A dialogue with residency artists

The National Gallery continues its bi-monthly discussion with local artists on topics relevant to the art scene in Cayman today. This month the discussion falls with artists Gordon Solomon, Avril Ward and Renate Seffer, the three artists in residence at the National Gallery’s A Day in the Life III annual programme. Technique, inspiration, development and interaction were all themes up for discussion. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports. First in a series.

Now in its third year the National Gallery’s artists’ residency programme plucks three well-versed artists out of the comfort zones of their own art studios and places them squarely in the forefront, within the Gallery itself, laid bare to the gaze of passers-by keen to get a glimpse of the artist at work.
Natalie Urquhart, director of the National Gallery, opened up the discussion by explaining that the art forums were intended to create dialogue within the community on issues as they relate to the art scene. She mentioned some interesting subject matters already discussed, including producing art for commercial purposes verses art for art’s sake, the difficulties associated with pricing art and the issue of censorship.
This edition of Art Forum would focus on the artists who have been creating a process which, Natalie said, had been inspiring to watch as the week unfolded.

Natalie: Tell us about your own creative process:

Avril: My inspiration comes from either a concrete idea that I have in mind or something much looser.  With sculpting, I begin with an armature (basic frame), then I use fibre clay, which is really strong and forgiving, similar to the comparison of water colours and acrylics. I enjoy creating long, thin characters and I could not achieve them using normal clay as it would be too soft. The fibre clay is an amazing product as it’s so versatile.
I got my sculpting groove back when the Visual Arts Society acquired a kiln and that reignited my lifelong passion for the art form. I used to sculpt 18 years ago and interestingly enough I used to sculpt long thin figures then as well.
I used to be a professional dancer and so my emotional expression through movement, (although in a static moment) can be attributed to that time of my life. I enjoy sculpting fantastical body shapes that anyone would be hard pressed to replicate in real life.  I’m excited about creating bronze sculptures out of the clay pieces and I will be creating limited editions of between ten and 20 editions using this time-honoured method of sculpting.

Gordon: I have been working on two new pieces that are based on the Bible’s parables plus I’m going to include some new pieces in the exhibition that I haven’t shown before. I have also included a self portrait that I created in one day. I would say my body of work merges techniques and includes abstract. It’s really reflects an emerging of style – lots of people know me for my scenes and murals but the residency has allowed me to bring out my spiritual side.

Natalie: We all know you for your cubism and pointillism and so I have really enjoyed the surreal element in your work during the residency, for example the ominous figure in the corner in one painting and the inclusion of the hoop – it takes the painting to a totally different dimension.

Gordon: I wanted to add a world of play into the work, so that it’s not all taken too seriously.

Renate: Before the residency programme I had lots of ideas in my head about how I was going to create large pieces of work but it just did not happen. It’s very interesting to be taken out of your comfort zone where you are quite isolated as an artist and see how you will respond. I have in the end worked on some smaller pieces with a more abstract leaning as compared to the more figurative work that I am perhaps better known for.

Natalie: I think the idea of a residency is a fascinating one both for the artist and the viewer as it provides a first hand look at another’s creative process. I had been exploring ways to create such a programme for quite a while, using empty spaces on island to give artist a place to experiment, with no pressure on them to create pieces for a particular end. It creates an enormous amount of energy at the gallery and a lot of dialogue between the artists, visitors and NGCI staff. Our school audience in particular, they love to ask questions and get directly involved.

Renate: I have really enjoyed the interaction with the students. It has been an amazing experience.

Avril: I agree. One student in particular really identified with the paintings that I have created (16 small squares that I am letting people photograph and send as art messages, rather like texts). I could not believe how much the student was on my wave length when it came to identifying the emotions that I had associated with each piece. Another could easily see into the message that I was creating with a piece of sculpture, which is all about being at peace with oneself. Another asked me if I was a member of the da Vinci family, which I thought was so sweet.

Renate: I allowed the students to create their own images on a large piece of canvas. It was interesting to see the different artwork that they created. One girl painted very dark images with tears running down a face while another painted peace signs and love hearts!

Avril: I was interested in the students’ reaction to the subtle nudity that I have in some of my sculpture work. The younger students did not bat an eye lid, nor did the older girls, but the teenage boys could be seen giggling and pointing!

Natalie: What do you have next on your agenda?

Gordon: I want to create a series called Sweet life; infinite games. It is going to encompass laughter, love, dancing; all the things we do as children and yearn to do again. I think remembering yourself as a child helps with the anti-aging process.

Renate: Like Gordon, I also did a self-portrait in one session. I think it would be great to get a bunch of artists together and have them create their own self portraits there and then on canvas.   

Avril: besides a few small pieces in a couple of group shows coming up, I haven’t thought that far ahead!
An exhibition of the artists’ residency work is on display at the National Gallery and will run until 25 August.


Artistic discussions