Interview | Gail Brodholt & Louise Davies
Prior to the opening of their joint exhibition ‘London and Beyond’ we spoke to Gail Brodholt and Louise Davies about their work, inspiration and sharing a studio. Here’s what they had to say.
For Arts Sake (FAS): When we were planning our exhibitions for 2015 we thought it would be interesting to bring your two approaches to printmaking together in one show; of course you already knew each other and needed no introduction to each other’s work. Can you tell us how when you first met and how you know each other?
Gail Brodholt (GB): Louise and I first met as fellow members of an artists’ co-operative called Greenwich Printmakers in 2003.
FAS: One of the areas we thought you both have in common is an exploration of colour, texture and glazes, although you both work with a different palette. How do you think your work compliments yet contrasts with each other?
GB: Our work is essentially about an imagined sense of place. We both take away the essence of the place and then make the work a memory – creating the sense of a place from memory rather than recreating it. The contrast between our work comes from the way we approach the subject – my work has a strong internal logic where Louise’s focus, in my opinion, is more to do with emotion.
FAS: You’ve shared a studio together for a long time and have recently moved to a new space – what are the benefits of sharing a studio?
GB: This is our fourth shared studio – we had studios in Brixton, Dulwich and now our second in Woolwich. Louise is the milk monitor and I’m in charge of the radio! Being an artist can be a very solitary life, being very internally focuses, and it is good to be able to share the other parts of day-to-day working and the ups and downs of the artistic life.
Louise Davies (LD): Being an artist can be lonely but that is why I think it is important to share a studio. Together we can discuss and motivate each other. However, at the end of the day it is all down to the individual – you basically have to be self-motivated to cope with the rejections from galleries, competitions which is all part of this job.
BG: “Printmaking itself can actually be quite sociable because unless you are lucky enough to own your own facilities (i.e. a press etc) you need to go to an open-access print studio which is always rather lively. Also there are lots of printmaking societies which provide support and companionship.
FAS: What is the most challenging part of being a printmaker?
GB: Dealing with rejection – you have to develop a very thick skin because with the best will in the world you are not going to succeed at everything you do but in London the printmaking world is a very small one and we all know each other and everyone shares in each other’s successes and failure.
LD: I think the best part of my job of being a Professional Artist is in the actual creation of the print or painting. There are often surprises and this is all very challenging. My goal professionally is to continue to produce work that has energy and that I feel happy with but also to push ideas and techniques and basically never sit still for too long!
FAS: How much do you work from memory, observation, photography, sketches etc?
GB: I do a lot of fast small drawings of a subject in my sketch book, sometimes hundreds. Then I go back to the studio and produce a very detailed working drawing from which I produce either a painting or a linocut – or sometimes both. Although my work appears to be correct in its portrayal of the physics of a place it really isn’t – I bend perspective a lot and create a dynamic composition which captures the essence of the place rather than its direct representation.
LD: I start all my work from drawings that I do from a sketch book on site. These are then taken back to the studio and along with ideas for colour that I might have seen from the place or from pictures I take; I then begin the creative process. Memory is an important theme in my work. If you look at some of the titles of the prints they describe the season, the time of day etc. I am trying to capture that moment, possibly when the light is just going at the end of the day or just the feeling felt being there in the landscape. For instance: ’September Glow‘ is called that because I wanted to convey those beautiful autumnal colours that we have in the landscape at that time of year. Another print called ‘The Silence of Snow’ was trying to capture that moment of peace and yet the soft sound of when the first snowflakes fall. The print ‘Distant Shores‘ was taken from a quick sketch done in Dorset but tries to convey that feeling of nostalgia for places we have visited that have some special meaning for us.
FAS: What key themes underpin your work?
GB: I suppose what I’m really interested in is those unconsidered and unnoticed places that people pass through. They are on their way to somewhere else, presumably more important – on the escalators, on the tube, train station platforms, motorways….
I like the sense we all have that between here and there anything can happen. Although of course it almost always doesn’t. When you are travelling you are free from normal life with all the anticipation of an adventure ahead of you.
LD: The prints that I am showing in ‘London and Beyond’ are a body of work that I have been doing for the last 3 to 4 years. The work is all about the landscape that I have visited in the past and of London where I have lived since I was 18. Our studio is by the river so the water has become a bit of a theme in the London prints. The colours I use are often an intuitive response to the etching as I am creating it. I am never completely sure how the print will evolve and what colours it will be.
FAS: What techniques do you use – how important is printing by hand?
GB: I print all my linocuts myself and use an old Albion letterpress made in 1841. It’s quite a laborious process because I use several linoblocks and several colours and each layer of ink needs to dry before I can print another. It can take me two months to produce a large linocut, smaller ones are obviously a bit quicker.
LD: All my prints in this show are etchings or collagraphs or etching with collagraph. Etchings are metal plates on which I put a ground on and then draw into with a metal needle and then the line is etched in a tray of acid. The collagraph is made from a piece of card and drawn into with a sharp tool, carborundum is stuck on and sometimes other pieces of paper and then all sealed with a wood varnish. These plates are inked up and with a damp piece of paper placed on top are rolled through my large Rochat press. People often ask” how long does that print take to make?” It is difficult to put an exact time on it but anything from a month to two months from the idea to the finished piece.
FAS: What’s your favourite work of art?
GB: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper but at the moment I’m really interesting in Robert Tavener– he was a linocut printmaker though he did lithographs too. He just had a quiet life where he taught and brought up a family in Sussex and he portrayed the landscape around him in a beautiful but modest way. There is a book about him called “Oh Mr Tavener” and I wish I had the original!
LD: I haven’t a favourite piece of art but have strong influences from when I was at St Martins. I spent so much time visiting all the art galleries whilst I was studying there in the early 1980’s. I was very inspired by Rothko, Paul Klee, Miro and Dubuffet. Going to exhibitions is such an important part of being an artist. It is a wonderful feeling to see something and be inspired and go back to the studio and be re-vitalised to do your work again.
FAS: Do you have a favourite place in London?
GB: The views from the ends of the platforms 1-6 of London Bridge Station. I’ve done several pieces of work featuring that view and find my every-day surroundings are endlessly fascinating.
LD: For me probably my favourite place in London is the view from Point Hill in Blackheath (near where I live). I don’t think you can beat that beautiful view of the city as the sun sets in the evening. My print ‘Nightfall’ was created from this place.
‘London and Beyond’ opens on Friday 5th June and runs until Sunday 5th July at For Arts Sake Gallery, Ealing. The private view is on Thursday 4th June from 6pm to 9pm and offers an opportunity to see the work and meet both artists in a relaxed environment.