Immerse yourself in the captivating world of Pippa Gatty, an artist who lives and works amid Scotland’s awe-inspiring landscapes. A distinguished graduate with a B.A. in Fine Art Painting (1990) and an MA (2008) from the illustrious Chelsea College of Art and Design, Gatty’s practice extends beyond traditional drawing and painting mediums, extending her artistic reach into the realm of video installations.
Gatty’s practice is fueled by the concept of artistic labour as a ‘phantasm’ catalyst, with her chosen subjects fearlessly probing and defying the boundaries separating the imaginary from the real. Through her deft command of perception, time, and space, Gatty weaves intricate narratives, giving life to a realm of possibilities that leave an indelible mark on the viewer. Gatty’s thought-provoking approach to art-making has solidified her reputation as an artist who constantly challenges the limits of expression, bearing witness to the boundless potential of human imagination.
Her distinct voice has led her work to be in numerous collections, including the Robert Devereux Collection, University of the Arts Collection, Priseman Seabrook Collection, and private collections. Step into Gatty’s world and experience the mesmerizing intersection of imagination and reality.
In this interview, we learn more about the next chapter of her artistic journey, inspiration, new work and her exhibition with Soho Revue.
Pitta Gatty: Of Mere Being runs at Soho Revue from the 17th March – 8th April 2023
I am very interested in your process. To what extent do you paint “from life” and to what extent is your practice more intuitive, painting from an impression of the environment on your imagination? Do you use any visual source material at all?
Pippa Gatty: I tend to go in with a sense of something, a loose idea. Really, nothing more concrete than that. Maybe I’ll reference a painting or sketch or image off my phone for composition or colour but this really is nothing more than a device to get the painting underway. They seldom come quick. I might find a written passage which resonates, and I will try to hang on to it for a while, but often the surface will be wiped or scoured or sanded multiple times before the painting finds a stable state. I saw a video of Cecily Brown several years ago in which she said ‘hold no prisoners’. It seems to play in my head when a painting feels stuck.
For good or bad, I regularly seem to erase, to varying degrees, what I’ve been working on. I have kept photos of loads of paintings I have ruined. It’s a shame as some of them are good, and I wonder why I couldn’t see that at the time. But in the thick of it you often can’t see what’s in front of you.
Howard Hodgkin used to turn his paintings against the wall for weeks/months before looking at them again or working on them again… I think this is an excellent idea, but I am way too impatient and greedy to see them and not carry on. I often think I am my own worst enemy. During the development of the paintings I will try to hold on to various sections which seem relevant .. they just build up like that until I recognise something in them and they begin to feel resolved in some way.
Could you tell us a bit more about some of the influences on or inspirations for your work.
Pippa Gatty: My work is a reflection of my life, it really is as simple as that: what I read, hear, see, do. My family, my history and heritage, my animals, my environment and my worries. The paintings I look at and have looked at, and the feelings they evoke in me… everything really… I rule out nothing.
The subject of your paintings for this show feels very specific to the location of your studio on Mull. When you moved here from London, did you find there was a distinct shift in the style and subject matter of your work and do you think if you moved again it would change?
Pippa Gatty: Well, before we moved here I was making quite different work. Some video (which on reflection now seem as if they were studies for these paintings), lots of drawing, and the painting I was doing was more documentary. Part of the deal I made with myself in moving here was that I was going to start of try to make paintings in a different way. We are very remote here, and I wanted to develop a practice which was completely self-reliant.
So I wouldn’t need anyone else to help me to get things done. It was a completely new way of working for me. I wanted to build an archive of images really… of living here. I thought at the time that I wouldn’t even need to exhibit them, just build some shelves, and start stacking them up. My studio (in a barn) was very dark and dusty with the hairiest cat that every lived, so I initially had a lot of trouble with dust and cat hair getting stuck to everything. I have no doubt that if I moved somewhere else my paintings would reflect that change.
Similarly, in your practice, would you say your paintings tempered by the different seasons? And, are there specific times for you that are most conducive to creativity; the ferocity of the winter in the Hebrides perhaps, or the more benign conditions in spring/summer?
Pippa Gatty: Well, before we moved here I was making quite different work. Some video (which on reflection now seem as if they were studies for these paintings), lots of drawing, and the painting I was doing was more documentary. Part of the deal I made with myself in moving here was that I was going to start of try to make paintings in a different way.
We are very remote here, and I wanted to develop a practice which was completely self-reliant. So I wouldn’t need anyone else to help me to get things done. It was a completely new way of working for me. I wanted to build an archive of images really… of living here. I thought at the time that I wouldn’t even need to exhibit them, just build some shelves, and start stacking them up. My studio (in a barn) was very dark and dusty with the hairiest cat that every lived, so I initially had a lot of trouble with dust and cat hair getting stuck to everything. I have no doubt that if I moved somewhere else my paintings would reflect that change.
Your work physically is characteristically small in size yet there is a sense of scale which goes beyond this both in your expressiveness and the subject matter. Could you talk a bit about why you tend to keep your paintings small.
Pippa Gatty: The scale of them currently is a very natural scale for me to work on. I can hold them in my arm as I paint them. I can disappear into them. I do keep trying different scales but haven’t yet found a way of making larger ones that hold the same intensity. As I physically demand quite a lot of resistance of the surface I have not yet found a way of making much bigger work that can take the rigours of my process.
There is also the financial element to working big which has to be considered especially if you are endlessly scraping and scouring the paint away. I do however want to resolve this and find a way. I think about it a lot. Sometimes I think I can see what they look like big.
There is a potent sense of traditions such as The Sublime in your paintings. When I visited your studio, you mentioned that it can be quite terrifying when storms hit. Would you say that fear is a large factor in your work; fear of climate change, fear of the power of the elements etc.
Pippa Gatty: I am scared by the storms for sure. I am also very scared of climate change, ecological collapse, our governments. I sense that when we have really strong storms here, that this is just a fraction of the power that the elements could throw at us. It’s huge and terrifying and somehow wonderful.
When you see those arrows on the weather maps with the wind barreling in from the Atlantic – that’s me under one of those big red arrows… holding on.
How do you go about naming your paintings?
Pippa Gatty: Sometimes I know straight away – almost as I start it and that’s great because I can use that to help bring it home… but it doesn’t happen very often. Sometimes it takes forever. For a while I was making up words, it seemed to make more sense that way. I was reading a lot of Ursula K Le Guin and I borrowed the idea from her. But it’s actually quite a hard thing to do, and I think some of the most successful titles I have used have come directly from my environment. Sometimes they feel flippant and amusing and often that’s enough. I guess it’s a bit like naming a child or animal, you just have to throw everything at it and see what sticks, what suits.
Do you find painting to be therapeutic in any way? Do you find it a useful way of deciphering and understanding the world and our place in it or is it still as obscure when you’ve finished a work as when you started?
Pippa Gatty: No, it’s not therapeutic in as much as it makes me feel better. It doesn’t. When filled with self-doubt it actually feels far from it … however I do feel driven to continue making work and that I can’t qualify. I guess I am a painter and all I can do is carry on. I don’t even think that it’s as simple as deciphering the world, maybe it’s just a way of experiencing the world.. being in it. When a painting is resolved I leave it on the shelf for a while and look at it from time to time and hopefully I think ‘yes, there’s something there’.
Do you ever feel compelled to make in other mediums and is there a reason why paint is the best for your specific practice?
Pippa Gatty: I’m always playing around with things, but paint, its magic isn’t it. Earth and oil and rock and spirit. For me nothing compares.
Heiddeger talks about the friction in art between revelation and concealment as a means of allowing for new perception. Do you feel that a certain level of abstraction is necessary for the subject matter you’re trying to achieve? Is this a factor in your decision to paint more from your minds eye than ‘real life’?
Pippa Gatty: Yes totally. If things become too clear I feel it loses something, everything even. I am striving to find a balance between the abstract and the real… where things are hinted at – not fully revealed. I think the potential of this holds more power. It’s almost like talking about things too much – pinning them down too much, putting them into language – it has the potential to destroy them. Just let them hang there. Sometimes, things take on a form in my paintings that feels real: they have dimensions and seem purposeful and I like that.
I do believe that we only know what our humanness has the capacity to understand, that we are totally limited by our physicality, and that’s finite, but we can sense other things. Humans are so arrogant to think that everything is understandable and languagable. I don’t believe it is. It’s like looking at Andromeda galaxy. You can’t see it if you look at it directly, you have to look to the side of it before it shows itself. I think it’s called averted vision. I want to rule out nothing. And in that way I don’t want to rule out the forms in my paintings as being unreal. They are there – they are real.
Do you feel like you have a clear mission as an artist or is it just something you feel compelled that you have to do?
Pippa Gatty: I just have to do it. What’s the point in anything otherwise.
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