk. Get lost! Explore. Sit and watch the world go by. Talk to people and ask questions. Come and see me at the exhibition and bring a map!
Are the paintings for sale?
Absolutely! Quite a few have been sold already but you can find all the information about the paintings on my website and I’m in the process of making new ones as well. You can also visit my Etsy shop to browse all my originals and signed prints for sale. I ship worldwide so no-one has to miss out; you can have a little slice of Granada sent to you wherever you are!
Visit the Exhibition
“Cautivada por Granada” is on until 31 July and is open to the public Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm and 5pm to 8pm in the Enrique Seijas Gallery inside the College of Financial Administrators (Colegio de Gestores) in Calle Frailes, 30, in the city centre. Visit Natasha’s website to see when she’ll be there or contact her to arrange a visit by appointment. Natasha assures us that there is air conditioning, so don’t let Granada’s summer heat put you off! If the wooden doors are closed when you arrive then just press the buzzer and say you’re there to see the exhibition.
Opening night photos: Laura Picinelli – See more of her photos at www.laurapicinelli.es