Gwen Hardie, who grew up in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and lives in New York, talks about the central message of her artistic work during her interview.
Gwen, please describe the core theme and the central message of your work
My work is about being and the act of perception. I work with colors that are inspired by the beauty of skin tones – the subtle glow of life, from dark to light, warm to cool. These colors speak directly to living and being because they are so intimately connected to our physical selves. In each painting, I blend one dominant foreground color over a background color to create an illusion of shifting depths and subtle movement between atmosphere and presence. When I refer to atmosphere, what I am really expressing in the painting is the dissolution of this physical presence or form – how it can appear at one moment as presence (form), then at the next moment, as atmosphere (formlessness). Perceptually, this acts as a kind of door opening inwards from the body to the unquantifiable spaces in the mind.
05.17.21, radiant pink on umber grey, 42 in sq, 2021
Color is a great tool to convey this because it communicates directly through sense perception. The transitions between the grounds serve to place the foreground color in a state of hovering, detached from the picture plane, floating beyond it both backwards and forwards. Each painting radiates, expands, contracts, appears more or less dense, in its own particular way.
05.21.21, pale cool pink on raw umber, 48 in sq, 2021
Introduce us to the work that, in your view, exemplifies or best embodies the message of your work
The two paintings above, ‘05.21.21, pale cool pink on raw umber’, 48 in sq and ‘05.17.21, radiant pink on pale umber grey’, 42 in sq. are good examples. If you compare them, one is more radiant than the other, but both share a similar skin tone, a cooler pinkish hue floating on an umber grey background.
Consider more closely 05.21.21. The raw umber background color is at its palest at the outer edge in all directions. Then, as you gradually move inwards, the raw umber increases in darkness in tiny gradients and starts to blend with the foreground color, which is at its most saturated in the central area of the painting. As the painting progresses I keep adjusting the radiance, saturation and tonal levels in every direction. Small adjustments in tone or saturation have an enormous effect, determining how the foreground color moves within the square. I bring it to completion by asserting the radiance of the pink foreground, then muting the pink until the painting reverberates exactly to the level I want.
The raw umber is a recent choice for the background of these and many new paintings because of its closeness in hue to the foreground color, which enables me to make more subtle gradients in these transition areas. Surprsingly, raw umber appears to take on a hint of the complimentary hue of the foreground color. Is it because I am manipulating the radiance levels of the foreground color as if under magnification, or is it to do with the way our eyes receive information about color?
As the painting film builds on the surface of the canvas the foreground color becomes more assertive, establishing itself at a certain density and radiance level that feels very particular. The canvas itself, the cloth, the square format represents a stable structure that grounds this animated illusion. I work with wide flat varnish brushes, each dedicated to its own colorspace. In these paintings, one brush will be for the palest raw umber I use from the outer edge inwards, another for the most saturated radiant pink from the center of the painting outwards, and the third for the transition color in between. These brushes enable me to blend fast and build up a unified film within hours.
Brushes on worktable
The final stage of the painting involves removing every last trace of brushmarks with two very soft wide blender brushes- one for the background outer edge, the other for the central area foreground color. The control of the color becomes so extreme that the slightest wrong move with the wrong brush and a millimeter of the wrong color ruins the atmospheric illusion.
Series of 20 in squares on studio wall, 2021
What is the aim of your art, your work, what is it supposed to achieve in the viewer
The act of perception has always been an integral consideration in my work. When I studied the live model from observation I thought about the attitude towards the subject as much as simply depicting what I saw. This resurfaced in different ways. For example, in the series of skin tondos–which predates this work–I rendered the skin so close up that it was impossible to identify where on the body it was. My aim then was to replace the objectification of the body with a vantage point of extreme proximity. My recent square paintings take this approach even further. The vantage point is now located somewhere between the outer edge of the body and the interior spaces of the mind, creating an illusion of movement back and forth between these two dimensions. Now, the main agents of expression are the colors and gradients–how they behave within the square canvas and how they engage the act of perception.
I hope my work can disarm people–gently! – the colors should be inviting and stimulate feelings of openness, depth, connection, but also a sense of the unquantifiable, the unknown and something of our shared humanity.
THE DEED | THE WORK is a complementary and separately presented part of THE INTERVIEW IN|DEEDS with Gwen Hardie.
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