“If you asked my mother how I got into art she would say I was always the child running around with a handful of pencils,” says Christopher Le Brun. The president of the Royal Academy of the Arts has scarcely dropped the pencils since.
After training at the Slade and Chelsea College of Arts, Le Brun went on to show his avant-garde paintings in solo shows around the world to critical acclaim. Since then he has encouraged several generations to pick up a pencil, a paintbrush — or a chisel.
On being a professional plate-spinner...
Today, Le Brun is a man who has to wear many hats: president of the RA, fundraiser, gallery curator, artist, husband, father. One or two of these would be enough for most of us, but Le Brun seems to thrive at the centre of this clustered Venn diagram.
“I’ll spend three days a week here [at the RA] wearing a suit and being professional, three days a week in my jeans in my studio being an artist and one day at home being a husband.”
Through it all, Le Brun spins these plates with the ease that comes from being truly comfortable with one’s station in life.
On being reborn at 60...
I ask Le Brun how it felt to be made president of the RA at the age of 59. “The Chinese say that when you turn 60 you are reborn,” he says. “In fact, the responsibility of the job and privilege of the job didn’t weight down on me. It had the opposite effect.”
Indeed, Le Brun has accomplished a great deal since taking on the role in 2011, most recently collaborating with architect and Royal Academician Sir David Chipperfield to design the new link between the RA’s two buildings.
This “new Burlington Arcade”, as Le Brun describes it, gives the public a fresh route from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens.
On making art accessible...
But his work is not yet done. The painter’s next job is to ensure the RA remains financially sustainable. “The Royal Academy receives no public money at all and so all capital has to come from donations, fundraising and ticket sales,” he says.
The RA celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. It is a poignant moment in the institution’s history, not least as spending on the arts continues to slope downwards.
The priority for Le Brun, however, is to maintain the Academy’s reputation for unimpeachable excellence for at least another 250 years. “I would like to make it a place inhospitable to the second rate,” he tells me.
“Sounds rather ruthless of me. But I think that’s the way artists think — the way the best artists think.”
This interview was first featured in our July/August issue as part of The Tastemakers. Get your copy sent straight to your door here…