Henrietta Graham is a UK-based artist, who has been successfully exhibiting and selling her works internationally for the past 20 years. She is currently working on a series of paintings entitled Great British Chefs, which has seen her depict some of the country’s most celebrated chefs, including Michel Roux Jnr, Sat Bains and Michael Caines. Henrietta is hoping to turn her works into a book of the same title and took the time to tell me a little more about her exciting project
What’s the idea behind the Great British Chefs book?
Quite simply to paint and sketch some of the greatest chefs and kitchens in Britain today. And to write about the extraordinary culinary journey that they have created over the last four decades. British gastronomy has experienced a meteoric rise during that time; we have become a nation of devotees to the restaurant and the once humble chef has become a well-respected even venerated figure. This book is both a tribute and an exploration into how the British culinary culture has evolved.
Where did the inspiration for it come from?
The idea did not appear as a complete concept but was more an organic culmination of thoughts and experiences that made the book an ambition. For example I was taken to the Waterside Inn as a child and was shown the kitchen where I met Pierre Koffmann – the imagery blew me away. Years later my studio was around the corner from Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine in London and I started sketching there, which was 10 years before the book’s genesis. I just kept meeting chefs, then I made more meetings happen and really just wanted to paint everything I was witnessing.
How many chefs will be featured and who are they?
I am at 50 now and would like this to be the final number – but seeing that I said that at 25, who knows. To name a few of the chefs so far: Raymond Blanc, Albert Roux, Pierre Koffmann, Brett Graham, Clare Smyth, Gary Rhodes, Jason Atherton and Ashley Palmer-Watts.
Can you describe your style of painting?
I am a representational oil painter – if that is brief it is because there comes a point when as a painter you realise your work should do the talking!
How is each of the paintings different and individual?
They are as different and individual as all the chefs are from one another and I have tried my hardest to really capture the essence of each chef.
How do you capture a chef’s individual style and personality?
Observation! I have spent hours and hours in kitchens with chefs. I really try to pick up on subtle nuances and I really listen to try to get the measure of who I am working with.
Do you paint from photos or do they come and pose for you?
There is an element of posing on occasion, however, I want very often to capture a split second in time – during service for instance – and therefore take hundreds of photographs and then sketch and put a composition together in my studio. Each painting takes months, sometimes years and they are very often larger than life so I think my chances of doing that in situ would be impossible.
Who was the most challenging chef to paint?
They all are but if you really want a name then it would have to be Brett Graham. I have started four paintings of him and none seem to capture him so I have recently spoken to him and I’ll be back in The Ledbury soon to see if I can get it right the fifth time.
After the book on British chefs – would you consider going international?
Yes. In fact I have started and I have painted Rene Redzepi and Daniel Boulud.
Who would you most like to paint in the future?
Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Massimo Bouttura and it would be incredible to get Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca all in one huge painting.
Follow Henrietta on Twitter @henriettagraham