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From the book...
Story - an interview with Gabriella
Born in Greece of American diplomat parents, Gabriella’s first language was Greek – a language lost when her family moved to Pakistan and then at age 12, due to her father’s terminal illness, to America, leaving her only with English as a second language. As a result of her unusual upbringing she finds her form of expression is not so much in words, but goes directly from impression to paint.
Patrons want to know the story – the words that explain her works. Her buyers have an immediate, intuitive response to the works of art. They get it, they feel it, yet embedded in a culture of words, often need to hear the story in words.
One evening with clear intent to find Gabriella’s story – to translate it from the etheric to the articulate, a narrative emerged for this book and an upcoming show.
What happens when you go into the studio?
I begin to search.
Search for what?
I begin to search for an opening to the painting. It’s more like I step into a darkness in approaching and starting a new work. Inspiration is found there in that dark space, yet often hard to access. It doesn’t come easy. I’m aware of my physical and emotional density as I begin to work through the process; of doubt, of the unknown, and questioning. Shifting my focus from my head to connect with my heart, I begin to search through this portal for a certain quality in the painting, a quality which can transform through the many layers of oils onto the surface. There is a presence felt through colour. Colour transforms.
My experience is often about being alone… not a loneliness, but a certain sharp awareness of aloneness. This space I begin to break through within the work. I base everything on observation. This requires to dig deep inside this chaotic, unorganised potential to search for the light and transitions within the painting. The painting is the quest to become light again, through the fields of colour and contrasts of extremes. With each new painting I aim for this search – again and again.
As I begin to paint, I shift into a different state; I don’t think about the painting process. I let forms come, light and colour interact. I don’t plan what will emerge, yet later I can see it’s based on the forces around me. Rangitoto, the volcano to the west; the ever-changing sea shaped by a forceful climate: wind, rain, then sudden, brilliant sun.
Other forces are timeless, as in a childhood memory when my family was leaving Greece, a fisherman gave my father an ancient urn fished up in his net. That amphora has become an iconic reference in my work. The vessel, a metaphor for this profound gifting, is echoed in many of my paintings.
When I went to Italy for a three months art residency, the paintings changed from the rich layered colours of Waiheke Island to the etheric, thin washes of an ancient land with a very different spirit – as if the veil had thinned over thousand of years of human presence. Italy challenged me as I had to start with an empty studio… no paint, no brushes, no mediums to start with. Heading to the art store in Lecce was a delight. They sold small flat wood pegs made to secure canvas frames. I thought to paint on them as part of my doodling practice; a process I often begin before I face a blank canvas. These are my ‘ink narratives’ notebooks, an ongoing series with ink and gouache. When the art critic for La Republica came to my studio, he loved them and insisted I include them in my show.
When I returned to Waiheke Island to resume my work, the paintings captured the light, translucence of the fire, water and air of the island and its volcanic landscape bursting out of the sea.
How do you work?
I work on three or more paintings at a given time. As I said, I start with a sensation of my own density, and the process can be very difficult. It is hard to find the openings, it does not just come. The painting evolves.
What is the feeling as the light comes?
I feel lighter, a joy. I’m aware of working from the inside out, beginning to navigate through the senses of my heart. I feel the painting. There are a million different directions to take to make a painting happen. Each painting is a different journey. Some may not work and I give up on them for a while. I set those paintings aside and it can take years before I go back to them and resume the search. I never lay down a white surface over an unfinished work. I use the old layers as a backdrop; under the surface the old layers are still there, like the redemption of the journey of life, giving more texture, richness and in its own way, light.
[As the interview progresses, Gabriella commented…] I did not realise how painful it was, this density - that is the human condition - and how strongly this presents itself when I begin a work. My paintings are a way for me to leave the pain; it is a search to return home.
When you create a trilogy, is it one painting from the onset; is it one search?
After a number of panels or canvases are complete I then explore ways of combining the works into a trilogy, to create visual narratives, and at times creating beautiful tensions between each panel. Many of my works are triptychs. I started working with a form of three panel works based on my childhood visits to the Greek Orthodox churches in Thessaloniki, and outer islands; a three-hinged panel that sit on an alter rather than hung on the wall. The works are not religious in the manner of the old icons, but they are going toward the light, toward the etheric elements in the landscapes.
When the paintings are done, what do you feel?
I want them to go out into the world. I want to release them. The greatest feeling is selling them. When, sometimes years later, the buyer reports the joy it brings into their life, it confirms that my process of working has a deeper value beyond just creating a ‘lovely piece’ with beautiful colour. The paintings carries an essence, what in Maori is called ‘wairua’ or spirit, long after I finish the work. I like to think of my paintings as totemic in their feel. Recently, an American publisher asked if they could reproduce a work of mine. This work happened to be a commission. Unlike works sold off the wall, commissioned works passes copyright to the buyer. So I contacted the buyer, and they replied the painting was very special to them, too special for reproductions. I would never have heard that if the publisher had not seen the image on my web site and asked about it.
So it brings light into peoples lives?
To feel one’s aloneness can be daunting, and it can be freeing as well.
I’m reminded of a child in the wilderness alone, in a process of trusting in which directions to go. There are no guarantees. It can be terrifying on a deep level, and my search can feel that way on canvas. When the buyer purchases a painting – either out of the gallery or commissioned, they bring that journey into the light, into their homes… which may be why the paintings mean so much to them.
So, to answer your question, yes I think my paintings do carry light into people’s lives.