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Interview with Gabrielle Lord of Chalk Gallery Lewes on the importance of dance

In preparation for Gabrielle Lord being our Featured Artist August 10th to 30th, we were fascinated to interview her and find out more about her work and influences:

Hi Gabrielle, your recent paintings

are of dancers and skaters. How did that come about?

Dance has always been important to me.

I trained in ballet until I was 19. But from this classical background I found it really hard to 'free up'. I did some Gabrielle Roth 5 Rhythms and some contemporary classes that I found very liberating, and some tango classes with my husband.

I love to watch dancers and skaters.

This isn’t the first-time dancers have been a theme, is it?

No, two or three years ago I made a series where the dancers were set against imagined backdrops, as if they were on stage with dramatic sets.

That sounds really fascinating. What motivated these new pieces?

I became really interested in capturing movement, I have been working from video, choosing my own still shots. The two-dimensional quality of the shapes is still very important to me, almost as if they are puzzle pieces that slot together.

It looks like you have a particular way of layering paint, can you tell us more about your technique?

Yes, I often work over old, less successful pieces. I rarely begin on a blank canvas. Then the figures retain this under-painted surface, whilst the rest of the painting builds around them. They almost become the negative shapes, not positive.

How did this come about?

It was an experimental thing. I was working on a painting of my family on the Downs. The thought that sprang to mind was “we are all made of the same”.

My intention was to convey the connection that exists between us as a family. But the idea grew to include our connection with the natural world; the plants, creatures and the land itself. I was reading a Terry Pratchett novel at the time, about a witch who lives on Chalk land, and her deep connection with the place, which, having lived in Sussex for a long time, I found very moving.

So, this is a way of painting the spiritual connection would you say?

Yes, in the broadest sense. Many cultures have a far deeper understanding of our link with nature, which we have lost. I am merely scratching the surface. With the dancers it is the connection between each other, without words, in the moment that inspires me.

Where do you imagine you will go from here?

Having considered harmony, I think it would be interesting to explore discord as a theme. But it is hard to say. It is one thing to have an idea, but quite another once the process takes over!

Who or what would you say are your influences?

I studied Romanesque architecture as part of my degree and loved the dog tooth patterns and ornate arches of the pre- Gothic period, like the ones in Durham cathedral. I fell just as hard for the intense expressions of Giotto, the dreaminess of Chagall and the intertwined creatures in The Book of Kells.

I loved the vision of feminist artist Judy Chicago who created The Birth Project, way before I had children of my own. I discovered Richard Diebenkorn, Fritz Scholder, Ivor Hitchens, Howard Hodgkin and Mary Cassatt. Fellow artists have pointed me towards the work of Mary Fedden, Christopher Wood and Rose Hilton. The Bloombury painters always make me feel like I have come home, as do the indescribably beautiful and emotive paintings of Harold Mockford, whose work featured in the fantastic exhibition 'Towards Night' curated by artist Tom Hammick at the Towner Art Gallery a few years ago.

I am an avid Instagram user too! It is wonderful to be able to follow an international community of artists. I have discovered new artists through taking part in #artistsupportpledge during lockdown, and also Portrait Artist of the Week (#PAOTW), an initiative to bring artists together run by Sky Arts.

Thank you so much Gabrielle, it's been really interesting finding out more about your work, we can't wait to see it all next week!

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