Julie O meets Guilaine Arts
It's a cold and snappy day as I walk down a fairly nondescript street of terraced houses behind a busy high street. Some terraces are three storey with ornate stonework above their front doors, looming over the small skinnier versions. The houses stand a pavement breadth away from a busy one way road, there are no front gardens but enough space for hanging baskets which are scarce here. Now and again I pass a prettily painted front door or an window holding interesting looking objects in it. There is life everywhere really.
The house I'm visiting has it's windows covered by horizontal slim wooden blinds. All of which are mostly closed, in a protective fashion.
The door opens and my host stands there open and welcoming me into a space which is much larger than what the outer building suggests. It is light, airy, tardis like and incredibly tidy which exudes a serene atmosphere. This is the home of painter and traveller Guilaine Arts. I'm shown into a front room which has multiple large scale canvas placed around the room, hugging the walls but not directly attached to them.They are figurative with generally a solitary figure per canvas. The figures though are sat in company of large swathes of bold colour both in their dress and their backgrounds. They are depictions of a variety of characters who present equine beauty. They are quite luminous but they do not give us all the answers to who they may be, little is given away with regards to this. These characters are dominant.They insist on being noticed.
I don't have much time to study the work further at this point when conversation begins. We sit on a sofa, with me facing the wooden window blinds, this suits me fine. Guilaine sits facing me with her back to the window. This works well as the light coming in highlights the amber of her very cool spectacles and the richness of the turquoise (mohair?) sweater she is wearing. As she talks she is connected and presents a posture and image of someone that demands a place in one of her own paintings.
We talk about where we are from or where we think we are from. Guilaine talks of Paris and France. I of my travels and my own migration to this present city and how as a migrant we can often feel that we don't belong anywhere. Guilaine adds to that in saying she 'belongs to everywhere'. A comment which is both confident and also signals an acceptance. We also talk of 'fitting in' and how we find 'our' place. How as migrants we can appear on the one hand to retain a fluidity but also a sense of loss after we leave our places of birth.
We chat a little about a piece of work which sits directly opposite us. It is a vibrant piece with it's main character a solitary child. A barren landscape behind her but not without colour. It is literally hot with colour, intense. The piece is called 'Entangled life' and the theme stemmed from issues around ethnic and/or identity cleansing in Haiti particular relating to the children there. The gaze of the character in the painting, this young girl, is direct and holds us the viewers, the onlookers responsible perhaps, each of us. It maybe is also a gaze of strength, of human spirit and survival.
We have some tea and tiny sponge cakes in between our chat. After a while we glide (as there are literally no obstacles in our way) through the house upstairs to a room at the back of the house.This is the little studio where Guilaine paints. Again it is perfectly tidy (certainly so for a painter yes). No Bacon-esq carpet of squashed semi full tubes of oils here. Only clean lines, a polite simplicity. White walls, a desk with a computer monitor, an easel and high stool, another table of implements, brushes, knives etc. Behind these, a window which looks out onto the back garden and also onto a raggedy old shed complete with lazy cat sitting at it's door. A waiting model perhaps.
Guilaine talks of her mother in Guadalupe and how they stay in contact via electronic means such as Skype. This occurs often when she is painting and her mother, while reclining on a settee or bed in Guadalupe, watches her daughter paint and may even attempt to offer her some advice on the painting. Sometimes they just stay quiet, separated by many physical miles but content with each others company, each other's presence felt.
Returning to the presentation room downstairs we resume chat. We talk about the Fine Art world in this city and country, about the Networking culture. Guilaine remarks that it 'should be an exchange' but often feels like 'they want something from you'. I concur, that there is often a feeling of having to perform, like some kind of circus animal, to see what you can do and maybe not enough focus on 'who you really are'.
We also talk of 'art language' and academia, in particular again in this country and the level of importance attached to it. Guilaine comments that she feels it can be a barrier and it can keep people out. This is one way of looking at this but I say, 'like all sectors of life, there have their own language and codes', 'Yes, it can appear restrictive but learning languages can also open us up, can't it?. It's a lengthy topic and one which we don't really have time to delve properly into today.
Time catches up with us and soon I am propelled back onto the street. It feels a bit of a shock after the serenity of Guilaine's house.
I reflect on Guilaine's work, after my visit while I cycle back through the now darkening streets. I wonder about Guilaine's own geographical displacement and whether this is chanelled into her chosen subject matter, which seems to appear over and over. These women, solitary on their journey, watchful, contained, certain. They are steady, unmoving and grounded. Reflecting on these Guilaine's characters I think of the work of others such as Paul Gaugin, Vlidimir Tretchikoffs 'zulu maiden', 'Lady of Ndebele' and even the work of the recent Turner prize nominee Lynette Yiadon - Boakye, who just like Guilaine paints characters who don't exist outside her own imagination.
I do wonder if she will see the shed in the garden and the cat who guards it's door. I wonder if she will look out of the window and explore further what is out there. Until then that serene space at the back of that skinny terrace house will no doubt continue to welcome these characters sans names into Guilaine's and our world.
Recipe for a piece of work by Guilaine Arts
. The unthinkable
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