Updated: Dec 8, 2020
I met Gemma on the open day at Brynteg Comprehensive, 1991. This is the day you go in and look around, see how the school feels before your actual first day. I saw she had a handmade crocheted bag and I was immediately drawn to her. I always drew as a kid and Gemma did too. My favourite thing was to design clothes, so I would draw elaborate models with detailed descriptions of fabrics and different styles. Gemma loved to colour, so she became my "colourist" she decided some of the colours. We used to do this in class when we should've been working. Then we started making friendship bracelets, like an assembly line, other friends joined in too. We were always busy with projects. Gemma was more into fantasy type art and I was more into nudes and still life.I think we made a great team. GCSE art made me fall out of love with drawing. Nudes were forbidden and I had already checked out of school by that point. Gemma has continued to create and I wanted her to tell her story.
The Pillars Of Creation
How important was art to you as a child?
It was just something that was always there. My mum is an incredibly creative person, my brother is very skilled with art and photography, and even my dad’s mum enjoyed painting – I still have one of her art books I inherited.
When and why did you make the decision to dedicate time to your painting?
I’ve always painted or sketched here and there, in between the day to day. The turning point was when I was on maternity leave just before we had our first child. I started painting things ready for his room. When we came home from hospital without him, to a room full of his unused things, the paint was still there. It turned into art therapy for me – surrealism in response to trauma I guess. It’s an addiction now.
Do you spend time coming up with ideas or do you feel overwhelmed by ideas and have to prioritise?
I have a notebook filled with ideas, inspiration, thumbnail sketches, things I’ve dreamt – heaps of ideas. Prioritising has always been the struggle. My time to paint is incredibly limited, so it’s always a bit of a gamble working on a painting for a month only to realise it’s not the great idea you thought it was, and nobody is going to buy it. However, I think painting the type of things I do that are not necessarily mainstream will always have that element of risk, so I try not to let the brain weasels of self-doubt get me too often!
The Litter Faerie
What media do you work in?
I work almost exclusively in acrylics these days. I'm too impatient for watercolours, and haven't got 3 months to wait for an oil painting to dry. Acrylic dries pretty quick (though I sometimes use a hairdryer to speed it up), and takes a lot of abuse - I often sellotape things to my works in progress, scrape bits off, overpaint them - it's a very robust and forgiving medium.
What art most inspires you?
Surrealism and allegorical or conceptual art. Optical illusions, hidden messages, magic eye pictures - anything that twists reality, makes you look at the world differently. I just can’t get on with photorealism at all. The skill involved is incredible, but the slavish reproduction leaves me cold.
Which artist most inspires you?
Storm Thorgerson is one of my art heroes and I also love Peter Pracownik. In terms of the classics I find Holbein and Turner very inspiring, and I have a major soft spot for Magritte too. I find a lot of inspiration comes from other places though – from books, films, philosophy, life experiences and just observing people – just really looking.
What drives you to do what you do?
I want to explore our relationships – with each other, our environment and especially ourselves. I love to challenge you to look again, to think again, to discuss. I want to provoke you, but carefully, subtly, like a well-placed minor chord that makes you pause. I want the double take and furrowed brow. I want to understand. That’s what drives me to paint.
Describe your perfect Tuesday.
I get woken up by my alarm (not by one of the kids with their face 2 inches from mine), make everyone breakfast and do the school run. Then I hit the studio for the day while my pa takes care of any orders for my art, sorts my business finances and my social media. I meet Neil for lunch, go back to the studio for the afternoon while someone else does my laundry and cleans my house. Then I do the school run in the afternoon, hang out with the kids until their bedtime, then settle down with Neil in front of an open fire with a glass of red wine and some good chocolate.
Describe your worst experience on a coach.
Hmmmm, probably driving around bits of the Amalfi coast – the sheer drop on some of the roads coupled with the overly relaxed Italian bus drivers is nightmare fuel. My palms are sweating just thinking about it!
Best sofa you've ever slept on?
Darling, it’s not the sofa, it’s the company.
Best piece of advice an artist ever gave you?
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Anne Sudworth at a convention a few years ago, and she asked me “If you were stuck on a desert island, what would you paint?” It reminded me that as much as I would love my art to be commercial, I have to remember that I’m primarily painting for me, and be true to what I’m trying to say with my art.
Worst piece of advice a critic ever gave you?
I’ve not had enough people critique my work to be able to answer that.
Tell us a joke.
What is Ethics? It’s that place next to Thuthex.
What's the furthest you've travelled for the least amount of money?
When I worked for TUI I used to get a couple of free flights a year and just had to pay the tax. One weekend, Neil and I decided on the spur of the moment to jump on a plane to Tenerife for a few days. Cost us about £46.
Gemma's note there asking me to fill in a line.
Best chicken you've ever tasted?
There’s this thing that Neil does with porccini mushrooms and white wine that’s pretty damn good. Worst was the chicken feet soup in Hong Kong *shudder*
On a scale of 1-10 , how hungry are you right now?
I’ve just ordered a curry, so fairly peckish now! (that’s a 7.5 on the peck scale)
How has lockdown been for you?
It’s been tough, but oddly focussing. I think the one thing that has affected everyone – regardless of their social or financial situation – is that we’ve all been forced to spend time with the most difficult person to sit with in our lives - ourselves. I turned 40 at the height of lockdown so that has also concentrated the mind. It’s a cliché but times like these do help you to realise what’s important to you. My Stockholm syndrome is complete!
Have you been more or less productive?
Far less productive! It was initially frustrating hearing of lots of artists suddenly with loads of time on their hands to create when I had less time than ever before. Then I took the pressure off myself and at the end of July I consciously decided to not paint until school restarted and just make the most of the summer holidays with the kids. I know that when they are both in school full time I will spend more time painting. There are seasons to art and life, sometimes we have to shift focus. That’s one of the many parallels for me about painting and parenthood – I’m in it for the long haul.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
My latest series is called 'Overcome' and encapsulates both the negative and positive aspects of that word. It features 5 women, made of china, broken and mended in the kintsugi tradition. We all have events and experiences in our lives that break and shape us. My series explores how these traumas make us who we are, and how our scars are part of our story. We can be beautiful and strong because of our experiences, not despite them. I want to inspire people to realise and accept that - you may feel broken at times, you are still loved, you can still be strong, you are worth mending.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Be kind to each other, wear a mask, thanks for reading this far, that colour looks great on you, now go wash your hands. ;) Gemma's work is available to purchase here along with postcards, prints and news about upcoming projects.
Gemma and I in my childhood home,1995/6
One of the tiny letters Gemma would pass me in class or put in my bag for me to read between classes.
Adam was my boyfriend from 1993-1994 ish.