This is the fifth in a series of interviews with artists participating in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The third OBPC exhibition opens on March 23, 2013, and will run through February 23, 2014. It will feature the works of forty-eight artists in many forms of media.
Q: What is your name, where are you from, where do you live now?
A: Gwen Hardie. I grew up in the Scottish countryside of Aberdeenshire, and I studied at Edinburgh College of Art. I moved to New York in 2000, after living in London and Berlin. I currently live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Q: What medium(s) do you work with?
A: Oil paint, pen, pencil, and conte drawings.
Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.
A: I work quickly with oil paint mixed with linseed oil and Gamsol. The paint is thinned to a consistency where I can manipulate it to form a smooth film in one painting session. Within this oil film are blended warm and cool colors that create a three-dimensional illusion of skin.
I reject a large proportion of the work, but each reject spurs on a new version until I get what I am looking for. My process was recently the subject of the film Slow Looking—Fast Painting by Charlotte Lagarde,
Every painting is titled by the day on which it was painted—this way I can keep track of many variations on a theme. Oil paint has a legacy of creating an illusion of luminous “skin”; I take this aspect of oil painting into a contemporary language by magnifying and decontextualising the skin, while observing from life.
Drawings help me to reinvent and imagine the painting as a thing in itself, the topographical structure underlying the form, its interconnecting contours seen from various perspectives and vantage points.
Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?
A: I studied drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art—classical training based on observation of the live model. It was a humbling experience to study the model and seemed to me much more than an academic exercise. The seeds of my current practice developed there.
I was able to see through the person in a sense, and found that the act of observation over time enabled me to explore themes of personal and collective identity and to ask questions in my art about our boundaries. The surface of the human body, what it reveals about the inner world of the person, and how it relates to the world outside of us in the greater scheme of things is extremely compelling.
Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?
A: I saw it on the New York Foundation for the Arts website and was attracted to the premise of creating a contemporary portrait based on observation.
Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.
A: Body 10.27.11 (which means I painted it on October 27, 2011) is a magnification of the skin above my heart and lungs. I chose this for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition because I associate it with the area which we press our hands to when we say emphatically “Me”?! I wanted to portray this area within the traditional oval cameo portrait format as an extended play on the idea of the portrait.
Q: Can you also tell us about your larger body of work?
A: For the last five years I have been developing and exploring a project of magnifications of the body image, at times increasing or decreasing the degree to which the area is identifiable or ambiguous while drawing associations to the greater natural world.
In the magnified world of close-up observation, a curve in space can appear like the curve of the earth from a high vantage point or equally a microscopic view of a cell. The project took a leap forward conceptually when I presented the body image on tondos and ovals.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: The underside of the breast, which is the most spherical area of the (female) body! I like the interplay of two and three dimensional space between the flat tondo/oval and the spherical illusion. In the summer I started a series in small scale of this at the Saltonstall Foundation. The last image I made there spurred on this current series, which adds the color viridian to the darkest part of this underside curve. An example of this is the picture below.
Q: How has your work changed over time?
A: My paintings have always centered on representations of the human body in one way or another. . . . However, I used to change the approach/technique many times, perhaps sensing that I had not found a strong enough reason to work in this or that way.
In the last decade, however, my focus on technique and magnification has become more sustaining in that smaller differences between works and approaches seem critical, stimulating, and demanding of further exploration. I am mining a deeper vein at present, to use an appropriate metaphor!
Q: Who is your favorite artist? If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?
A: Leonardo da Vinci. I would observe and study his “sfumato” technique, which blends warm and cool colors to create an illusion of things close up and far away. He happens also to be the oldest known vegetarian, which I would love to ask him about.
Q: What is your favorite artwork?
A: Coincidently, one of my favorite artworks happens to be here in the National Gallery in Washington: Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci portrait, which was the subject of a project I did at the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy in 2006.
Q: What inspires you?
A: The possibility to understand life from an ever-widening perspective and to make deeper connections to others.