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April 3 2009 6 03 /04 /April /2009 15:24

Gemma Nelson is a 24 years old British artist, presented by The Cynthia Corbett Gallery at Slick Dessin Paris. She has just graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Thanks to some contests she did right after graduating, she connected with prestigious galleries such as  the White Cube Gallery, and the Saatchi Gallery.

Pornographic Imagination, is the major work she presents at the fair, and what is interesting is how deep Gemma’s work is connected to litterature: This work is “based on an essay of the same title written by Susan Sontag, an esteemed philosopher and critic who greatly interested Nelson Sontag argued that pornography was a literary subject and an art form in it’s own right. The essay also talks about how artistic forms such as aesthetics and types of spirituality and relate to modern society. Nelson also read Mary Daly’s text “Gyn/ecology” and how the word glamour came about. She learnt how the word Glamour originated, that is from a spell “witches”(akaeducated women) used to process which castrated men or made them eunuchs”



In the following interview, we will go deeper into her world, her references in anthropology, and other artists as well, a very pleasant encounter...


Interview of Gemma Nelson


So, Could you present us those colorful works we have in front of us ?
Those works are made with Indian ink, enamel, sequins and acrylic on canvas. The work is constitued by a lot of patterns, almost like a tapestry.  But you can notice hidden characters within the works that relate to Freudian aspects such as sexuality, totem, taboo, like fetishes. The sexual aspect is important to me, in some part you could see that those canvas convey an expression of orgasmic explosions The symbolism of totems and tattooing has always interested me. For instance I found some very interesting totems in indigent tribes and also tattooing. I also saw some works at the British Museum, a couple of years ago, where there was a show about a tribe based  in South America, who basically, wrapped their gods and the tribes' leaders with tattoos and in patterns. This tribe conveyed a great symbolic to this ritual :  by wrapping their leaders and gods with patterns and wrappings it allowed them to be grounded; less powerful. However it was quite owymorionic as by labelling the leaders and gods with the patterns it demoted that they had power in the first place. So it conveyed a double side meaning, ambiguous. It inspired me for my work. Also, it is interesting how patterning is related to feminism : First the relationship with the old tradition of women’s duty to make, patterns and stitching... Secondly  in  some tribes, the women are the one who imagine and represent the identity of their house, their family  through the patterns they create. For some tribes in Africa, the patterning on female clothing even expresses their mood. Symbolism is very accurate and profound, and my aim in the work is to explore it.
Originally I wanted to build my works on my flat’s walls and cities and reveal quite abstract relationship with my past as well. I come from the North of England, with an history of dry stone walls, marking out territory and denoting space and confinement. I was always fascinated by it. So basically I started to work on that idea. Also I wanted to make a painting both glamorous  and laborious, that would convey beauty and the intellect. I am interested  in 'outsider art' and art created by people within the constraints of a mental asylum ;  and i imagin them locked in their room, expressing the flow of their thought continuously for many hours. I think  i work a bit like this in my studio, I am constantly working very tightly on the work, for this piece [Pornographic Imagination] I didn’t sleep for three nights, solid. And in some case I’ve done it for an whole week where I have not slept, but then the relation with the painting and the world is becoming strange, the creation and the real sometimes mix up, once i started to see things moving around and hallucinate trough a lack of sleep...
I was introduced a couple of years ago to Len Lye's early works, which really interested me. I made a couple of years ago video pieces and experimentations, which are dealing with a long time base. I see my current painting works as condensed time and patterns even if it is done  in a long period of time, it could be two month for one piece. It's  a very optical work, the patterns move with yours eyes. Some parts are made of extremely tight patterns, millimetres cross. It’s almost like an element of what happen in my day, like the African tribes. So because everyday I also have a different mood, one day I might feel like a flower, but the other like something totally different. So the work expresses concrete elements of my life but also irrealities  and metaphysical possibilities.


How is the process ?
It depend which section I am doing, sometime I draw the patterns and then colour it, sometime I colour, pour then draw...

What lead you to this kind of work, can you tell us your path?
I was in the Slade School of Fine Art in London for four years. I came to London to study fine art straght from school.  It’s amazing because there is such a great history of art there. It was a fantastic place to grow and develop. When I started the Slade School of Fine Art I was using bizarre organic materials human hairs and teeth, and I was very interested in other artists like Helen Chadwick. She made works about repulsion and beauty. I was absolutely obsessed with it when I was 17-18 years old. One  piece of hers really fascinated me : it was made from pig’s intestins  with golden hair wrapped around it and it was absolutely beautiful but disgusting. I was fascinated with how hairs is always very symbolic and ambivalent :  It’s a beauty aspect :  People spend a lot of money on their hair, they colour it, get it curled, and it’s very important in fashion and also very sexual. But as soon as you cut it people just don’t want to touch it; it’s disregarded. It’s very relevant of this relation ship between beauty and repulsion. So I was experimenting different materials that could play with this relation, and they would explode and melt. I was also making time based pieces that would take a couple of days or hours to make and then they would destroy themselves and just disappear. So now I am reversing this process and elongating the time of creation. By replicating patterns, I feel close to Helen Chadwick principles.  

Yes, contemporary art plays a lot with this aesthetic process of attraction – repulsion. But, I perceive your work as very attractive. All those colours are very bright. So where are you dealing with repulsion ?
That is true,  it looks very happy and pretty, and it is full of energy. But, when you come closer, you see that it is drippy, and formed like a cellular structure,  it grows like a spore or a cancer. It could be seen in a positive way, where it’s growing organically, like a plant. But also, I see a dark  formative aspect, quite deranged.  If you are self locked in your room, and constantly working on these tiny patterns, like an obsessive patchwork. I could refer it to one artist I am very interested in: Yayoi Kusama. I saw her work very recently in Liverpool, when I was exhibiting my work at the Bloomberg New Contemporaries.  I thought we had very similar mind set, but then I was quite disturbed to find that she makes work from her room in a mental asylum in Japan ! Anyway her work is based on her hallucinations, and she does beautiful works with flowers ; polka dots and installation. I think in the future I would like to do few more installations myself. I once made a giant pompom made with tying a lot of supermarket plastic bags together. It took about four months to do. I made from it, very similiar to a dress Vivienne Westwood made that year (2005). But unfortunaletely after wearing it, it all fell apart, it was just heartbreaking…

So you are not going to stay in drawing…
I love drawing, I’ve always done it, I love painting. But I also see myself as a performer. II see painting and drawing as a kind of performance. We no longer have to paint to capture something, with a click of a camera we can replicate something natural in seconds. Painting is a made art form, it is so obsolete but yet perfect. It is a mad pratice, literally smearing colour onto a surface. So, I want to drawing, but I also want to continue to explore new ways of creating work as it keeps my painting fresh and inspired. So i don't think I would necessarily continue with drawing as the only media, I would like to draw with video maybe, or draw with sculpture.

Okay thank you very much, so we wish you the best for the future, and hope you'll enjoy your stay in Paris

Thank you.



[Visual : Gemma Nelson , Pornographic Imagination, 2008  : Indian ink, enamel, sequins and acrylic on canvas. 150 x 130 cm. Courtesy the Cynthia Corbett Gallery]

For more information about her work, you can contact info@thecynthiacorbettgallery.com | +44 (0) 7939 085 076


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Michael Aston 07/07/2009 05:58

Excellent reading... I read only yesterday, someone paid $3000 for Neil Armstrong's hair and that seemed like a fine deal to me in terms of art and your words kinda echo that... Also reminded me of a flight i once took from LA to London, the chap sitting next to me had once worked on the railways and snagged Marylin's bed sheet . I was horrified but intrigued too, he hung it on a wall...Oddly enough, midway through the journey, he had a major seizure, needed oxygen and a doctor too..life is too strange sometimes..It reminded me of the days I worked at the I.C.A. and one exhibition was of flies and decaying foodstuffs, I thought it brilliant at the time... Your art is very passionate, intense and obviously very emotional, I suspected it is writ in the ancients...brilliant work.