London Art Spot: Rachel Gadsden

Fragility, the human condition, disability, hope, decay. These are some of the topics that drive Rachel Gadsden to create the pieces that mark her stunning abstract collection with a sometimes chilling, raw connection to reality that comes from a close look at the psychology of the human mind. The narrative paintings often seem scrawled with a nearly unconscious reaction to her experiences that comes out in layers of paint, found objects and some other unique materials.

Rachel has spent time as Artist-in-Residence at Hampton Court. Her work has led her to explore the derelict North Wales Asylum in Denbigh North Wales and Cane Hill Asylum in Surrey. It has taken her to far away places where hope is a part of everyday life, to Ethiopia and Colombia.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Rachel gives us some insight into the heavy themes that inspire her art, talks about her proudest moments as an artist and lets us in on the most unusual material that has made an appearance in her paintings.

©RGadsden

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
RG: Without doubt theatre, my work explores the human condition and the theatre of life, and I weekly go to the theatre to feed my imagination, rarely West End productions, mostly fringe, off beat performances that suspend disbelief beyond the reality of daily life.

©RGadsden

LLO: How would you describe your artistic style?
RG: I am expressionistic at heart, and I feel most comfortable when the fussy materiality of my work is abandoned. My artwork is steadily becoming freer and the landscape is the unconscious where abstraction and visceral impulses dictate the unfolding narratives.

©RGadsden

LLO: Your work is made of layers, using found items, photographs, hair… What’s the most unusual item or material that has made an appearance in a finished piece?
RG: I was commissioned a couple of years ago to create an artwork in memory of a significant London actor, the patron asked if I would put some of the deceased actor’s ashes in the artwork.

©RGadsden

LLO: Your art has taken you to some far away places like Colombia and Ethiopia. Can you talk a bit about which experiences you had in these places that stood out most in the paintings that were created from each visit?
RG: My subject is fragility, survival and hope and I am interested in the universal experience, hence my desire to reach beyond my own reality. I spent the first 20 years of my life living outside of the UK. Perhaps I am searching for  lost childhood memories in my travels? The trip to Bogota was for Children of the Andes charity who work to support displaced children, meeting the young people was a highlight in Colombia. In Ethiopia the many nomadic tribal groups of the Southern Omo Valley became my subject, witnessing their beauty and life spirit was an apotheosis experience.

©RGadsden

LLO: One of your main inspirations is derelict, decaying buildings. What do these places mean for you and your art?
RG: The derelict building becomes the metaphor for human mortality. A life long severe lung condition has meant that I am acutely conscious of fragility, and the layers of decay that one witnesses inside a derelict space provides the foundation for layered narratives and a consideration of the complexities of the human condition.

©RGadsden

LLO: Your art uses a “psychogeographic methodology”. Expand on that for us?
RG: My practice does encompass a psychogeographic methodology, a process that brings together both the harsh realities of the everyday with psychological responses, where time and place become fragmented and the unconscious infiltrates the narrative. This process allows for a dynamic multi layered approach to the subject.

©RGadsden

LLO: Another focus in your paintings and drawings is mental health and disability. How do you translate emotion into something tangible like a painting?
RG: I don’t know is the honest answer, but my motivation is always to express the human condition, and the visceral qualities of paint and detritus are the substance of life. Our lives are bombarded by photographic imagery and the evidence of the human touch on the canvas makes painting a tangible means of expression for emotion for me. I use multi media in my art practice from installation to photography film and performance, but somehow paint has the ability to capture the corporeal substance of life in a way that the others don’t.

©RGadsden

LLO: Which painting are you most proud of at the moment and why?
RG: My recent drawing/paintings are revealing a new direction and I am interested in what is unfolding. Proudest moments include being selected to be the first contemporary artist in residence at Hampton Court Palace, the 18 month residency for Parliamentary Outreach and creating huge paintings in Trafalgar Sq and the Turbine Hall.

LLO: Other favourite London-based artists?
RG: Too many to name them all, I am a big fan of Bacon’s early work and revisit it constantly, Rego excites me, the scholarship of Deanna Petherbridge, Diane Kaufman and many more…….

©RGadsden

LLO: What are you working on now?
RG: I am working towards an exhibition at the end of November of mainly small works called “Alchemy”, and I have put in a bid to collaborate with Nondumiso Hlwele who lives in a Township in Cape Town, let see what happens………I also continue to be involved in a number of projects relating to London 2012.

Thanks Rachel!

For more of Rachel’s work, visit her site: www.rachelgadsden.com

She’s also featured in a BBC video, the first two minutes of which features her residency at Hampton Court.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Tomasz Kulbowski

Tom’s photography is a comment on everyday life in this loud and bustling London city. “The decisive moment” is what he is most intent on capturing and that is exactly what he excels at doing. He’s an observer, a documentary photographer who focuses on the raw presentation of reality through his work – of Londoners on their daily commute, of moments of solitude and anonymity, of reflection and people lost in thought.

Originally from Lublin, Poland, Tom completed an MA in Culture and Psychology Studies at UMCS in his hometown before coming to London. He works as a corporate and event photographer with the Polish Embassy in London and Polish Professionals Association as well as being an official Getty Images contributor. His photography has been published in several online and print magazines and he has won a few awards including the Flora London Marathon Photography Award and the Panasonic Lumix Award.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Tom tells us about how London life – particularly his South Bank/Bankside neighbourhood – influences his photography, talks about his approach to his subjects and the challenge he constantly has to overcome and shares some of his favourite London shots.

LLO: How long have you lived in London and what brought you to this lively city?
TK:
I came to London first time 6 years ago and… didn’t like it really – was far too busy for me! But a year after that I received an interesting job offer so I decided to give London a second chance and it actually worked well. It’s my 5th year here and I’m still excited and surprised by this city. It’s a great place for a photographer – an endless source of inspiration with all the galleries, vibrant streets, amazing cityscape and interesting people from around the world. A great source of inspiration!

LLO: What influence has moving to London had on your approach to photography?
TK:
I’ve actually discovered “serious” photography in London – before moving here, I wasn’t thinking or reading too much about photography. Now it’s almost permanent: there’s no single day without at least a small activity related to the photography. Uploading photos to my Flickr account (http://flickr.com/klbw), reading about photography, thinking about new projects… I love it and it’s like a meditation to me, it keeps me sane and let’s me constantly progress in the photography field.

LLO: Favourite place in London to take your camera and why?
TK:
A lot of them, but the one I’m most familiar with is my neighbourhood: Bankside and South Bank area. I’ve spent there so much time with the camera, took thousands of photographs and I know that place so well, yet it still seems fresh and inspiring! It’s different at various seasons or time of day, there’s a lot of nice hidden places if you go away from the main touristy river bank route. Two of my ongoing projects are strongly related and sort of dedicated to that area.

LLO: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to get a great shot?
TK:
My photography style is not technically complicated or demanding in terms of equipment, I use a simple set of camera and standard lenses. Also I’m interested in documenting the reality in a possibly faithful and objective way (if possible at all with photography, but that’s a theme for another discussion). Therefore the challenges I encounter are usually related to my approach and general style of work. I work quickly and in “stealth” mode – I try not to disrupt people I photograph and do not influence the reality I want to capture. It’s important to be invisible to my objects, so I can get exactly the picture I see, and not the picture of their reaction to me. This is to me the essence of the photography: telling the stories that would exist if unframed by your eye and the camera. So basically my main challenge is finding the decisive moment without interacting with the reality I encounter.

LLO: You say you have a special focus on solitude in the crowd and anonymity in big city. How do you approach these topics with your camera? Are there specific elements you look for when you compose an image?
TK:
Issues of solitude and individuality in the crowd fascinate me and they are especially visible in the metropolis like London. My approach is not to portray pathology or a problem – it’s more about keeping individuality and appreciating yourself, finding your own space and time for yourself in this usually busy, fast and noisy city. My objects usually seem to be happy and in a right place, just where they want to be, spending time with themselves. I try to compose my objects isolated against the city background, usually I use a very shallow depth of field to achieve that. The city landscape is always there and it stays significant, but the person is my main focus – a leading character of the story.

LLO: Are there any London-based photographers you really admire?
TK:
Of course! I love to see London through the eyes of other photographers, it’s a great experience and exercise in seeing too. David Solomons, Nick Turpin, Matt Stuart, Stephen McLaren are some of my favourites. I like their approach to street photography: deep, smart and elegant but at the same time light and funny. Their imagination, observation skills and sense of decisive moment are impressive.

LLO: Share your favourite image of London that you’ve captured so far and tell us what makes it special to you.
TK:
It changes every now and then, but recently I really appreciated this picture: St Paul’s (http://www.flickr.com/photos/klbw/4588387091/). It was taken in the one and only snowy day last year at Bankside, next to the Millennium Bridge, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. I love the dreamy mood of the background and the dynamics of the foreground as well as the tiny detail like the bits of snow floating behind the bird. It’s simply composed and well timed. It’s not my typical photograph and probably not most typical capture of London either, but that’s the one that says a lot about my own vision of that city, not necessarily realistic.

LLO: What are you working on now?
TK:
I’m finishing two projects – one is the solitude/individuality in the metropolis that I’ve mentioned earlier – between 15 and 20 large colour prints. Another one is a collection of my street photographs taken within last few years in London. Both will be presented in a form of exhibition later this year, maybe a self-published book too. Meanwhile some of the photos are available to view on my website: www.kulbowski.com.

Thanks Tom!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.