Artist Gabrielle Roberts-Dalton explores a pivotal time of life experienced by half the world’s population.
Her Menopause Series charts an artistic response to ‘The Change’ in visual diary form. ART BLOG caught up with Gabby ahead of her inclusion in our forthcoming Prize Exhibition…
Tell us about your selected work…
The drawing is part of a body of work created in the last two years about the Menopause, forming part of a visual diary.
‘Division of Thought – Menopause Series’ is an Indian ink drawing using a dip pen method. I use different size italic nibs.
This particular work is in response to the ‘Mind Fog’ that many women going through the menopause experience. I use a large mirror or photos of myself as a starting point. I let the image develop with the feelings and emotions, without over thinking ideas.
In ‘Division of Thought’ I tried to express the feeling of the top half of my head lifting (mind numbness), while the rest of me felt heavy and split (note the safety pin on the shoulder pulling the material suggesting weight).
Things that happen in my drawing are instinctual and natural. This drawing, as in more recent drawings, has bandages around the arms or torso, a connotation with healing, embalming and restriction. But sometimes these bands turn into wings, thus conveying an ambiguity and contradiction. This all adds to a tension and allows the viewer to interpret and read the drawing differently.
The poetry that I’ve written alongside some of the pieces helps clarify and illuminate ideas and imagery. I can then consider what metaphors and semblances are suitable for me to work with. Nothing is perfect or correct, one minute symbolic of a certain experience, the next just a woman looking outward sitting on soft mattress.
‘Division of Thought – Menopause series’
Division Of Thought
The time of the mind fog descends
Brainpower dissipates and flitters, dividing the intellect essence.
Some thoughts cluster as light as air, to collect, distil and float away. All wander and disperse.
Others thicken and deliberate, a heavy assembly that collects and clusters into a weighty mass.
The body mass pulled down, ponders the focus.
Deliberations, contemplations, reflections peer through particles of mist.
Divided by what? A barrier of flat solidity, bent into a concertinaed fall.
Idea, notion, inspiration, plan, deliberation, contemplation all flutter behind a hidden haze.
The Menopause trance bewilders the bewildered.
Push forward as if in water, to flipper the obscured. Sitting on a soft mattress of fuddle and dimness.
A Concertinist folding thought outside in. Accessible, then not.
Division of thought is me and is not me. I perplex me. Me. The menopause me.
Your work is intensely autobiographical. What made you take this route?
I often draw on personal experiences or responses to things I have read or seen. I think it’s a natural process for me. I want there to be different levels to the pieces I make, a depth if you like. A story to be told, but not always obvious. Being oblique makes the viewer work.
When I began to realise that the menopause was affecting me and couldn’t be ignored, the change in my day-to-day life was a trigger to try and express visually how a woman of 55 feels. The drawings especially are like a diary. Imagine thinking in images and not words.
I think all the best artists’ work is autobiographical and usually their strongest. For example Paula Rego’s work in the late 1980s underwent a profound change due to her husband’s illness. Her work turns inward and more personal.
What are your general thoughts about the depiction of femininity in art, and issues facing women?
I certainly think there’s a difference in the way women portray women. In the past, art history has been dominated by men and the way they view women and society hasn’t been forgiving about the aging process in women.
The menopause is a huge change in a woman’s life and how she and others view her femininity. I have an aversion to the airbrushed Barbie doll images that women have to live up to. Perfect to me are the idiosyncrasies: the ‘flaws’, the blemishes, the lines, the veins, the grey hairs….
The difficulty for women artists is to reconcile traditional feminine roles with their lives as artists. Often images reveal a powerful awareness of the conflicts inherent in childbirth and maternity. Women understand the isolation of women and their traditional role. Frida Kahlo’s My Birth was a rare painting at the time in western art, depicting the act of childbirth. Dorothea Tanning’s Maternity emphasises the mother’s frightening isolation.
Artists like Jenny Seville explore feminine flesh, cosmetic surgery, and physical motherhood. Paula Rego shows the frustration of being a primary carer and the lack of power to take control, exploring the many different roles women play through their lives. Her abortion series is intensely poignant and insightful.
A great celebration of woman and femininity by female artists is the Twitter site @womansart
‘Pain in the Neck’
Who are your influences and why?
My list of influences continues to grow especially with the internet. But ones that continue to grab my attention are contemporary artists such as Paula Rego, Shani Rhys-James, Jenny Seville. Anthony Green, Clare Woods, Roxanne Halls and Karen Kaapke. Artists of the 20th Century such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Freud, Kollwitz, Schiele, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Alice Neel, Pollock, and Sutherland have an ongoing influence.
I have always had a special interest in the women Surrealists; Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Eileen Agar, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning and Frida Kahlo. Their work uses personal symbolism and imagination. It’s highly personal and universally feminine. The self within a dream and beyond.
What does selection for the Prize Exhibition mean to you?
The Prize is always a highlight in the RBSA calendar. It has many artists applying every year from UK and worldwide. It’s because of this that it is important for the Midlands, bringing in a wider body of art to the region.
Our Prize Exhibition runs until 22 June and features contemporary artworks in a range of media by artists from across the UK, and beyond.
This article runs alongside BBC Breakfast’s #BBCMenopause campaign.
Gabrielle completed an Art Foundation and BA Hons Degree in Fine Art in 1985, specialising in Ceramic Sculpture and Wax Painting. She worked as a freelance artist on large commissions for commercial companies and exhibited throughout the UK. Her focus now is on oil painting and developing a narrative through portraiture. She enjoys experimenting with technique, materials and the perspective of images, conveying a different world that may not be obvious to the viewer.
Gabrielle likes to explore the mark making and texture of paint. Storytelling, novels and events in her life have been significant triggers for paintings – the consequences of reading a particular book could easily be a major change in the course of her work. Gabrielle has exhibited on many occasions at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, winning the visitor’s vote in the 2014 Open Exhibition. She is an ongoing exhibitor at The RBSA Gallery and was a finalist in the Artist & Illustrators Artist of the Year 2014 exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London. She has a piece in a permanent art installation at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Gabrielle was elected an associate member to the RBSA in 2016 and will take portrait commission work, subject to availability.