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Poetry in Aldeburgh: Ben Rogers interviews Perienne Christian

You have an interest in ancient walkways. Can you tell us why you are generally interested in this, do you walk them, and is there one in particular that you have recently been drawn to?

Perienne: I am interested in the history of human presence and movement across landscape. The old walkways, changed and shaped by our footsteps over the years, are to me a positive sign of human interaction with nature and link us back to our ancestors who would have trodden the same walkways.

I’m particularly interested in the myths that permeate these landscapes. Specifically, I am interested in pre-patriarchal mythological stories, which often take a lot of subtle digging to uncover.

I’ve walked parts of many of the ancient walkways of the UK, but have yet to do a full one.  In Summer 2017 I’m planning to walk the whole of the South Downs Way and to make sketches and notes along the way. As part of this, I will collect medicinal weeds to draw. Once back in the studio, I will use this material, together with aerial pictures and maps of these landscapes, to weave into a series of images.

From 2008-11 you modelled for the final completed painting by the artist Lucian Freud, whose daughter Annie Freud is reading at Poetry in Aldeburgh. Can you say a bit about the experience and how it helped your own art practice?

Perienne: Modelling for Freud was a very unique experience. It worked very well for me to be able to work in my studio in the day time and then go to sit for him in the evening, three times a week. I learned about discipline, focus and concentration with regards to making artwork. As we all know the creative process is a capricious being and we don’t always feel motivated. He painted every day. It didn’t always work out. But he always showed up. At a very basic level I learned that if I don’t show up the work won’t get made. I can’t just wait for inspiration to strike, although it feels wonderful when it does.

You often draw in public parks. What for you are the benefits of creating artwork out in the field and not just in the studio?

Perienne: This links to my interest in the ancient walkways. But here I am observing human interaction within a constructed natural environment. Public parks are very democratising and humanising. You might have a person who sleeps in the park at night because they have no-where else to go, sitting next to a banker. You will find people of all ages. Often each person or group is in their own world, held within this context. I like to capture this and to weave narratives through the drawings.

Some of your pictures, including your dreamscapes, depict as you describe it “multiple worlds, stories and ideas within the one pictures plane”. Can you say a few words on what was the inspiration for creating this kind of image as opposed to a ‘single world’ image?

Perienne: The idea behind this reflects what Blaise Pascal describes as; ‘an infinite space whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.’ There are no obvious narratives; rather something circular that has no beginning and no ending. 
Despite multiple viewpoints, the works carry stories, which the viewer can interpret for 
themselves. I love 15th century Chinese Shan Shui painting, where the image is not an open window for the viewer’s eyes, but an object for the viewer’s mind, a vehicle for philosophy. My hope is that each person will have a personal experience when viewing the work.

Your ‘Phantasmagoria’ project is a series of small paintings of dreams – yours and those donated by others. What prompted you to start this project and can you share a dream of your own that you’ve painted?

Perienne: We spend so much of our lives asleep and often, when we can remember our dreams, the narratives and imagery are so rich and full of meaning. I wanted to begin to mine this. Once I decided to write my dreams down and then draw them each morning, I began to remember them very easily and vividly.

One dream that I drew, which is on the website, involved climbing a long, winding, mountainous path. At the top was as table with a book of poems by Rumi on top. I don’t remember any more of it, but I did pick up my book of his poems after that dream!


Perienne Christian lives and works in London and Suffolk in the UK. Her current artwork looks at connections between landscape -including ancient walkways and their stories, cartography, dream and the role of the feminine. She makes drawings, paintings, etchings, artist books and installations. In 2006, she was awarded a scholarship to complete an MA diploma in drawing at the Royal Drawing School in London, where she was awarded the chairmans first prize for her end of year show. From 2008-9 she was and artist in residence at Kensington Palace and from 2009-10 was artist in residence at Chat’s Palace arts centre. In 2014 she was artist in residence at Borgo Pignano, Italy on the Moritz-Heyman residency programme. She exhibits regularly nationally and internationally and has had solo shows at the Cueb gallery and Laborimov Easton gallery, in London.

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Image Credits:

Martin Chen