This article, written by Laurel Smart and edited by Andrew Nixon, was published in The Floating Circle magazine from the Friends of the RWA in August 2019.
Our Q&A with RWA Artist Network member Gail Mason…
“… [Art is] a compulsion, and the space where I feel I am being true to myself and my creativity….”
A member of the RWA Artist Network, Gail Mason’s work focuses on the positive impact of colour on the senses, exploring what she calls the ’emotional landscape’. She uses unusual and creative screenprint techniques to create large ‘one off’ images as well as editioned prints in various media.
Gail is one of five members of the iD artists group, who exhibit together in North Somerset and Bristol. Their show Crossing Boundaries is at the Centrespace gallery in Bristol from 6 to 18 September 2019.
Here’s our Q&A…
When did you realise you were an artist?
Creating art started as a place of refuge during my troubled teenage years, when I was encouraged by a generous art teacher who recognised my passion and allowed me the space and freedom to experiment. I set up a space for dying cloth and creating simple hand painted stencils for screen printing, and would hide out in this semi derelict outhouse during lunchtimes and free lessons. Sadly I dropped art A level in the first year, unable to adjust to the more restrictive teaching.
It was years later, after a BEd and a career in the fashion industry, that I embarked on a Fine Art BA followed by a Masters in Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking. Finally I was able to embrace the fact that actually I am an artist and always have been.
Why do you make art?
It is a compulsion, and the space where I feel I am being true to myself and my creativity.
You use printmaking processes to create paintings. Can you tell us something about this process and how you have developed it?
I use screenprinting as a creative tool to produce unique images. A common misunderstanding of the silkscreen process is that it is solely a method of duplication. This doesn’t interest me. I use a multi layer process that is time consuming but can produce something truly startling, and which keeps me engaged in a journey of discovery. I want to be surprised by my image making, nothing is mapped out beforehand.
I was shown this way of working by a technician at university in 1994 and immediately realised that this was a way that I could be truly spontaneous. During my MA I started to explore the idea that I could create images by just responding to a mark or a colour, and allowing the work to have its own way.
I paint using my whole body to express how I am feeling through gesture and colour. This results in work which reflects an emotional world for which I had not previously found a voice. After the initial gestural impulses I edit, overpaint, remove layers and refine to make sure that the marks and colour are doing what I want them to do.
Your work uses references to imagined landscape and faces. How have you developed this visual vocabulary.
Creation of the topography of imagined landscape is approached in the same way as the imagined heads by making marks and responding to them. The heads have a sculptural sense, this probably comes from studying portraiture sculpture at Heatherlys in the 80s. I want to make marks that suggest form rather than dictate it, that give a sense of atmosphere and emotion. My instinct and energy make these marks, I just hold the brush.
Colour is important in your work. How do you use it and why?
Colour sets the emotional tone of my work. I spend a long time mixing colours and building a palette. Colour has the ability to excite or calm, it is the most fundamental aspect of the emotional landscapes.
The heads that I paint are monochrome because colour would dilute their dramatic strength. I am a very instinctive painter and usually just choose colours that feel right to express how I am at that particular time.
What other artists, works or art traditions have most influenced you?
I have been influenced by Turner, Abstract Expressionism, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Rae, Scottish Colourists and Fauvism.
How has your work changed or evolved through your career? Was there a particular turning point?
I have always been interested in the idea of journeys, literal, emotional and metaphorical. The illustrative storytelling style of earlier work gave way to a more visceral and immediate expression of energy when I became pregnant.
The 2004 MA exhibition consisted of a series of large highly coloured painted monotype circles These large circular images were abstract explorations of form, mark making, colour, and automatic writing. I termed them ‘Emotional Landscapes’ as they fully reflected how I was feeling at the time of creation. This particular circular form felt like I was looking through a microscope at some kind of cell, full of life and energy. I also created light boxes where the images were painted/printed onto two layers of perspex and back lit, furthering the idea of microscopic cells. I switched to a square format, and painted in a horizon line, and from that point on I found myself starting to think about producing more literal work.
The mark making and gestural approach remained appropriate as I began exploring imaginary landscapes, places that I would like to be. I aim to keep an open mind so expect the work to keep developing and changing as I respond to the mass of inspiration all around.
In September you are showing at Centre Space Gallery. Tell us something about your exhibition.
I am showing with a small group of artists who all work in different disciplines. We call ourselves Id Artists. (interdisciplinary) We have been exhibiting together for a few years now. I felt it was important to be with others who were not printmakers as I needed to feel that I was able to exhibit work using any process that I wanted to. This exhibition is called ‘Crossing Boundaries;’ as we all seem to be pushing out of the comfort zones in our disciplines, and some works are collaborations between different disciplines.
What does being a member of the RWA Artist Network mean to you?
I really appreciate being able to meet such a wide and diverse group of professional artists on a regular basis. It is important for staying on track, and the community is really friendly and welcoming. I have found the artists talks enlightening, and the support network very helpful.
“…I want to make marks that suggest form rather than dictate it, that give a sense of atmosphere and emotion. My instinct and energy make these marks, I just hold the brush….”
What are you working on now?
It’s been a really busy year so far with a lot of exhibitions and art fairs. I am looking forward to using a recently purchased etching press, and am keen to begin making a series of monotypes in oil. I have a feeling that I may go back to a more abstract style for a while.
Interview by Laurel Smart