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.

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Listen to a Londoner: Neil Arnold

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Neil Arnold, 35

Neil is a full-time monster-hunter and author. He runs the Beasts of London blog, has just had published PARANORMAL LONDON and has recently written a book on monsters in London folklore.

LLO: What sort of beasts are lurking around London then?
NA:
My research covers mythical beasts, as well as the more complex folkloric stuff, and very real creatures. The flrsh and blood beasts lurking around London are mainly ‘big cats’ – puma, black leopard and lynx. These have been observed from as far and wide as Shooters Hill (Surrey puma of the 1960s), Sydenham (the ‘beast’ of Sydenham – subject of a huge hoax in 2005 when a man claimed he was attacked by a ‘panther’, although a black leopard did chase a jogger through a wood in Dulwich last year and domestic cats have been found eaten in the area), Cricklewood (a lynx was caught in a back garden by London Zoo in 2001)…however, you’d be surprised the amount of other strange beasts reported. Alligator found dead in a Dollis Hill pond, Crocodile in a Peckham bath tub, eagles, vultures escaping…London is a concrete jungle quite literally!

LLO: How long have you been interested in beasts and what sparked the interest?
NA:
I became interested in monsters around the age of nine when I was given a book on mythological monsters, but also a film called ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’ was very influential as a child.

LLO: How did you develop your reputation as an authority on the subject?
NA:
I simply realised that no-one else was doing it. I took a risk, gave up my day job, and decided i wanted to follow my dreams and become a monster-hunter. With over two decades of experience, it’s been an amazing journey, and quite a weird one!

LLO: As a full time “monster hunter”, what’s your most interesting find?
NA:
It does get a bit weird sometimes, and that’s just the people I’ve met over the years! However, it’s just a huge buzz researching cases throughout the world. Some are more sinister than others, and others quite down to earth, but also it involves a lot of documentation and it’s great unearthing very old newspaper reports of escaped beasts or monster sightings. I’ve seen ‘big cats’ in the wilds of Kent, been to Loch Ness, but London has reports of vampires, dragons, giant rats and killer foxes….

LLO: Best place to go for a taste of paranormal London?
NA:
Certainly one of the strangest places is Highgate Cemetery which in the 1960s and early ’70s was the setting for a vampire panic, after many witnesses described seeing a seven-foot tall, red-eyed spextre behind the North Gate of the Western cemetery. It’s a tremendously gothic place.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your latest book.
NA:
Paranormal London is my third book and it’s something very different. I’ve read so many regurgitative books on London folklore, ghosts ,etc, and I wanted to write something different. The book is full of short tales regarding monsters, strange beasts, the occasional UFO/ghost report, but most concerns very obscure mysteries and sheds light on more known mysteries such as the Brentford Griffin, the Highgate Vampire, Spring-Heeled Jack, etc.

LLO: What’s a typical day of “monster hunting” like, anyway?
NA:
It depends…most of my time concerns writing, but at any point I could get an interesting call from a witness, or film something with a news crew. Not many people are out there ‘in the field’ as such, and I’ve had some odd experiences from being shot at, to being threatened by Satanists. It’s a colourful life!

LLO: You wrote The Saturday Strangeness on Londonist for a long time. Since this is being posted on a Saturday, want to give it one more go today?
NA:
The Saturday Strangeness was Londonist’s longest running feature, but they suddenly ended it. I’d love to write something similar again…London has so many unknown stories just waiting to bewilder audiences!

LLO: Touching on a few other interests, where’s your favourite place to catch a gig in London?
NA:
I used to go to gigs all the time in London, particularly The Marquee when it was on Charing Cross Road, and also the Astoria. I like the Appollo, and Forum, and also Camden Underworld is cool for smaller bands.

LLO: And the best place to deck yourself out in 60’s fashion?
NA:
I think as a monster-hunter people expect me to look like some bearded, wizard-type in a safari jacket, ha! I love ’60s culture and tend to pick stuff up in markets really because then you tend to find an item noone else has, rather than the more commercial stores which are destroying the boutiques.

Thanks Neil!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.