My favourite painting: Rana Begum

Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum chooses Hand Inside by Ellie MacGarry.

Rana Begum on Hand Inside by Ellie MacGarry

‘I first discovered Ellie’s work at a Slade graduate show. I didn’t have any prior knowledge of her or her practice, but I was immediately drawn to the way she uses paint and colour. I always love when a work engages me without context; when I can have an unadulterated visual response.

‘There is a sensuality in Ellie’s work as she captures moments of touch, connection, and bodily experience. There is always something reaching through a boundary—sometimes water; sometimes earth; sometimes clothing. This sensuality extends beyond the subject matter and into Ellie’s style of painting.

‘There is an alluring tactility in the surface. I think this is especially evident in this work, one of a series of watercolours. There is a loose spontaneity in the medium as the colours bleed into one another, creating a feeling of immediacy and physicality. You step away feeling as if you have been offered a momentary insight into something personal, that you have been let in.’

Rana Begum is a Bangladeshi artist living and working in London. An exhibition of her work, ‘Dappled Light’, is at the Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery until 11th September.


Charlotte Mullins comments on Hand Inside

Ellie MacGarry’s spare and delicate watercolours seem particularly fitting in a world that has had to curb its collective sociability for two years. Her recent series ‘Hand Inside’ investigates the power of touch at a time when hugging others and feeling skin on skin has been near impossible.

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In her paintings, people touch and explore themselves and their clothes, pushing fingers between buttons and over shoulders. In this example, one hand moves upwards across the chest as another stretches down into a translucent pocket. The thumbs reach towards each other, a moment of togetherness held in check by the small diamond of flesh that peeps from between the shirt’s buttons. ‘Each time I paint a garment on a body,’ she says, ‘I see it a bit like a pair of curtains, at varying states of open and closed, revealing a glimpse of something behind.’

In Miss MacGarry’s paintings, there is an economy of means that is intentional. The bodies are genderless and anonymous and she cites the early-20th-century photography of Claude Cahun as an influence. Despite their spareness, her paintings are psychological explorations of where identity lies and what it is to inhabit a body. She also draws inspiration from music, film and clothing.

Before becoming an artist, Miss MacGarry wanted to work in fashion and a love of pattern and the qualities of fabric pervades her work. The hands in this painting are stylised and simplified, but the sheer shirt is a vivid malachite green cut through with inky blue spots.