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Featured Artist: Gabriella Warren-Smith

Gabriella Warren-Smith
Featured Artist

Interview with Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by artinliverpool

Gabriella Warren-Smith’s Lines is open at Constellations until the 28 December 2015, and we’ve got an interview to help break down some of the work. Her drawings are clean responses to clever ideas and Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle is an exciting contemporary place to situate such a current body of work. It’s a style growing in fashion, but an interesting one to find in a Fine Art situation and Lines is a charming example of how just a few of those fashionable lines on paper can capture more energy than a canvas full of paint or a pen full of ink. It’s exciting work that’s worth seeing, and leads on brilliantly from her last exhibition at Arena.

Warren-Smith is a curator by training, so understands presentation and the importance on bringing art to the right people in the right situation. We just hope this interview brings her work to a few more people.

So why this obsession with lines? Your last exhibition, Polarity, with Matthew Mortimer at Arena was a much more fluid body of work. What drew you to such a strict manner of portraiture this time round?

My obsession with lines?! Well, for as long as I remember I’ve always had a love for drawing portraits. When I discovered this technique of using lines to sculpt faces in drawing, I found it the most effective method in capturing a person’s expression and underlying character. As the exhibition ties together this particular style, it was fitting to stick with the subject of people as I feel my use of lines really draws out expression.

And you’re studying for your MA in Art History and Curating. How has that influenced this focus on such strict lines?

My MA hasn’t particularly influenced this exhibition, as I’ve approached it as more of an artist than a curator. My current module on Issues on Modern Art is inspiring because I’m constantly learning about various movements and different artists and am beginning to shape my own theories on how I perceive art and what it should be. Predominantly my core values are that art should display skill and something that is visually effective.

As a curator then, we’ve seen some interesting themes emerging already in that field, particularly in Polarity where you, as a curator, took on the artist role and responded directly to Matthew Mortimer’s work. What do you think makes for a ‘good’ exhibition, or an interesting one from the perspective of somebody functioning as a curator and an artist?

Working as both artist and curator can make it difficult not to think too heavily with the artist’s mind. In an age where conceptual art & curating are so poignant, I strive to create appealing exhibitions that steer away from viewers feeling totally baffled by the meaning of the work they see, needing desperately an explanation and mind massage! As I mentioned, I’m fairly traditional in my views of what an exhibition should be, as ultimately I look for skill, talent or something that looks visually pleasing. As a curator, it’s your role to communicate, display and translate these works as best possible. The exhibition Polarity was strongly lead by narrative, and the curating element was more integral in making a ‘good’ exhibition. I approached Lines as an artist, creating drawings with different formats and materials, collated together as one. As a curator, the scale, impact and execution was key in making them work in this unity.

There’s something captivating in these works, something with a little more excitement than the average portrait, and I can’t help but feel it comes from the subjects themselves. What is it like trying to capture a person in such a clean and minimal way?

I’ve started to become a slightly annoying friend to those who I find most expressive, especially my housemate Harry for his wonderful afro! I wake up constantly requesting him to push his face against the window, make bizarre poses and allow me to happily snap away. My subjects are DEFINITELY the cause for the excitement in my portraits, and I thank them all for their ridiculous but fantastic features and expressions. Adopting a minimal approach in depicting their faces allows me to bring out the most important aspects of their faces, allowing the lines to take over and bring out their inner self.

The process, as I understand it, is a combination of photography, analogue drawing and digital drawing. Where do you find yourself drawn to most, and which is the most successful at illustrating the personalities you’re displaying?

Drawing straight onto paper will always come first in my preference. There’s something really magical when you start to recognise the person appearing from your pen! However, drawing using a graphics tablet has awarded me with more freedom in detail, as the zooming potential is endless. It’s allowed me to work on a greater scale as these particular portraits were printed on huge pieces of paper, hung up and admittedly stole the show in their presence. This realisation has encouraged me to try hand drawing at this scale. Photography will always begin my process. It gives the opportunity to construct a composition you see from life, playing with light, movement and form. But since this part of the process is more of an essay plan, and not the real body of work, drawing is key in bringing out my characters personalities and essence.

It’s a highly illustrative style. The sort of thing we usually come across in magazines and journals. What led you to pursue your style within a fine art context?

You’re not the first to say this. Maybe it’s even something I’m slightly self-conscious about. I guess my main response would be to say that these are drawings of my surroundings and my observations of the people around me, and not an advertisement. Maybe you could call it my illustrated perspective of life! In some ways, I chose my more illustrative style for this exhibition because of the venue, Constellations. Instead of an art gallery with a primary art audience, it’s an event space. People come and go, sometimes the room is crowded with a sea of people. Due to this activity, I saw it fitting that my portraits and figures on the walls would simply add to the sea of faces.

And for anyone reading this, if they head down to constellations, is there anything you’d like them to keep in mind as they’re viewing the work? Or anything you’d like them to come away thinking?

What a bunch of idiots in these pictures, I want one of me!

Gabriella Warren-Smith Website