by Parola d’Artista
Parola d’Artista: For most artists, childhood represents the golden age when the first symptoms of a certain propensity to belong to the art world begin to appear. Was that the case for you too? Tell me?
Gwen Hardie: Yes- my connection to art started early. There was an intense curiosity in me that found a channel through the act of drawing. Drawings for school projects would occupy huge amounts of my time and I started my first ‘sketchbook’ when I was around 10 years old . The act of looking seemed to give me this special feeling of connection – It was a practice – this quiet private place where I could observe and make sense of what was in front of me. It felt as if there was a kind of marriage developing between little girl Gwen and something much bigger than me – (I wasn’t aware of the “artworld’ as such.)
Parola d’Artista: What studies have you done?
Gwen Hardie: I did a 4 year drawing and painting degree at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland which was based on observation from life in oil painting. The following year, I was fortunate to have my own private studio and model which gave me my first ‘breakthrough’ into a personal language – it felt like I just eliminated everything that wasn’t interesting and closed in on what was completely compelling! I then received a DAAD Art scholarship to further my studies with George Baselitz at the HDK in Berlin (West – at the time!) This was a short lived period of study with a ‘master’ in the apprentice system as it made me realize I wasn’t exactly an expressionist! Thereafter, how to find visual equivalents for life in art was my study.
Parola d’Artista: Have there been other important encounters that have had an impact on your work?
Gwen Hardie: When I was living in London in the 90s, a friend invited me to a talk by the late Vietnamese zen master Thich Nhat Hanh- I was learning a meditation practice called the mindfulness of breathing at the time and maybe this explains why I was so receptive to his words. I felt that I was in the presence of a human being so much more evolved than anyone else I had ever met – he represented an alternative way of being in and understanding the world which was as compelling to me as the art world. It felt like I was experiencing directly the subject matter and ways of looking at the world that I wanted to take into my art, though I didn’t have the means to do that at the time. Zen Buddhism emphasizes cultivating awareness in the present moment, which connects easily to the kind of art that I love.
Gwen Hardie in her studio
Parola d’Artista: What kind of works did you do once you finished your studies?
Gwen Hardie: The main thing I did was magnify and decontextualize the single figure – this felt like stepping into the field of the face/figure rather than set a narrative or composition around it. I experimented with sculptural reliefs, dissecting and repeating the motif of the single figure to create ambiguity. I was looking for ways to avoid ‘literal’ interpretations and expand ways of seeing.
Parola d’Artista: What role does color play in what you do?
Gwen Hardie: Color is like a sound or vibration- it strikes through the senses in an immediate way- its a magical thing- for me- it brings the sensation of life or living to my work. I play with how colors resonate with each other- and explore what happens by controlling the degree of saturation, mutedness, radiance of a color through gradients and blending. For me the color has an identity- or - a feeling / sensation of weight, gravity, opacity, radiance, transparency, ethereality. 'Flat' color doesn't interest me - rather - I am interested in how color is experienced in a three dimensional illusion. I want to feel the presence of light in some way as it influences a color.
Parola d’Artista: What kind of colours do you paint with?
Gwen Hardie: I would say all colors are interesting – I am fascinated by the ‘warming effect’ to color as mentioned above, which ranges from palest to darkest tone and from muted to very saturated hue. Studying one ‘family’ of
colors in a series of paintings triggers the curiosity for a different family of colors. I have been working with earth colors- these are colors used in classical oil painting and the Renaissance- like raw umber, venetian red, indian
red, chromium oxide green, naples yellow. Recently, I am bringing in to my palette more contemporary synthetic colors such as naphthol red and pthalo green. I use the opaque colors mars black and titanium white to adjust levels
of shade and radiation of a pure color and am currently exploring how opaque and transparent colors interact. There’s an amazing glowing reflective quality that happens when a deeply saturated color like crimson is woven into dark
Its very easy to 'kill' the painting - what determines the success of the painting is mostly the way color lives within the square- radiating, expanding, forwards, outwards, backwards in space. Its a marriage if very precise color and tonal interactions.
Parola d’Artista: Are you interested in the painterly qualities of your work?
Gwen Hardie:It depends what you mean by ‘painterly’? I feel very free and at the same time focused when I paint- physically the paint is flying on fast –applied with pressure using very wide flat brushes,...each brush designated to an area of an approximate color within the painting – I need my entire body energy to paint, my arm makes broad sweeping strokes for hours at a time. This way, I build up a unified oil film of paint across the entire surface which contains the color. This film of oil paint has to look effortless, beautiful
, mesmeric...so it often fails!
Does it look painterly at the end? To my mind yes but there are no visible brushstrokes. However, even within this unified seemingly brushless film of oil paint, there is a kind of harnessing of physical and mental energy invested
into the painting as a whole which speaks directly to the qualities of painting.
Parola d’Artista: Do you work on several pieces together?
Gwen Hardie: I always finish one painting in one painting session that lasts between 3 and 8 hours. However, I often delve more deeply into a series of variations of a certain family of colors over a few weeks – many paintings get rejected at the end of the day as I fine tune certain color relationships and delve more deeply into darker, lighter, more saturated or opaque versions of paintings within a series.
Parola d’Artista: How important is geometry in your work?
Gwen Hardie: I don’t make ‘compositions’ as such– I keep rotating the canvas to bring it to a conclusion- I paint it at four 90 degree angles to make sure there’s equal attention on all four sides. Within the work, theres a focus on centrality so that the attention is drawn both into and through and outwards and expanding. Attention drawn to one side of the painting would weaken this three dimensional illusion.
Parola d’Artista: How important is light in what you do?
Gwen Hardie: Crucial- I relate to the photographers cliche that light is everything! Light is a phenomenon that is integral to our survival on earth- but it also gives us unquantifiable beauty and the ability to perceive depths of field in space. I am particularly interested in how light relates to color to create a spatial illusion. Think of how blue the hills look in the distance for example...this cooling off in the distance and relative warming in proximity is something I think about in my painting. (May I pay respect to Leonardo Da Vinci invention of sfumato technique! ) I am also interested in the surface of the color appearing to reflect or absorb light or sometimes hover and do both. What’s amazing to me, is how these optical effects of varying depths of field reflect how we see things in nature and yet can also evoke inner worlds.
Parola d’Artista: Does your daily practice of art lead you towards a spiritual path?
Gwen Hardie: I think its the other way round for me ...my experience of living and curiosity about spirituality in general influences my art and the approach to creating it.
Parola d’Artista: How do your works relate to the space in which you install them?
Gwen Hardie:I hope that my work brings an experience of light, life and presence to a room – in some ways, my work is like a magnification of light and shadow which reverberates with the light entering a room. I favor simplicity, natural light , reductive aesthetics in a space.
Parola d’Artista: What importance does the category of time have in what you do?
Gwen Hardie: Such an enigmatic question! Time is very relative – my work is physically challenging to make because of the time it takes for the oil film to start stiffening and drying- I can’t make the paint do what I want it to after several hours of painting and for some reason, can never return later to complete the work- I have ‘killed’ it every time I try! this leads me to believe that I am essentially capturing a time frame of life within the painting. I recognize when looking at
ancient paintings, the sense of timelessness- or rather capturing the present moment within the painting despite it having been painted hundreds of years ago. In this way painting can present a kind of time capsule of the present moment...this is something I think about also when painting.
Parola d’Artista: I wanted to ask you to talk more about this aspect of temporal suspension and the relationship with the art of the past which artists when you enter a museum you feel drawn to?
AW: I wanted to ask you to talk again about this aspect of temporal suspension and the relationship with the art of the past. Which artists do you feel attracted to when you enter a museum?
Gwen Hardie: Yes its a real phenomenon – this ability that art has to suspend time as you say – at least in our perceptions!
For me, the most compelling art from the past creates a complete sense of living in the present.- often through the convincing play of light and shadow in a particular scene. I am particularly drawn to the ‘en plain air’ studies of landscape painters such as Camille Corot in the 18th century for example – I prefer the sketch to the final painting done in the studio because of the living animated quality the artist was able to achieve through painting directly in front of the scene.
Vermeer is an interesting example of this too but in a more schematic and distilled way – his sense of the present comes from exacting subtleties of tone and hue built up over time in tiny blending brushstrokes. Somehow he manages to make this colossal effort over time appear effortless.
A century later, the impressionists, in particular Monet’s serial paintings further develop this direct relationship between perception and subject matter. Light, shadow, color was analyzed and broken down in a way that opened new ways
of thinking about time and matter.
Maybe this sense of ‘temporal suspension’ can occur when the artist works in a way that is completely married to their direct experience of life...this unique language which captures their experience is what in turn transforms successfully the work of art into something we can experience fully in the present, regardless of when the art was made. (A question more than an
Gwen Hardie lives and works in New York. She was born and educated in Scotland and lived in Berlin and London before moving to the United States. Upcoming exhibitions include “Thresholds,” a solo exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco from February 2 to March 2, 2024, and “ART UNTITLED,” Miami, on view with Arden and White Gallery from December 5 to 10, 2023. I Current projects include The Spaceless Gallery based in Paris/Miami, exhibiting with The Invisible Collection, NYC, Gilles & Boissiere, Maison Veronese in Paris, and Holly Hunt in Miami and Chicago. Her work will be represented at the London Art Fair in 2024 with The Finch Project based in London and is also available with Dimmitt Contemporary Art in Houston. Recent solo exhibitions include: “Atmosphere” at the now defunct ESTELLA Gallery in New Orleans (2023), “Intimations” at 57W57 Arts, NYC and “Human Boundaries” at Galerie Pugliese Levi in Berlin (2022). Recent group exhibitions include: “Volume” at Arden and White Gallery in New Canaan, NY and “Consciousness” at Sage Culture, LA. Her work is exhibited regularly at the Hague Art Fair, PAN AMSTERDAM and Kunst RAI art fairs with ASAP Gallery / Chabot Fine Art based in The Hague. In 1994 she was the youngest living artist to receive a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Hardie's works are present in public and private collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Council in London and the Calouste Gulbenkian Modern Collection in Lisbon. Her work has been reviewed in Art In America, The New York Times, Artcritical.com, The Glasgow Herald, The New Yorker, The Scotsman and The Independent. Hardie has received fellowships from the Bogliasco Foundation, Genoa, Italy, VCCA, MacDowell, and Yaddo in the United States.