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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…….
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.
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.