LONDON – A century ago, the great Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova moved effortlessly between the worlds of fine art, theatre and fashion. Famously, she created the sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev (250 of Goncharova’s drawings, including her first designs for the Ballets Russes, come to auction on 1 December). To celebrate Goncharova’s prodigious talent, Sotheby’s invited Oisin Byrne, a contemporary artist who also works in multiple mediums, to create a delightful installation in our New Bond Street galleries. Malcolm Cossons caught up with Byrne as the installation was under way.
ARTIST OISIN BYRNE. PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAMES O'LOUGHLIN.
Malcolm Cossons: Describe this collaboration with Sotheby’s and how it came about?
Oisin Byrne: Mark Blann [head of visual display at Sotheby’s in London] invited me to make a series of drawings, which relate to and frame the works by Natalia Goncharova [offered in the Russian Paintings sale on 1 December]. So for the window, for example, I've painted a theatre set, which provides the stage for Goncharova's incredible stage cloths.
INSTALLING THE EXHIBITION.
Did you seek inspiration from the works that will be on view at the same time – particularly the Ballets Russes designs from Natalia Goncharova? How aware were you already of the work of Goncharova and the Ballets Russes?
I've always returned to and obsessed over Diaghilev's Ballets Russes stage sets and costumes and was to that extent aware of Goncharova's work. Becoming more familiar with her work for this project, I particularly love Goncharova's sense of humour in the drawings, and the range of their style – you can see in them the Russian avant garde, futurism and this strong underpinning aesthetic of Russian folk art.
BYRNE'S WORK FRAMES GONCHAROVA'S SET DESIGN.
You worked with Sotheby’s and Jasper Conran for an installation of Cecil Beaton works at Wilton House, which continues next year. Was the commission for the galleries in New Bond Street informed at all by this existing relationship?
Absolutely. Working with Mark and the team again has been great. The existing creative relationship and dialogue from working on the Wilton show really benefitted this project and we have carried through some of the visual language.
For the Beaton show, I literally painted the frame around each photograph. I think here my drawings are performing the same function as a kind of frame (stage) for these Goncharova works and for the jewellery exhibition.
ONE OF THE WINDOWS AT SOTHEBY'S LONDON ON NEW BOND STREET.
Your work uses a variety of media from fine arts to origami, performance and video work – how important is drawing to your work? Is it always the starting point for you creative process?
Drawing is very much the cornerstone of my practice and something I do consistently. But yes, I do like to work in different media depending on the idea and what form it demands – so that could be anything from drawing or writing, through to video or performance.
Sometimes during my making process the same idea might take two simultaneous forms – a video and a wallpaper, for example. Then these "competing" forms can either co-exist (if they are independently useful) or fight it out to decide which is the best form for the idea.
What other projects do you have planned for 2016?
I'm making a solo show at the moment, to open in April 2016 in Cecilia Brunson Projects in Bermondsey. The show will combine my video making, drawn portraits and a short essay I have written.