Meet Soho House artist, Morag Caister
After being crowned Sky Portrait Artist of the Year this week, the London-based painter talks about her affection for human experience and the clarity art brings
Thursday 8 December 2022 By Anastasiia Fedorova
Soho House’s global art collection is one of the biggest privately owned assemblages in the world. The Soho House Artists series spotlights people behind the works – their practice, life and aspirations. In this instalment, we talk to London-based artist, Morag Caister.
There is hardly anything more mesmerising than portraiture. Over many centuries, people have been obsessed with staring into their own reflection, be it on paper or canvas. Morag Caister continues the lineage of figurative painters, while seeking to reimagine portraits for the new era. In our post-selfie culture, we’re surrounded by digital images of people – and yet it takes a quest to find the human connection and empathy that Caister captures so well.
The London-based artist graduated from the University of Brighton in 2019 and mostly works with oils and pastels on paper, and calico or raw canvas. This week, she was announced as the winner of Sky Portrait’s Artist of the Year award. Catching up with Soho House, she opens up about her studio and practice, why art is the best means of communication, and the ways in which poses and gestures speak louder than words.
Where did you grow up and where are you based?
‘I live in London now and was also born here, but grew up mostly in Brighton.’
What does art mean to you?
‘It gives me a way to say things I struggle to otherwise, and in such detail. I’m dyspraxic, and the main things I’ve had setbacks with are processing information and communicating. So, the fact that through painting I’m able to condense all of the information together that I feel is significant – and for it to still make sense on paper even though there are gaps – is so liberating and brings me little flashes of amazing clarity.’
Name three things you explore in your work.
‘I think the curiosity that drives my work just comes down to that question: “what are we doing here?” I hope people feel seen and understood by the work because it’s always coming from a place of affection and my own human experience, and the way we’re all constantly thinking about that question.
‘Using what I know I try to really understand people, and though it’s ambitious I like aiming for a summary of what that person is made up of – who they are, the experiences they’ve had, the years they’ve lived. These are such mutual things, it feels almost easy to recognise what they leave in the expressions or in the posture. You don’t necessarily need to exchange many words for this information because the result is in front of you – it interests me that once we have the understanding of an individual’s situation, our heart goes out to them, but not usually before that. Doing someone’s portrait feels like giving their experience the time of day, and I always feel close to being in awe of the person. It seems to all come back to a kind of disbelief and wonder that things are the way that they are.’
What is your studio like?
‘It’s quite untidy, I can never get it under control. Though it does feel like chaos in order, I know exactly where everything is. I’ve got really tiny and really large-scale works in progress all over the walls, and the table is covered in pastels and paint. It feels kind of like an office with papers everywhere.’
Do you have a favourite art-related memory?
‘Growing up, my mum would always take us to interesting exhibitions. One time, she took me to see Maggi Hambling’s Walls Of Water exhibition at the National Gallery in 2014. We loved that it was one room with eight giant paintings like huge waves inside. I liked that it was allowed to have such a moment – it felt like permission for all kinds of things.’
What’s the craziest thing you ever made?
‘When I was little, I designed this underwater, underground secret room – you could only access it via a swimming pool. It had two doors and you had the let the water drain before going through the second one. I never actually got to build it, but I really thought it through.’
What do you do when you’re not making art?
‘I love going on exciting and unexpected trips. I’m also really into cooking and having friends and family over. But my favourite thing right now is having really chilled days at home doing nothing – this year has been amazingly full on and lots of it spent up in the air. So, I’m just enjoying taking it easy and hanging out at home with my husband and cats.’
Where can we see your works?
‘I have two self-portraits in the Soho House collection: one in Brighton Beach House and one in the brand new Cecconi’s Bicester Village. And I currently have a collection of work with Partnership Editions, plus some exciting things coming up soon.’