An interview with Khadija Khan by Caf Fean

‘When words cannot express’ is the strapline for Khadija Khan’s first exhibition of her paintings in honour of her beloved partner in life, Bradford C Gross, who died in November 2017 of a heart attack at the age of forty-five. Brad was a talented musician: an enthusiastic, infectious, vivacious bon viveur with inimitable flair and style. He worked closely with Eggtooth’s Incubate programme, mentoring and supporting young musicians in Hastings. The Bradford C Gross Foundation will support emerging young artists and musicians and marks a marriage of Khadija’s new-found passion for art with Brad’s lifelong love affair with music. The exhibition is set to take place at Dragon Bar on Sunday 18th November 2018.

Calm before the storm

What inspired you to start painting?
Early this year I went on Cora Murphy’s weekend painting course; I’d never painted before but found a certain peace during that weekend. In September I made a pact with myself. Brad was always saying how I was happier and more chilled when I was making something – I feel like it was a gift from him, something to get me going. Initially I set a personal challenge to create one image a week and then share it on Facebook

And now, two months in you are preparing for your first exhibition!
Yes! The transition was quick. I was just putting it out there, and then decided with the feedback from friends and also Instagram followers – other artists and interior design firms – to have an exhibition. I didn’t have a venue! I wanted to do the exhibition on Brad’s birthday to make something potentially quite sad into something positive. All profit from the show will go to the Bradford C Gross Foundation – a charity for young musicians and artists in and around Hastings.

As serene as a Sunday afternoon with friends

How does it feel to have propelled yourself into this new discipline? Was it scary?
Before Brad died there were lots of things that were scary; the experience of loss changes you in ways you don’t expect. Climbing up a 20-foot tree with my stepson isn’t scary anymore and I’m glad I did it. Swimming in the sea here in Hastings – I’ve lived here for 13 years and I’d never done it (I have now)! Showing artwork: I just thought, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Painting enables me to be when being is just too hard.

What materials do you use?
I use oils and wax as you can peel back the layers – you may see a calm colour but that’s not necessarily what lies beneath. I used to paint one image at a time but now I work on three or four at once. I like the way you can walk away from it and come back again – you can look at another colour, shape or thought. You don’t necessarily have to be back in that space if you don’t want to be straight away.

Beyond the mist

Do you have a plan? Do you know what the work will look like when you begin?
There is no plan. Maybe plans would work better, but for now I am happy with surprises.

How would you describe your painting process?
It’s about intuition. I have no pre-plan, no storyboard; I pick up the paintbrush and there’s no end until I put it back down. Looking back at work later, I might think, ‘OK, I don’t think I was having a good day’ or ‘I felt calm’ or ‘I felt lost’, or it can be a mixture of different emotions over several days. Finally I might see a sunset background, ripples in waves, but I don’t realise this until the near end of a piece.

What time of day do you work?
I’m becoming more disciplined as I have to function by day. I used to work until 4 or 5am – if I couldn’t sleep, I’d just paint and it would put me in a different place. There’s only so much Netflix can do!

Feeling a little blue or would that be shades of black

Do you listen to music while you paint?
Sometimes we get bogged down by noise. At night it’s so peaceful, you don’t need the music on: it’s so still and I’m not! Anything else would be just too busy. I like working early in the morning – pre-sunrise, that’s the quietest. Music would simply spoil that.

Where might it take you next?
I don’t know, I’m just on a journey at the moment with no end point. I’m appreciating every moment of it. It has kind of been a saviour for me. People see more of the beauty in the work than I do. I see more of the emotion.

What advice would you give to someone who’s feeling the kind of pain that you feel?
I would say, ‘share how you are feeling’. I didn’t for a long time and you can’t start the healing process until you do. Find something that lets you be. This new work hasn’t taken away what I’m feeling – it has enabled me to have mental and emotional breaks.

What does your stepson, Milo think about your paintings?
Milo was my first critic! I told him: ‘I’ve been painting. Do you want to see them?’ and he was like: ‘They’re actually really good. You could probably put them up!’ It went from ‘I’m gonna humour you,’ to being excited about the work! He has even commissioned me to make a piece for his room!

Don’t miss Khadija’s pop-up exhibition for one night only at Dragon Bar, 71 George Street, Hastings Old Town on Sunday 18th November at 6.00pm.

Saturday 24th November heralds the Be More Brad Music Fest at the Albion from 2.00pm- 11pm, promising a spectacular showcase of talented young musicians and the official launch of the Bradford C Gross Foundation. Khadija’s artworks will also be on show.

Seed on George Street will be showcasing Khadija’s work in December.

Please follow Instagram @tkkbysea for more updates.

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