Nepali Times
Life Times
Brittain in Nepal



Ilsa Brittain has woven the entirety of her life into her layered paintings of the female form
Ilsa Brittain has always been an artist. "One of my earliest memories I must have been about five is of sitting down with a pencil and paper and saying to myself, 'Well, Ilsa, if you're going to be an artist, you have to learn how to draw faces'," she says.

The desire to create has never left her, and has culminated with her current exhibition at Siddhartha Art Gallery at Baber Mahal Revisited. But her journey, from a determined five-year-old to the successful artist she is today, wasn't straightforward.

Ilsa's childhood was spent as a 'water gypsy' on her father's yacht in the Mediterranean, returning only when it was time to take her exams. She eventually moved on to study art at Brighton University in the south of England.

Marriage to her UN worker husband, John, meant the resumption of the itinerant lifestyle. She has spent the last twenty years moving from country to country, including China, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Russia, France and Guinea. During this time Ilsa had three daughters. Somehow, despite the moves and the madness of motherhood, she managed to keep working, exhibiting in France and Russia, as well as studying figurative painting at the Surikov Academy in Moscow.

"Because my work is concerned with human emotions, motherhood fed into it, rather than being a distraction," Ilsa says. "Of course, your world turns upside down when you have children, and finding the time to paint was hard, but the experience of having a family deepened my work. Although I do remember having really strong arms from holding a baby in one arm whilst I painted with the other," she laughs.

Four years ago, Ilsa and her family moved to Nepal, and she says that it is here in Kathmandu that she feels her work has consolidated and matured, enabling her to produce her best pieces to date.

"Coming to Nepal was an inspiration for me," she says. "Sometimes it's hard to get the quality of materials I need for my work, but the relaxed pace of life and sheer beauty of the place has been wonderful."

Ilsa works seven hours a day in her studio in Patan. She says paintings can take anything from a day to a whole year to complete; however, she usually works on more than one piece at a time. She also runs art workshops from her studio, teaching drawing and painting techniques.

"I love teaching," she says. "It's vital to my work, it feeds the studio. I feel that you have to put in to get out, and the energy I put into teaching has been reflected in the paintings I have done since being here."

Ilsa says her work is synergistic, bringing together various strands of her life: as a mother, wife, teacher, traveller and artist. Her current exhibition, titled 'Female Substantive', reflects the different facets and complexity of the roles woman play.

At first glance Ilsa's paintings appear to be simply a beautiful fusion of the figurative and the abstract, but on closer inspection the viewer sees layer upon layer of textural codes beneath the oil paint: a bracelet, a leaf, a safety pin, or a number.

"My paintings are filled with secrets," says Ilsa. "I want them to be a bit like a magnet, drawing the viewer in, and asking them to think about the obstacles and chances in their own lives."

Ilsa's exhibition 'Female Substantive' is showing at the Siddhartha Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited, until 22 April.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)