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Rachel Gadsden takes us through some of her highlights of 2009

I was introduced to the work of the Danish painter Per Kirkeby at Tate Modern last April. I went to the exhibition purely on a whim. An image on a publicity poster caught my imagination.

I knew nothing about the artist or his work but I was utterly moved by his beautiful poetic landscape paintings. They crept under my skin and I have had the catalogue by my side in my studio since.

Last April, as artist in residence for Rose Bruford’s International Theatre Symposium, I had the opportunity to work with the students, alongside theatre directors from around the world.

The atmosphere for the week was electric. Magical dramatic expression unfolded from every direction. The Spanish Director Antonio Diaz Zamora’s held an improvised workshop using the supernatural in Valle-Incan’s ‘Divine Words’ - a village tragic-comedy. ‘Mari Gaila and the Goat Goblin, Act 2, Scene 8’ was the highlight.

Using Goya’s dark imagery as a starting point, we were all immersed into a world where reality holds hands with fantasy and creative possibilities abounded. I was in heaven!

Still seeing tons of theatre. End Game by Beckett at the Duchess Theatre with Simon McBurney [director of the Complicite Theatre Company], Mark Rylance, Tom Hickey and Miriam Margolyes was an evening of a lifetime. Theatre doesn’t get much better.

The extraordinary experience of meeting and sharing moments with the tribal people of southern Ethiopia will always remain with me.

Throughout 2009 I did begin to feel the surging force of London 2012 too. My artistic practise has certainly been involved. But what has been more significant is the shift I have begun to witness regarding issues and perspectives relating to disability.

The Parliament Outreach project that I am involved in has probably influenced my thought processes too, but somehow everything seems a bit easier.

Disability is on the agenda more and more. I hope we are on the cusp of a wave where the momentum of London 2012 and its ambitious legacy program might just succeed in bringing a significant cultural shift in our society.

Let’s hope so, fingers crossed, exciting times ahead…

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 17 January 2010

Last modified by Anonymous, 20 January 2010

Rachel Gadsden chronicles her Ethiopian Olympic weekend experience

We had an amazing trip to visit the visit the Southern Omo Valley indigenous tribal groups, in Ethiopia, over the Olympic Open Weekend 2009. It was a powerful experience to spend time with people who live untouched by the Modern World and who rely on instinct as much as anything else to survive.

My awareness of fragility and survival due to my life long disability reinforces this observation. Disregarding our obvious differences, while I was amongst the tribal people I experienced an incredible sense of unity, highlighting, once more, the awareness of our shared universal human condition.

Whilst there we created a mini London 2012 stadium out of found wood and string and then painted artistic sporting images to wrap around the stadium to convey the spirit of Africa and London 2012. I hasten to add the London 2012 stadium is already somewhat more robust than our maquette. At least with our model we were able to present a visual image of the stadium and the games to the tribal groups we were visiting.

It was fascinating to witness the reaction from the Hammer and Mursi tribes in a remote landscape where modern digital communication has not yet arrived.

It was quite a challenge to explain exactly what the Olympics and Paralympics Games were all about. Reknowned for their fitness and athleticism it didn't take long to convince the tribal people that we are lucky to be hosting the next Games. In the heart of Ethiopia during Open Weekend I was conveying the hopes and ambitions of London 2012.

I managed to do a tiny bit of painting in a tree hut by a 500 year old forest during the first few days. It was amazing and the sketch is included here. I will be using this for larger painting ideas. Here are some photographic images and artwork for you to see that capture this memorable experience. (Gallery to follow)

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 17 September 2009

Last modified by Anonymous, 21 September 2009

Emerging figures ...

I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you're painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge - Jackson Pollock

The insight that I believe my paintings talk to me might unnerve some, but for me it is a heartening occurrence. Within the isolated studio I find it somehow reassuring to hear the whispers that emerge as I plunge my oil encrusted paint brush onto the surface of the canvas. Any sense of loneliness disappears and as I listen to the conversation I find I am able to transcend reality, and I sink into a world where my sub conscience unravels to direct the narrative. And as I witness the enigmatic imagery emerging within the landscape of the painting I am conscious that I am merely a conduit facilitating the visualisation of an intense corporeal spectacle.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 22 June 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 3 September 2009


Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top - Virginia Woolf

At last I have begun the passage into a measureless terrain where I will allow expressionistic sub conscious inspiration to create a series of new drawings and paintings. I am expecting to consider themes such as bleakness and despair, as well as comedy and hope during my explorations of the human condition but only time will reveal exactly what will emerge. I am filled with excitement and trepidation, conscious that I must surrender to the challenge and fearful of what is to come…


Posted by Colin Hambrook, 20 June 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 29 June 2009

Parliamentary Outreach Breaking Barriers Exhibition Opening

It was with great excitement that The Breaking Barriers Exhibition Opening took place on the 5th June, a day after the country went to vote. With one of the lowest voter turnouts ever, it was a particularly poignant moment to be playing a role in Parliamentary Outreach “Breaking Barriers” project and exhibition. 'Breaking Barriers' looks at how the stories of local suffragists and suffragettes in Essex can be relevant to modern audiences. The exhibition was developed in partnership with Essex County Council, The Women's Library, Rethink, Epping Forest Museum, and Southend Discovery Museum.

During the art workshops my role was to share the subject of the Suffragette and Suffragist movement with members of Rethink and to encourage them to consider how their own particular voices can and should be heard within a greater context, and to encourage each of the participants to create an artwork that narrated their personal story.
It was a very moving experience for me to hear and share their personal stories and experiences and to witness how each of the participants were inspired to create beautiful individual mixed media artworks.

I was given a huge amount of support by Rebecca Fawcett Cultural Programmes Manager for Parliamentary Outreach to facilitate the series of one day workshops with members of Rethink, and to also create a personal painting that encapsulated both the strength of the Suffragette and Suffragist Movement and images of my Great Grandmother, her Daughters and Son and my Grandfather who lived in the East End of London and Essex where much of the Suffragette and Suffragist activity took place. Significantly none of the female members of my family would have been able to vote when the photo of them in the painting was taken.

Over 90 people attended the event and Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall opened the exhibition after an Edwardian high tea was served. I was particularly pleased that so many of the Rethink participants were able to make it to the opening and delighted that my parents were there too experience the day too.

My father was very emotional when he saw the images of his family playing a role in the exhibition and serving as a reminder to all of us that we do need to continue to engage with parliament and to take an interest and personal responsibility for the progression of our society.

For further information:

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 16 June 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 29 June 2009

The Massacre of the Innocents and Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children: a Play for Gaza

The repose of sleep refreshes only the body…In the morning we must sweep out the shadows - Gaston Bachelard

I established that Rubens 'The Massacre of the Innocents' was on loan from the National Gallery to the Art Gallery of Ontario until June 09, and realized therefore

that my initial proposal to explore this artwork here in London would have to be more 'imaginative' than I had originally intended! As is often the case, however, when one is required to shift perspective, one starts a journey which is far more far-reaching and can sometimes bring about a more profound insight.

My early disappointment at the cancellation of Momentum09 was supplanted by an invitation to play the role of artist in Residence for the International Theatre Symposium, and another opportunity to capture dynamic theatre.

Coincidentally Caryl Churchill's play 'Seven Jewish Children: a Play for Gaza' was also going to be performed as a rehearsed reading during this Symposium. I previously saw Churchill's play performed at the Royal Court - a profound piece of theatre, lasting just 10 minutes but written with extraordinary poetry. The play is significantly controversial and has managed to ignite a far reaching International debate regarding Middle Eastern politics and the relationships between the Jewish and Moslem communities worldwide. The overriding message of the play spoke of individual as well as universal responsibility, where the plight of the forsaken should never be ignored. The experience of watching the performance and the observation of the controversy that arose from this particular interpretation of the subject, clarified for me how important it is for creative practitioners to attempt to explore complicated subjects as a means of holding up a mirror to our complicated society.

Initially I spent studio time drawing directly from photographic references of 'The Massacre of the Innocents' painting from the National Gallery's catalogue 'Rubens A Master in the Making'. This process familiarized me with this subject, but I also used it as an exercise to explore how interlocking figures can be amalgamated into a composition to augment dramatic energetic narratives. This investigation served as the foundation and starting point for the first large drawing at the Bruford Symposium.

The Rose Bruford Theatre College International Symposium brought theatre practitioners from around the Globe to perform, facilitate improvised workshops with the student's and through forums discussions share and challenge their individual theatrical methodologies. The atmosphere for the week was electric, heightening the sense of expectation as the magical expression began to unfold. I was invited to join any of the events to artistically capture the dramatic spectacles as they unfolded. The Spanish Director Antonio Diaz Zamora's improvised workshop using the supernatural in Valle-Incan's 'Divine Words', a village tragicomedy, 'Mari - Gaila and the Goat Goblin, Act 2 scene 8' was a highlight.

Fantasy deserted by reason produces impossible monsters: united with it, fantasy is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders

– Goya

Imagery from The Disparates by Goya depicting the folly of mankind - including scenes of witchcraft and war, grotesque carnival festivities and monstrously deformed creatures (the prints were produced between 1816 and 1824 - a time of political unrest and social turbulence), were shown to the acting students to stimulate characterisation and to give them a sense of a world beyond reality. As an artist this was a tremendous starting point, a focus particular because Goya's artwork has always been a major inspiration for my own work, and from where I was able to quickly establish and create a landscape from where my own narrative could emerge.

The opportunity to experience extraordinary energy and emotion as the actors improvised and recreated the text was tremendous. My own drawn imagery flooded onto the page at a rapid pace igniting the artwork and enabling me to create the imagery which emerged from my subconscious. After this session the drawings were taking back to my studio at the college where I used them to create 2 larger drawing/painting (approx 1.5m x 3m). The four days spent at the Symposium were full of equally dynamic sessions of rapid capture drawing and then longer sustain drawing on larger panels using the initial imagery. This process enables dynamic imagery to be created where the heightened emotion and theatrical experience become trapped within the soul of the artwork.

Additional spectacular workshops included Echo by Theatre Melange which brought together Physical theatre and design to create a dynamic living landscape, and Deambulation where the boundaries between stage performance and installation were explored by 8 Bottes Jaunes a French theatre/art collective based in Lectoure based in the South of France

The opportunity to draw during 5 performances of staged productions and a play reading added to the overall experience. The reading of Churchill's play during the Symposium brought added drama, as has become expected during the play's short Global life, but it was thrilling to be able to capture through the responsive medium of drawing the audience's heated political arguments was thrilling. These drawings remain a reminder of how important national and religious identity is sometimes perceived.

The disparate elements of Ruben's 'The Massacre of the Innocents' painting, the 'Churchill play' and the 'Bruford Symposium' have left me with much to consider and an array of dynamic strong narrative drawings, enabling me to now launch into a comprehensive series of paintings that will perhaps unravel a layer drawing me a little closer to an understanding of what it is to be human.

When I initially applied for the Momentum Bursary, I expected a Global journey, but instead I have had a theatrical experience, and in time I will look forward to exhibiting a series of works of art which will capture the magical metaphorical universal experience I have been lucky to witness.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 25 May 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 March 2012

Leading questions

I was lucky recently to have had the opportunity to participate in the Sync 20 leadership programme.

I might not be a typical leader in the respect that I don't manage people but I acknowledge that through my artistic practice I can and do have to lead. But this did little to alleviate the trepidation I felt as I embarked on a series of coaching sessions and a workshop.

I was apprehensive because I recognised that before I would be able to take a leap, I would have to face my insecurities. Conscious that I am already successful as a practising artist this exercise and process wasn’t about unpicking an already working practice, but more about recognising the areas where sustained focus and consideration would enable me to expand my ambition.

For most artists their studio is their shelter, where creativity and artistic fulfilment reign supreme, but it is when this shelter is breached and the studio is no longer there to protect, insecurity creeps quickly in.

But as communicators, artists have to reach out to their audience and perhaps the most important part of the Sync program for me was when this notion was once again clearly identified, defined and clarified.

I have always been acutely aware of the personal need to share and exhibit my artwork; for me it is only when the artwork is in the public domain that it truly lives. Fortuitously for me, perhaps, a throwaway criticism I remember made to a fellow student at Art College by a tutor who questioned whether their artwork was a form of personal therapy, had the effect of reinforcing my own motivations; but nevertheless the “public domain” can at times still seem like a mine-filled battlefield. Each step requires enormous courage and determination.

The likes of constituency, organisation, behavioural and strategic are my new buzzwords. I have heard them now many times. But in the context of my art practice they have never previously impinged upon my creative consciousness.

I didn’t necessarily hear new things during the Sync programme, but being given the opportunity beyond the studio to focus and use this knowledge with purpose was without doubt empowering.

My professional journey continues; the goalposts have been extended; and I journey on with greater impetus. I have emerged from a shell and I am much more confident now that I can achieve my artistic ambitions.

Posted by Anonymous, 9 March 2009

Last modified by Anonymous, 13 March 2009


Image - rachel-gadsden-5b-big_1.jpg

The Palace experience is fading, just a memory now, and as I meander onwards, I am finally free to explore the many facets of what it is to be human.

The journey has in fact already begun; recent artwork is often large scale such that the physical energy and pulse of consciousness as it embarks on its imagined expeditions is captured within the artwork. I have abandoned the geographic landscape and now take the position of armchair traveller where I capture the moment in front of me.

The repetitive process of drawing assists a smooth transition from reality to the imaginary, where only conscious intervention limits the vitality of the adventure. The fussy materiality of the earlier work has been discarded and instead the blots, leaks and clots of the mark making are, it could be said, reminiscent of body processes over which we have a barely adequate control. Likewise the butcher’s-block palette, with its fatty yellows and liverish purples, undermines any feelings of aesthetic detachment: it is as if you are being turned inside out. But, nevertheless, beyond these corporeal references a narrative unfolds in which shared fragmented experiences and memories re-emerge at a dance revealing a clearer universal landscape.

On the 20/02/08, as a starting point, I will be drawing from Ruben’s painting of “The Massacre of the Innocents” (National Gallery London). Within this charged narrative painting the whole gamut of human suffering emerge - grief, pain and violence. It is an orchestrated drama, a seething mass of distress and brutality. The details of the painting are compelling: the almost palpable scratching on the executioner's cheek; and the bowed head of the mourning, faceless mother beside the heap of dead children.

It could be perceived that this is a particularly violent painting to stimulate a new series of artworks, and it is. But in the wake and distressing aftermath of the recent political unrest in Gaza, and as someone who spent her formative years living in the Middle East, I feel compelled to consider this important historical subject at a moment when, uncomfortably the subject and narrative are still of relevance today. The narrative is perhaps as an indication that, despite progression and the passage of time, aspects of the human condition remain the same.

Posted by , 1 January 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 March 2012