The Connaught Hotel commissioned Kristjana to create an artwork that would not just be housed in the hotel but represent it – a piece that would somehow celebrate the very spirit and the history of the hotel. Kristjana was offered the chance to immerse herself in the culture of the hotel over a weekend during which she could sample the fare at the hotel's different restaurants, take a tour of the hotel's extensive art collection, learn about the architecture and the culture of the place and, of course, to explore some of the rooms and suites. It's very much this first-hand experience of Connaught hospitality that inspired and informed the artwork now hanging in the Espelette of the hotel.
In Kristjana's own words:
The point of this commentary is to give you, the listener, an insight into my thought processes with regard to the creation of this unique piece.
The first part of my Connaught experience was, of course, arriving. Having never been here before I was struck by how tranquil the Mayfair location of the hotel is - despite being only minutes away from the hustle and bustle of London's busiest shopping streets. I couldn't help but envisage London as a hectic forest and the Connaught standing in a kind of peaceful nook or clearing far from the madding crowd. The two majestic trees that seem to frame the entrance to the hotel and a calming water feature, designed by Tadao Ando, added to this feeling of forest tranquility and I felt immediately that these features had to be at the heart of my artwork.
If you look at the entrance – I see this whole land where you see the two trees and the lake / silent water featrure – and the hero animals and the Espelette all encapsulated – what I see in the middle there is almost an entrance to London – the forest at large – off to the left. This is a very safe nook...
Also crucial to the composition of my artwork are the two main animal characters – the yellow hound left of centre and the purple horse and its foal in the centre of the image. These characters are directly informed by the thoughtful placement of other artworks within the hotel itself. As you come into the hotel, you're greeted by a majestic staircase, the walls of which house dozens of artworks. Rumour has it that it that Ralph Lauren liked the Connaught's staircase so much that he installed a replica in his flagship New York store. As you go up you'll notice that there is a picture of a hound or a dog as you arrive at each of the hotel's five floors. This is no coincidence - the hound is there to greet and welcome guests – to make them feel safe and that they're the master of the house. Similarly, as you go down the stairs from any given floor of the hotel, you'll notice a painting of a horse - as if to wish guests godspeed on whatever journey they might make from the hotel. For me, these two motifs had to be the heroes of my commission – they really encapsulate the welcoming feel of the hotel.
Also, the hotel is named after Queen Victoria's seventh child, Prince Arthur Duke of Connaught (and Strathearn)- there are lots of portraits of him throughout the hotel and I really felt his spirit is well represented by the hound. I chose to include a mother horse and its foal in the image because I felt it would go some way to convey the warmth, friendliness and level of care I experienced here.
This feeling of being looked after well is also hinted at in my artwork by the way all the other animals in the image appear - every character is looking inwards but there's this sense that they're all looking out for each other – even the hero hound has his own dog behind him. There's a squirrel on the left hand side behind the hero hound – that represents everybody and if you look at all the characters – they're all coming together and looking inwards.
The hotel is a complex place full of multiple layers of hospitality and thoughtfulness and the image is designed to reflect that, with each element of the artwork having a meaning or a purpose and to give up its secrets not all at once but over several viewings. You might notice tomorrow what you don't see today....
The first day we came to the hotel, we were invited to the Espelette, the hotel's informal brasserie to have afternoon tea. The Espelette offers sweeping views of Mount Street through its enormous and distinctive windows which curve around the south east corner of the hotel's ground floor. It was constructed as an additional structure hotel which was done in the big renovation.
If you look beyond and above the purple horse and foal, in the background you can see a string of wooden arches which represent the Espelette and also form the boundary. In that part of the image you will also find a couple of flying harps which are a celebration of the wonderful harp music that was being played so beautifully when I was there.
The spirit of the hotel is breathing through the various creatures and motifs in the image. For example, top right of the image you'll see a spider displaying the gilded ceiling rose pattern from the Connaught Suite where I stayed. The heron, just to the left of the spider in the top right of the piece is indicative of the ornate oriental mini-bars in each of the Connaught's rooms. The chevron pattern you can see in the fruit and flowers dotted around the edge of the piece is informed by the royal red carpet used throughout the hotel which was laid all in the same way so it was all streamlined. The fruit also represents freshness and creativity and joyful surprise at every turn. You'll notice that all the butterflies in the piece too also all have either wild zebra patterns or chevron patterns – all details from the Hotel's sumptuous décor.
My experience dining at the two Michelin-starred Hélene Darroze restaurant also made a big impact on me and in my conceiving this artwork. As well as being an exceptional chef, the food was divine, Helene Darroze is a single mother of two and so I envisaged her as a many-eyed, all-seeing tiger – which you can find just to the right of the purple horse in the image – with her two children playing close by, within the sanctity of a glass butterfly glass dome. The butterfly dome is there to allude to the beautiful Damien Hirst butterfly collage pieces which were commissioned and designed specially to fit within the mold of the woodwork in the restaurant. It also encapsulates really well the clearness and freshness of everything from the crockery, silverware and glassware. The butterfly just above the tigers sports the pattern that you find on the crockery and cutlery.
You'll also spot the two flowers that seem to be growing more tigers. This idea was born out of the notion of fertility within creativity. The tiger flowers are blooming and growing all the time. Notice the noses on these tiger flower heads – they're not regular but rather suggest a heightened sense of taste and smell.
Directly above the tiger flowers you'll find a bird with a kind of silver spoon headdress and above that there's a silver shark heron – and next to it to the left there's another bird with a fish as a wing. While everything I experienced at the hotel was perfectly done – there was also this constant sense of surprise and joy at how well everything came together. That little flock of exotic and eccentric looking birds in the upper right hand side of the piece represent the Connaught sense of fun and creativity.
As I've already mentioned, the hotel's art collection helped inspire this piece. I was given an art tour around the Connaught by Martin and he explained many of the art acquisitions and how the hotel works hard to seamlessly blend old style with modern comforts. In one particular suite there were two blue turquoise paintings in a beautiful and ornate old style. It had the structure of these branches breaking in so that's something I included in my piece – you can see the crocodile duck on the bottom left, just under the hero hound's forelegs, and the branches with the bluebell and the heron. The three parrots on the right hand side also come directly from the branch painting in the Suite.
The Coburg bar is to the right of the Espelette also has this new edition of this woodwork where this framing stands out – designed by the same lady that designed the Helene Deroze restaurant. The bar encapsulated perfectly the mix of contemporary and old. The two key pieces there were the Julian Opey artworks of a wife and husband looking at each other. They're represented flying through the trees as two ornate clocks coming together. They went from two small pieces to things being formed in the centre of the image.
The entrance to the hotel's David Collins bar, which has been voted best hotel bar in the world several times, I'm told, is represented in my piece absolutely in the centre of the artwork, just above the head of the purple horse where you see an archway. I've depicted visitors to the bar as tall lily-topped masts. These lilies mirror the unique glassware commissioned specially for the bar. If you look above the arches you'll see a cluster of polar bear flowers. These celebrate the bar's extraordinary snowball-size drink coolers– a specially designed alternative to ice cubes that cleverly don't dilute the drinks.
When you arrive at the David Collins bar at night, the trees outside the hotel in Carlos Place are lit up, making the area quite magical. I created these bee-like dragon flies that are picked out in gold leaf can be seen fluttering throughtout the image to represent the tree lights at night outside the Connaught.
If my artwork seems rich and full of detail, it's because everything in it is there for a reason, and the Connaught's attention to detail is pretty much endless. I hope you enjoy looking at this artwork as much as I enjoyed creating it.