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What lies beneath: Guarding Secrets by Gemma Browne

Guarding Secrets by Gemma Browne

Acrylic on linen 2019 courtesy of Kevin Kavanagh Gallery


Guarding Secrets by Gemma Browne

Guarding Secrets by Gemma Browne

Guarding Secrets by Gemma Browne

Influenced by Alice in Wonderland illustrations, Enid Blyton storybooks and Ladybird books on Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, artist Gemma Browne has "always been a picture maker" and "called myself an artist from the age of about six".

London-born, Browne grew up in Tralee. "I have never lived in the countryside so town things, like toy shops and book and comic shops were influences." She remembers, aged five, "feeling bored and disoriented when we left London until our boxes of toys arrived and we opened them up, I was back to business".

Childhood dolls still feature in her work and "I often paint from the shoulders up which correlates with holding up my dolls when I was younger and seeing that part of them. I also had 1970s' big-eyed girls and puppies prints on my bedroom walls and I guess that led me to painting enlarged eyes later on".

Painting, for Browne, is "a very emotional, instinctive process. It's often a year or years later when I feel I know partly what they are about or how much of my life at the time has been reflected in them". Her work is "not autobiographical at all" and yet it is "probably subliminally somewhat autobiographical given that paint is a very expressive, emotional medium".

At Crawford she worked in oils, switching to "very watery, odourless" acrylics in Birmingham, where she did an MA. Her work has changed but "there are some core threads holding it all together".

Models, "artificial and unreal, perfectly posed, made-up, glossed, airbrushed, theatrical and fake in order to sell an image, clothes, goods" and dolls "have kept coming back as a motif. But I liked how paintings based on these images changed through the process of paint. The cold, glossy photo has been replaced by the vulnerable human subject".

Browne, "naturally very nostalgic and romantic about past times and places" also collects second-hand large books of 1970s' interiors and plant books. These old objects are imbued with "uncanny life because they belonged to someone or many people and how those people interacted with them makes them special".

In her very small studio space, Browne places canvas or paper on the floor, kneels on a cushion and paints. "Politicians make speeches about the arts uplifting the people but the reality is that artists are making art in their bedrooms or living rooms, not large loft studios."

Her vibrant palette produces female figures amid flowers, gardens, palaces, curtains. Interested in the "various roles females can play in their daily lives and the unseen, often largely unrewarded, domestic work they take care of, the dolls and other elements are representative of the female and of myself. Especially since I had my two daughters, I'd do laundry and cleaning between making art". Her painting With My Little Gal, "is a painting mostly about motherhood and could be me and one of my daughters".

Unusually, in this gorgeously sensuous but sinister work, Guarding Secrets, the head is missing. "I wanted the figure to be mysterious and I didn't want the face to be focused on. One has to guess her mood or the situation she is in. The title also refers to the acting people do with each other or the hiding of true feelings."

Browne wants the viewer - she's shown in London, Paris, San Francisco, Seattle, Denmark, Norway, Greece - "to look but then other elements unsettle the viewer and pose questions".

In her new show, Queen of the Dusk, "the females are queens of their homes or domestic domains. There they reign" Also, in Covid lockdown, she'd take her daughter for a walk in the neighbourhood, at dusk, "the safer, nicer time to walk. Also dusk is the last light of the day so I see that as optimism. Mothers and queens can still try new things and achieve much".

Kevin Kavanagh Gallery until August 1. Solo show at The Lab, late August. Instagram: gemmabrowne11;

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