Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reinventing Feminine Mysticism | An interview with artist Heather Gabel

Photo by Chrissy Piper

Heather Gabel is every bit an inspiration as a person as her art. Heather's art brings a melancholy whimsy and mysticism to past images of women. Her work is uniquely feminine and arouses the imagination whilst playing with the aesthetics of the feminine , mysticism, death and the past. The more Heather's work evolves the more and more engaged I become with the content. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Heather about her work and what it means to her.

What was growing up for you like?

I had a generally run of the mill childhood I think, maybe everybody thinks their childhood is normal since, as a child, you don't really know any different. My parents divorced when I was 2 and we moved around about 5 times by the time I was 5 but it wasn't unpleasant or disruptive until I got older and really began dealing with the emotions that arise from that sort of thing. I was always really impatient and fiercely independent and those things combined to result in a pretty "I take no shit" kind of attitude in me at a young age.


Were you always interested in art an early age or was it something that grew into?

It was the first thing that anyone noticed that I was good at so I was always encouraged in that area which in turn made it something I was more interested in. But, yeah, I remember seeing paintings and sculptures in books and really feeling involved with them at a young age. I grew more deeply into it during high school where art and photography class became a literal refuge from most of my other high school experiences.

Did you undertake any official art training?

I did. I started college on a photography scholarship at The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit and eventually graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a bachelor of fine arts. 

Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
I don't know. I'm just doing whatever my feeling/subconscious is moving me to make. 

There appears to be a strong vintage and feminine aspect to your work, is that something aesthetically deliberate or is their an underlying reason you use these images to build upon?

They are themes I've always been drawn to. I've always had a fascination with the rituals and traditions of the past, forever thinking things must have been so much more magical in another time past. I try to capture that timeless essence in my work, the femininity is a result of my personal reverence for the strength and duality of natures I correlate with women. So it's not aesthetically deliberate in and of the images themselves that I utilize in my collages or paintings but more of what I personally associate the symbolism of a woman with. The woman of the past is much more attractive to me in her more solemn and stoic state, like the calm surface of still water concealing unknown depths and endless possibilities, there's a mystery there that today's general depiction of vacant smiling women lacks for me. I also revel in breathing new lives into these women, now deceased, putting them in a context that they surely wouldn't ever have imagined.

How would you describe your art?

Oh I'm terrible at it. I just don't or I mumble something about collages and paintings, classic subject matter, some incoherent blather and refer them to my website. I'm much more suited to putting it on paper than I am at talking about it.

I feel a kind of quirky dark almost femme fatale mixed with mysticism aesthetic when I look at your work but there also seems to be many dimensions to your work that feel like strong emotive pieces. There is a lot of symbolism in you work. How do you find a happy medium when working on a piece and deciding where you want it to go versus where it could take you?

When I have an idea of what something will be then the whole point is to distill it down to it's strongest elements, visually and conceptually. That happy medium exists. I think it's like playing a cool part on guitar and then writing a song around it.

Who are some of your own favourite artists and why?
Is there a particular person or artist you would love to work with? 

Of course, tons! The majority of my friends are artists/musicians and whenever I've been able to collaborate with them it's always been really fulfilling and successful. 

From the outset one may immediately presume there is a feminist aspect to your work. Would they be right in assuming so or is this something that has become more of a consequence of the art you create?

That's never something I set out to deliberately communicate to a viewer but I feel like I can see why someone would think I was. It's just that the imagery lends itself to that line of thought readily. It's more of a consequence for sure.

What are your favourite colours and materials to work with?

Right now, grey, black/white, silver. Paper, spray paint, botanical images. Female nudes. statues.

There are a lot of females, symbols, icons and darker themes in your work that evoke a lot of emotion but also a sense of mystery and mysticism. When your working on a piece are there central themes you tend to re-visit or concepts you like to base your projects on?

They are all coming from the same place and with the same intent so, yes, everything is related but not overtly. The images I choose, that I go back to, are the ones that I am attracted to over and over for their power, mystery, beauty. 

Is there any direction you would like to go with your art that you haven't conceptualised yet?

Sure, certainly, of course, new things to learn and make in the future always I hope. 

Where do you see your work going in the future and what can we expect to see from Heather Gabel in the future?

I'm working on a jewelry collaboration with a friend for this winter, Matt Skiba and I are doing a show together in NYC in January. All collaboration pieces where he's painting on collages I'm making and I'm going to be in a group show at Parlor Gallery in December. I'm going to also be doing a project with Johalla Projects (the gallery in Chicago that is currently showing Night Visions, a solo show that opened Oct 12th) in conjunction with the City of Chicago to do art installations in the train stations which should be really epic.