Emerging Painter Rebecca Gilpin shares her advice for other emerging artists ahead of her Duo Show ROAM at Fitzrovia Gallery this week.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about the shift in your practice that inspired this show? It seems like there has been a considerable change in both materials and visual style? How did this come about?
Yes, I’ve had a big change in my work recently after my show last summer; ‘96 Tears.’ I have two quite distinct ways of working that I have been switching between over the years, oil painting and soak staining.
There are a few different reasons for this shift in my practice. Firstly, the soak stain painting involved a large element of chance – when left to dry, the works would change and evolve uncontrollably. I enjoyed this but also wanted to have more determination over the final result. It’s a challenge to take ownership over every mark, for the newer works I maintain an instinctive process but overall, it is more confident and ordered.
Secondly, the print artist and painter Barbara Rae come to see my last exhibition and suggested I experiment with oil paint to achieve richer colours. She is someone I admire and I welcomed her critique. With two fellow artists, I created my first collaborative experimental oil painting. It forced me to trust my judgement and be more assertive with my brushstrokes.
Also, the soak stain paintings were very calming which felt pertinent during the pandemic. They served a purpose at a time when their energy was relevant and needed. Now, I am living a life full of energy and I want my paintings to be radiant and reflect this. In some ways, they are encouraging, pushing people to engage with the vibrancy of life.
Your upcoming exhibition at Fitzrovia Gallery is entitled ROAM and shows your work with Henry Ward’s. How did you meet Henry? In what ways do you think your work is in conversation?
I’m a big fan of Henry’s work – he has a distinctive aesthetic which I’m really drawn to. I first met him briefly at Liliya Art Gallery, we were exhibiting in the same show. Seeing his work in person, I noticed we both play with the threshold between abstraction and representation but in very different ways. I think together, the works will open up interesting dialogues. The exhibition will be open from the 20th – 24th April and the Private View is 6-9pm on the 21st.
Stylistically, your current work is very abstract, domineering, colourful and vibrant – what kinds of themes underlie the painterly surface?
I lost a friend just before Christmas and became reinterested in spirituality and the afterlife as a result. Doors within doors is a recurring motif in my work which was reignited by this loss and the subsequent research I conducted into Buddhism and reincarnation. Different modes of spirituality, and my engagement with them, correspond to different series within my practice.
I am constantly looking for answers as to why we are here, questioning the dichotomy between spirituality and existentialism. In my work, texture and layering creates depth and alludes to the passing of time and my search for meaning.
I recently finished a painting named after Chopin’s étude Waterfall. I am drawn to the beauty of nature and how art can only attempt to represent it. I read about a waterfall in Canada called Cameron Falls and fell in love with the idea that in Springtime the water glows a pink colour. Waterfalls often symbolise power and spirituality as well as movement and change.
I know you are very influenced by music and even thought about becoming a musician before a fateful stage fright incident. In what ways does music continue to influence your practice?
I always paint to music and I think I always will – I don’t like silence. When I started this series, I was writing the song lyrics onto the canvas, now I take a more subtle approach to imbuing the work with sound and melody. Musical rhythm envelopes me as I paint, I transfer it onto the canvas through action painting with the brushstrokes corresponding to the beat.
It’s funny because I can see that album covers have subconsciously come through in the colour palette of my latest painting Zig Zag Wanderer. Often, my work is most influenced by the upbeat and energetic songs I listen to in the morning to get me motivated for the day.
The show title, ROAM is drawn from a song by the B52s – did you and Henry both respond to this song and wider music in your creation of the works?
I paint to the B52’s a lot – I’m currently reading a book about them called Cool Town. When we were brainstorming ideas for the show, we stumbled upon ROAM – we both love the song and thought it suited the concept of the show because it alludes to roaming around the similarities and differences in our work.
In terms of music, Henry listens to mostly minimalism while he paints, so Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Terry Riley as well as contemporary neoclassical such as Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnolds.
I listen to everything when painting – Bossa Nova, Rock, Jazz, Classical, Folk, Blues. Usually, I listen to one genre for a whole day then change the next day – It’s interesting to see how the work changes depending on the music I’m listening to.
You work from The Koppel Project’ Hive Studios Space in Holborn – this is quite the community. What is it like to work from there? Which other artists, with whom you share a studio, inspire your work?
It really is quite the community. A friend of mine, Fiona Roberts works upstairs and I draw inspiration from the way she thins her paint and the fluidity in her brush strokes. With Sam King, I share a lot of concepts behind the work, even though we have completely different ways of executing it.
Luke Silver and I used to give each other crits when he was at Koppel – I find his technique fascinating, he primes the canvases 6 to 8 times before beginning a painting. That made me think about the importance of preparing a surface. Since learning about Luke’s technique, I’ve met other artists who prime their surfaces in interesting ways to get the paint to sit on the canvas exactly how they want it, for example, Andrew Graves.
I am lucky enough to work next to Doug D’Arcy who was MD of Chrysalis Records and before that was a roadie for Led Zeppelin, one of my all-time favourite bands. He always tells me stories about the musicians from back in the 60s-70s, I’ve started painting small pictures of these stories.
You are a real powerhouse in terms of networking, doing your own management and PR, keeping up to date with the goings on of the London Art Scene. How do you do it? What would be your advice to other young creatives about managing the admin?
Thank you – I try my best. Firstly, I always carry a notebook around with me to plan my days and weeks as if I’m self-employed. It’s important to set goals and be organized to avoid getting overwhelmed.
Secondly, I have a Seb’s Art List account and follow him on Instagram – his team compiles a list of the best shows in London – it’s so helpful. Generally, I follow artists that inspire me and keep me in the loop. I managed to see 11 shows just last week.
In terms of admin, I set aside time each morning or do a day a week to get it all out the way. But to be honest it’s pretty constant. I find myself working on the weekends a lot but it’s the most rewarding job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Advice wise, I’d say, do daily ticklists and set weekly targets. Also, I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, everyone should read the Delphian Gallery book Navigating the Art World. Everything you need to know and more is in there.
What’s next for you after the April show at Fitzrovia Gallery?
A little break for sure – then back in the studio. I have a few other group shows that I’m really excited about. I’m really looking forward to the show that Lucy Jagger and Angela Johnson are curating – I know Stacie McCormick is showing work along with many others I admire.
Also, towards the end of the year, I am creating a commission for the Children’s Wrd of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been researching the impact art has on mental health and speaking to an art therapist who’s been giving me lots of information to read. I also hope to get on a residency at some point – keeping my fingers crossed!