Q & A with artist Gabi Mika-McNaughton

In 2014, Gabi won the SHE exhibition at Walker Street Gallery. Her current exhibition “42.65528° S, 146.58750° E” will present her new beautiful painted forest landscape works for the public to see and admire.

We had a chat to Gabi about her inspirations, how she prepares for exhibitions and what advice she has for aspiring artists.

In 2014, you won the SHE exhibition Walker Street Gallery Prize, what role do you think art prizes have for Australian artists?

Prizes are a fantastic way for the artist to gain exposure. Especially for unrepresented, (artists without agents), artists.

Most artists constantly doubt their own work and being accepted into a prestigious art prize can be a great confidence booster and or course it doesn’t really need to be said but….prize money can be the ultimate bonus for a ‘starving’ artist.

The prize for winning SHE is a solo exhibition at Walker Street Gallery, can you tell us how you prepare for a solo exhibition and if winning the prize had an impacted on the development of your solo exhibition?

When preparing I have a really long thought and planning process about what particular landscape I am going to paint. I take in account my audience, number of works, size and so on. Budget is also carefully thought out.  I then disappear with a sketch book and my camera for a week or so and immerse myself in my chosen landscape. Then I panic, realizing that I only have a few months left before opening. I then lock myself in the studio and paint like a mad woman.  Because I work in oil, and live in a  humid Queensland climate, I have to always account for drying time and therefore can have 5 or more canvases on the go at once. I really work well under pressure and more often than not I find the fastest painted works are the best.

Winning ‘She 2014’ for me was a humbling experience. There was a very high standard of work last year. It is a bit of a cliché,  but knowing that others thought my work worthy of winning drove me much harder to produce an exhibition I thought was up to standard.

You are predominantly a landscape painter, inspired by the Australian environment. What have been some of your most memorable scenes to paint?

There are so many that this amazing land offers.  But a couple spring to mind.

Light, colour and movement are what I look for in a Landscape.

The mouth of the Elliot River near Bargara on the Queensland coast. The rocks that line the shore are volcanic and ivory black and they create a huge contrast to anything that surrounds them.

Another environment is Mt Field National Park in Tasmania (My exhibition on at the Walker Street Gallery). The flora is so diverse. For someone like me that enjoys painting bush landscapes, I was like a child in a candy store.  Then near the summit the eye is blown away by open spaces and Alpine flora.

Tassie Triffid  oil on linen  80 x 100cm  2014

Tassie Triffid oil on linen 80 x 100cm 2014

What do you want your audience to experience when viewing your artwork?

I like my audience to be surprised by the same beauty I find in the Australian Landscape. Many people have no idea what is on their doorstep! I want to entice them to leave their technology driven existences and go and explore these environments, as these are the environments that need protecting. The more people that explore, the more people will hopefully think about its protection.

Do you have a favourite piece that you have created?

Strangely! The work that won ‘She 2014’. Titled ‘In the Dark Shadow of Tibrogargan’.

This painting was from a series inspired by the landscape in and around Mt Tibrogargan in the Glass House Mountains National Park. It is very dark and moody. My favourite works tend to be quite large; this one is 100 x 200cm.

Do you ever go through down times when you are not happy with your own work or skills?

All the time!!! …Down times are a constant for me. I suppose I am a bit of a perfectionist.

And because of that I tend to push myself. If I wasn’t super critical my work would not evolve, or improve!

Do you ever face “creativity blocks”?

I don’t really face “creativity blocks” per se.

My block is a little different.  Annoyingly I have 100’s of creative idea’s whizzing around in my head at one time. The challenge for me is to find one to focus on.

You studied Fashion/Textile design at the National Art School in Sydney; does this influence your painting?

Absolutely! I have always had an obsession about textiles design in particular.

Curators and critics alike have made reference to my fashion/textile background. I think pattern and layering are something I brought with me from my early studies. I nearly studied marine biology when I left school. It would be fascinating to see now what I would be producing, if I had taken that path.

Everything from my background has molded me into the artist that I am today. I am sure that can be said for many artists. That is what makes us individual.

Who are your favourite artists and how do they influence your work?

Oh, now there are way too many to mention. I am basically a fan of anyone who can use light well. One of my favourite Australian artists would be Lloyd Rees. He was a master of light and living Australian artist Tom Carment whom I admire for the movement he creates. Since I was a child my fascination for the Dutch Masters has never waned, especially the works of Vermeer.

I wouldn’t say these artists have influenced my work with their technique or approach, as they all have different ones, but more their capacity to harness light.

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

Always stay aspiring!! Never give up! The work you hate is the work someone else will love. Listen to feed back. Never think your work is better than others…..Art is in the eye of the beholder!  Be prepared to put in the hours.

But mostly enjoy your work. If the fun has gone, try a different approach.

Gabi’s exhibition “42.65528° S, 146.58750° E” can been seen at Walker Street Gallery until 28 February 2015.


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