BOUND BY THE BRUSH – A tale of three friends

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Three lifelong friends exhibited their paintings at Sacarello’s last September in a talented display of innovative artwork that, being so diverse in style, meshed well together and reflected not only the multifaceted dynamics of their bond, but also their unique outlook on life.

Young in years but mature in talent, landscapist Beatrice Garcia, portraitist Phoebe Kelly and abstract artist Naomi Purswani let their creative juices flow colourfully in a gallery that reflected on Mediterranean light as seen through their personal filter: the first sublimating cityscape nostalgia, the second exploring close relationships, the third tracing on canvas the sensual dancing of lines and block colours.

Bea-listed heritage
Beatrice Garcia

The charm of a bygone era and the acknowledgement of the need of preserving our heritage are two of the reasons that inspired artist Beatrice Garcia to wander around the Old Town in search of subject matters for a series of cityscapes whose common thread is textured light expressed in a contemporary style. The third and decisive reason is that an exhibition was on the artists’ bucket list for a while. Last September, Bea and her school friends Phoebe Kelly and Naomi Purswani held a collective of their very different visions of Gibraltar, interpreted as literally as Bea did or as abstractly as her fellow artists’.

Bea, who actually is the sitter for one of Phoebe’s portraits, says that their styles reflect their characters: “Phoebe has a vibrant personality, expressed in her fashion sense and her outgoing attitude, while Naomi likes the simple things in life, paired with elegance and precision. Their artwork is a reflection of that and so is my own: a visualisation of how passionate and spontaneous I am about what matters to me.”

She perfectly captures the inner beauty that shines through the cracks and the flaky paint in old buildings, and with the use of muted colours and creamy tones she highlights from new angles the quaint little corners we all know from picture-perfect postcards: Prince Edward’s Gate from an outb  ound point of view, against the flow of traffic to include the understated sentry post, Parliament’s Lane from Line Wall Road, and Hospital Steps in a concertina-like extravaganza of parallel lines and pastel hues.

Her attention focuses on windows, doors, ledges, the contrast of textures and the play of light, transforming every blemish into a feature to add character and historical value to each brick and louver. Sometimes, she zooms in so much that the landmark is no longer recognisable and the focus shifts on the detail of materials coming together in the architectural element in question, like the glass panes and wooden frames encased in stone of an arched window, one of Bea’s best exercises that effortlessly deals with the challenges of reflection and transparency.

Self-confessed inspired by Italian medieval painter Giotto, his architectural vision and his choice of colour schemes, Bea’s budding brushstroke – quick, assertive and layered – is reminiscent of Christian Hook’s (in fact he was her art teacher in Comprehensive) and her choice of subject matters, palette and through-the-frosted-glass view is akin to award-winning work by Leslie Gaduzo, whom Bea met at life drawing sessions. She claims that she is not mimicking them mechanically, rather taking their influence positively in her stride to add her original voice to the busy production of cityscapes. “Everything has been done before at this point in history of art, the challenge is doing it again but in a new way,” she asserts. “I particularly like the tatty look of my subject matters and I opted for that as my signature for this exhibition. I took dozens of photographs, but only a few were eventually shortlisted to be developed into paintings.”

Unlike Phoebe and Naomi, who have pursued an academic career in history of art, Bea studied Business and Finance and is currently working a full-time job that allows just few snippets for painting. “I had put it aside since comprehensive school when I painted 25-30 hours per week, but I believe painting is like riding a bicycle, and you can comfortably return to it after any hiatus. One must be fearless with one’s painting: experiment without fear of mistakes, because mistakes can always be painted over! However, it isn’t always true that painting is relaxing: for me sometimes it is frustrating when I have a clear idea in mind and I cannot transpose it on canvas or I don’t have enough time and life gets in the way of creativity. Art always wins at the end, and I like the idea of having a job that affords me financial security and a routine in order to paint freely without the constraints of making a living out of it. Yes, working means I don’t always have time to paint for as many hours as I’d like, but if you really love what you do, you must always make it a priority.”

At just 23, Bea is a well-travelled young woman who has treasured her experiences in the Far East and Australia: “I lived in Hanoi for a while where I was an English teacher, and then I travelled around the Philippines, Hong Kong and Cambodia before landing in Australia where I au-paired. These were exciting experiences out of my comfort zone which help me mature as a person and opened my mind. I kept a travel journal where I sketched several ideas that I hope to turn into paintings one day, from the view out of my windows, to the Vietnamese woman in typical headdress crouching at the corner of the street selling fresh fruit.”

There is always a new challenge ahead for Bea who is revving to get hands-on with cutting-edge media, quite literally perhaps as she moves into three-dimensionality and the versatility afforded by cardboard: “My work is a reflection of me and I’d like to start exploring different media, in a way that makes art like a science experiment, seeing what goes well together and push further the boundaries of the arts.”

Phoebe: colour me friendly
Phoebe Kelly

Portraiture with an outlandish twist, a contemporary take on mosaic and stained glass having a play date with cartoons or cupcakes sprinkled with nonpareils: this is the vibrant artistic coming-of-age for artist Phoebe Kelly who unveiled her collection of paintings of ‘the people she loves’ at a group exhibition last September. Co-exhibitors Bea and Naomi are two of the people who sat for her, as did Phoebe’s dad and her siblings, whom she painted as she sees them through the kaleidoscope of her love. “So far, I’ve painted only sitters I know well, so that I can portray the vibrancy of their personality,” Phoebe says. She works it in layers, either in acrylics or oil pastels, whose silken finish she favours, starting with a sketched outline to trace on paper the focal points of the subject. “I outline thick black strokes, giving the cartoonish feeling, then I stare at the drawing until I start seeing the true colours shining through and I just retrace them, colouring the blocks in.”

Despite the gaudy Gaudí filter and the imaginative paint-by-numbers style, the sitters’ likeness remains striking, and one can instantly tell not only how Phoebe captured their facial features, but also how much colour they add to her life, and how cheerfully she pays it forward. Of course, her first batch of Smarties art wasn’t for sale and each sitter was rewarded with their own portrait at the end of the show, but Phoebe is available to take commissions, providing she is afforded a preliminary interview with the potential sitters in order to get the vibe of their inner colours.

And what about people she doesn’t like? Candidly, Phoebe admits that so far she hasn’t considered painting them. “I’ve never painted someone I loathed,” she admits, “but I carried out an exercise with someone whose ideas I don’t agree with, and the final result was dimmer than usual; it didn’t match the neon quality my friends and family inspire me with.” Phoebe also enjoys painting people in the shape of animals, but that wasn’t sampled at her exhibition, as she considers it a more intimate feat: “I portrayed my dad as a bear, as challenge to myself, and one can really see his feature in the bear face – and more importantly, he loved it.”

She realised at a young age that art was her calling and so she dropped all scientific studies in school, instead opting for History of Art. After her graduation in 2015, she enjoyed work experiences in both London and Hong Kong, where she worked for a foundation that promotes contemporary art throughout South-East Asia and met plenty of artists she describes as ‘medium-high range’ who helped refine her own style. Back in Gibraltar now, she is finding her place in the local art scene, collaborating with galleries in Spain to set up exhibitions and dedicating what’s left of her spare time after her day-job to painting and writing. “I write poetry, for personal consumption, as a way to unwind and clear my mind before going to bed, a sort of poetic diary. Over the years, especially while abroad, I put together a collection of limericks and other short poems.”

Naomi: putting the vase in varsity
Naomi Purswani

A debutante in Gibraltar’s busy artistic scene, History of Art student Naomi Purswani reveals: “I had never exhibited my work before, but I am glad I first made my art known in a café, a place where people come to socialise and this offers exposure and makes any artist accessible.”

The recurrent theme throughout this compact but intense show is colour, particularly colour drenched in Mediterranean light. From the soothing hues of the deep blue sea to the pinks of oleander blooms, every line and every twirl screams ‘summer!’ from square canvases where fine lines demarcate and blocks of pure colour arranged in basic shapes, not depleted of plasticity, shine with reinvigorating simplicity.

Contrary to popular belief, abstract work is not easy, Naomi says, as the real challenge is stripping the object one wants to portray of any flourishes and concentrating solely on the few elements that make it instantly recognisable, without which it would be void of its intrinsic essence. “I wanted to show simple but striking shapes, using little imagery but plenty of colour to transmit the feeling of the object, and furthermore the feeling of light and shadow. My work is inspired by Gibraltarian light but it doesn’t reproduce any particular place in Gibraltar.” The main feature of her artwork is the vase; a classic shape that has been studied over and over again throughout the centuries, and yet can still yield original ideas and interpretations: “I find it a comforting shape, and a challenging one, as it takes on many permutations but it stays true to itself.”

For her first artworks, Naomi chose small sizes with which to express big ideas: “Working on small canvas is often more difficult because proportions are trickier to respect, and mistakes become more obvious as onlookers don’t need to step all the way back to appreciate the bigger picture – instead they keep close, noticing any slip of the brush.” She believes she will eventually go large, but she accepts that smaller art is more affordable, not just because of prices, but especially because virtually everyone would have room to hang it at home, unlike large pictures that belong to spacious art galleries, museums or exotic villas.

Before having a go with acrylics, Naomi was, and still is, a creative tapestry weaver and fabric decorator: “I studied textiles in school and attended Dorcas’s tailoring courses since I wanted to follow that career path, but eventually picked the academic side of fine arts.” Her love for tactile textiles still stands with woven creations that happen to be artwork in their own right; sculptures made of yarn and pictures painted in snippets of material. These haven’t been exhibited as she actually regards them as personal work for her home, but she would consider accepting commissions in the future.

An admirer of abstract expressionism and Italian painter De Chirico’s ‘dramatic atmospheres’, with this project young Naomi has just scratched the surface, and once she finds her individual style and fine-tunes voice within Millennial artistic currents, a complete solo exhibition is warmly auspicated.