Carne Griffiths mixes tea and alcohol with ink to create the most delicate of storms on paper.
Liverpool-born Carne Griffiths is ‘The Organic Artist’, known for using tea, alcohol, and ink in his art. For the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, he has created a new portrait of HRH Elizabeth II to mark the 70th anniversary of her accession.
The painting sold for £25,000 at the Anderson Foundation Christmas charity luncheon, with £20,000 of the monies being donated entirely to Great Ormond Street Hospital and the remaining divided between other charities, a personal landmark achievement after the hospital saved the life of Carne’s twin daughter who was born with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernias and was in critical condition. We spoke to Carne to find out more about his practice (the first question obviously being the most important) and the big day – the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Carne, let’s start off with what we’re all thinking: what tea do you use?
Tetley, just good old Tetley!
You haven’t always been a painter – you went to art college but then left to do embroidery design, a job which took you all over the world. What happened when you came back to painting?
My aim was to paint for a year and see where it took me. I was lucky enough to be picked up by a couple of galleries and started to find a style early on, experimenting with tea and alcohol in the work. It came about when I threw some brandy on the page whilst painting with eggs. I thought I’d brew up some tea and that had a really interesting effect, it was really different. I realised the longer your work the tea, the stronger it gets, so I started playing around with different coloured teas and different strengths.
Working in embroidery design for 12 years before returning to painting was perfect, I’m glad I didn’t try to establish myself as an artist earlier on. I didn’t dream of this career trajectory, but somehow, doing an art degree before developing a career in embroidery and then going back into the painting – they’re just chance happenings meeting with unusual experiences. And that’s what a lot of my work is about, it’s about things working out. I don’t mix colours off the page in a palette, I mix everything on the page and throw it all together.
Raising such a sum for Great Ormond Street Hospital with the original painting must have been overwhelming, given your personal involvement and affection for it.
It’s perfect for me because my daughter had a condition, straight after she was born, that needed their attention. They were unbelievable. I could never do enough to pay back for what they’ve done for us, so for them to reach out to me and put their name on the project was mind-blowing.
What’re your memories of the past Jubilees?
When I was about seven, my family and I were part of the crowds in Liverpool for a visit from Charles and Diana. My younger brother Colin was in the newspapers because he broke through the barriers and ran through the legs of a policeman to get to Princess Di. He was holding flowers and Diane picked him up and gave him a kiss. I remember seeing the photograph in the papers the next day – he got married recently and it was part of my wedding speech!
Most of my work is portraiture and it focuses on the person rather than the institution. Whether you’re for or against the monarchy as an institution, this painting is me looking at Queen Elizabeth as a person. It’s interesting to look at those old black and white photos from before I was born, from her coronation, and thinking, ‘What’s she going through here? She’s dealing with immense responsibility, a figurehead of a nation’.
A limited edition print run of 70 prints, one for every year of the the Queen’s royal tenure will be released and available to purchase on 4th June. For every print sold a £150 will be donated to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, of whom The Queen is the current patron.