Charcoal, Decay and the Nap of Velvet - Enter the World of Gina Haywood
Studio Visit by Juliet Rosser
Gina Haywood, Hobart
I recently came across a great article from the Book of Life, on The Importance of Drawing - why you should stop taking pictures and learn to draw (read here). It discussed the philosophies of John Ruskin, the 19th century artist and art critic on how it is only through drawing that we begin to be able to see. He was dismayed by the fast moving culture of the time, people missed details and subsequently missed the beauty in the world. Now more than ever the same is true and it is why the work of Gina Haywood is so important.
Her work examines the notion of time, death and decay. The intensity of her gaze penetrates into the beauty of nature. By the time Gina has finished one of her drawings, her subject a single flower has long since perished.
I visited Hobart a few year ago to write an article for the QANTAS magazine about contemporary art beyond MONA in the southern city. It was a great opportunity to visit the stunning studio of Gina Haywood. Gina's works are meticulous charcoal studies that can take her years to complete. Photo realistic contemplative and awe inspiring, they are simply breathtaking.
I hope you enjoy learning about her practice in the interview below.
Tell us about your most recent works?
Large graphic botanical drawings that celebrate the art of seduction through to small intimate studies that examine the cyclical nature of existence.
My most recent collection of drawings presents unusual compositions that play with pansy and peony forms. Petal landscapes that radiate light and celebrate surface detail.
Her masterpiece Memory Wakes (152 cm x 113 cm) is a 4 piece charcoal drawing of a rose thorn which is not for sale and part of the artists private collection.
How does Tasmania influence your practice?
I lived in Sydney for 15 years prior to moving back to Hobart and Sydney is where I first began to focus my exhibition work on drawing using charcoal. I am not aware of a direct influence on my work having moved to Tasmania however being closer to family has provided a supportive and nurturing environment in which to continue to develop my practice and now work as a full time artist. The climate is much dryer and cooler in Hobart than Sydney. This difference initially affected my practice and required changes to my application technique.
I used to visit Hobart to recharge and now I visit Sydney. Tasmania is a beautiful island. Sydney is a beautiful city. Both have there own unique ‘light and dark’ attributes.
Gina working on Day turns to night for the upcoming Carbon Black exhibition.
Where do you source your inspiration?
Mostly from taking a walk, looking at everything and anything I come across. I enjoy the randomness of my gaze and what fixates me on a given day. The curl of a leaf, a shadow, its the simple things that I find sublime. I take lots of photos and bring ‘special finds’ into the studio to re photograph and examine on the computer screen. The potential to select, magnify and tweak areas of an image always inspires.
When beginning a body of work I try not to look outside my own references as this encourages the tunnel vision I need in order to see the works through to completion.
Small details of Gina's natural collections, a study of eucalyptus leaves in various stages of decay. A vase full of feathers.
How long do you work on your drawings?
Each drawing is different so anywhere from one to 6 months. Even though I use my photographs as source images, the drawing process does not travel in a neat straight line from start to finish nor is it a 9 – 5 effort. Afternoon naps or time out to let things be, are an important part of my drawing process.
My work includes spontaneous gestures in order to gain resolution however these are not quick gestural drawings, It’s always a protracted marathon of engagement with each work.
"Phoenix" - work in progress over 6 months.
What do you like about charcoal?
Not all types of charcoal are equal. I use compressed charcoal for its tonal range, its ability to produce intense permanent blacks through to the lightest feather greys.
My drawings are created mostly by indirect application techniques. I load a paper palette with charcoal from which I then pick up tone with cotton wool, my hands or a torch on prior to applying it to the drawing surface.
While I enjoy working with a lot of other mediums and using colour, charcoal continues to captivate. It is such a basic art material. When I first started to use it in this way, I felt almost a primal connection with it.
Working the charcoal against the paper surface is akin to touching the nap of velvet. The matte texture created by layering charcoal both absorbs light and reflects it. There are so many possibilities with the layering process that I feel I’ve only just begun to unlock its potential.
Taking photographs and then reinterpreting them as tonal charcoal drawings, it’s a wonderful match.
Charcoal’s unruly nature is both a blessing and a curse. Accidental marks can be inspiring or infuriating. The finish I aim for and the potential staining power of the charcoal don’t allow much leeway at times but I enjoy the challenge.
Playing with patina, Gina's abstract mixed media paintings, ink, acrylic & charcoal
Where and when do you create your work?
I have two studios I work in, one is where I live and looks out into a large garden the other is a rented office space in the city, which I help manage as an ARI (artist run initiative) called Astray Studio.
At home I prefer to work at night under soft artificial light, for it is then that the magic happens and the paper and charcoal merge.
The city studio is a shared studio space that we open to the public on weekends and this balances the isolation of working from home.
The desk of a modern day botanist, Gina's desk holds collections under investigation and study by the artist.
Where do the titles of your work come from?
All the titles for my works are directly linked to the subject, the feel of the work or the title of the show. At times I begin with a working title based on my initial reactions to the source photograph then as a work develops, its personality or stance might direct me to a new title.
Soft Focus No.6 relates to the visual effect of the work and 6 is the atomic number for the element carbon. Carbon black is a term used to describe intense black. Just like white there are so many different blacks, carbon black is the strongest velvet black.
The paper provides the whites and then it’s all about the application of the charcoal to create the forms and harness contrast.
While the works explore the effects of light on form, from my point of view as the ‘smudger’ its all about the carbon black.
The finished "Phoenix" - charcoal drawing for Carbon Black exhibition at Platform72.