Artist Gabrielle Roberts-Dalton has a solo show at the Gallery this month, exploring a difficult but potentially liberating time for women. Menopause: A Change in Life charts an artistic response to ‘The Change’… ART BLOG caught up with Gabby to find out more:
Your work is intensely autobiographical. What made you take this route?
I often draw on personal experiences or responses to things I have read or seen. I think it’s a natural process for me. I want there to be different levels to the pieces I make, a depth if you like. A story to be told, but not always obvious. Being oblique makes the viewer work.
When I began to realise that the menopause was affecting me and couldn’t be ignored, the change in my day-to-day life was a trigger to try and express visually how a woman of 55 feels. The drawings especially are like a diary. Imagine thinking in images and not words.
I think all the best artists’ work is autobiographical and usually their strongest. For example Paula Rego’s work in the late 1980s underwent a profound change due to her husband’s illness. Her work turns inward and more personal.
What are your general thoughts about the depiction of femininity in art, and issues facing women?
I certainly think there’s a difference in the way women portray women. In the past, art history has been dominated by men and the way they view women and society hasn’t been forgiving about the aging process in women.
The menopause is a huge change in a woman’s life and how she and others view her femininity. I have an aversion to the airbrushed Barbie doll images that women have to live up to. Perfect to me are the idiosyncrasies: the ‘flaws’, the blemishes, the lines, the veins, the grey hairs….
The difficulty for women artists is to reconcile traditional feminine roles with their lives as artists. Often images reveal a powerful awareness of the conflicts inherent in childbirth and maternity. Women understand the isolation of women and their traditional role. Frida Kahlo’s My Birth was a rare painting at the time in western art, depicting the act of childbirth. Dorothea Tanning’s Maternity emphasises the mother’s frightening isolation.
Artists like Jenny Seville explore feminine flesh, cosmetic surgery, and physical motherhood. Paula Rego shows the frustration of being a primary carer and the lack of power to take control, exploring the many different roles women play through their lives. Her abortion series is intensely poignant and insightful.
A great celebration of woman and femininity by female artists is the Twitter site @womansart
What is the inherent power of the self-portrait?
An artist can always scrutinise their most convenient model – themselves. The flux of work changes according to how they see themselves from day to day, year on year. You’re emotionally involved and that in itself is powerful. But also it’s far easier to experiment and be honest when you are the model. Finding yourself within a self-portrait gives certainty to what you are.
There’s no limit to choices, no restriction in the development of technique and experimentation, only what you as the artist decide.
Who are your influences and why?
My list of influences continues to grow especially with the internet. But ones that continue to grab my attention are contemporary artists such as Paula Rego, Shani Rhys-James, Jenny Seville. Anthony Green, Clare Woods, Roxanne Halls and Karen Kaapke. Artists of the 20th Century such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Freud, Kollwitz, Schiele, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Alice Neel, Pollock, and Sutherland have an ongoing influence.
I have always had a special interest in the women Surrealists; Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Eileen Agar, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning and Frida Kahlo. Their work uses personal symbolism and imagination. It’s highly personal and universally feminine. The self within a dream and beyond.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
At the moment oil painting is my main exploration. I always want to learn and explore more and feel I’m just at the beginning when it comes to oil-paint.
I love drawing with Indian ink. You just have to go for it. It’s not very forgiving but that’s exciting. You have to work fast with your movements, and that’s when things happen visually and you don’t overthink. I find drawing with charcoal exciting because of scale and I’m planning some larger work.
In the last two years I’ve also been doing printmaking again. Mainly lino-cuts at the moment, but I’m exploring dry point and mono-print ideas.
It’s always good to have a range of media working alongside each other. It helps in the development of ideas. They feed off each other.
Menopause: A Change in Life runs from 18 June to 4 August.
Gabrielle completed an Art Foundation and BA Hons Degree in Fine Art in 1985, specialising in Ceramic Sculpture and Wax Painting. She worked as a freelance artist on large commissions for commercial companies and exhibited throughout the UK. Her focus now is on oil painting and developing a narrative through portraiture. She enjoys experimenting with technique, materials and the perspective of images, conveying a different world that may not be obvious to the viewer.
Gabrielle likes to explore the mark making and texture of paint. Storytelling, novels and events in her life have been significant triggers for paintings – the consequences of reading a particular book could easily be a major change in the course of her work. Gabrielle has exhibited on many occasions at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, winning the visitor’s vote in the 2014 Open Exhibition. She is an ongoing exhibitor at The RBSA Gallery and was a finalist in the Artist & Illustrators Artist of the Year 2014 exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London. She has a piece in a permanent art installation at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Gabrielle was elected an associate member to the RBSA in 2016 and will take portrait commission work, subject to availability.