– A Parlement of Birds –

6 – 9 pm
Wednesday 13th March

The Exhibition continues through Saturday 23rd March

Olivia Lomenech Gill’s wonderful illustrations for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them drew great strength from her diverse array of techniques as well as her fascination with wildlife. This new body of work, made especially for this exhibition, sees her explore further the possibilities of printmaking techniques to portray some of her favourite creatures. Sometimes these are informed by myth and fable, and sometimes purely acts of observation, but each work is an opportunity to explore and experiment further with a range of media.

Olivia will be talking about her new work at the gallery on
Saturday 16th March at Midday
Spaces are limited so please contact us if you would like to come.

The following was written by Olivia for ‘Easel Words’, in the current issue of
The Jackdaw
to which we heartilty recommend subscribing.

I worry that artists writing about their own work can come across as either dull or pompous, possibly both. Furthermore, I’m never really sure how to describe myself or what I do; ‘a visual storyteller who likes to experiment with a variety of traditional techniques’?

I recently finished an illustration commission for a book by Michael Morpurgo, and was allowed a dedication. Because I am greedy I chose three people, all my earliest inspirations: Dame Elisabeth Frink, my mother, and my art teacher, all of whom died a few years apart. The book, called Muck & Magic, features a character based on sculptures by Frink which made it a great pleasure for me to work on, and I hope it will in turn introduce her work to the many Morpurgo fans out there. It was a poster featuring work of Frink’s that I saw in a downstairs loo at someone’s house which inspired my first ‘big work’ … on a large blackboard, aged 6. A few years later, my mother, herself a classical musician, introduced me to the art teacher Sue MacDougall, when I was doing music on a state scholarship at Wells Cathedral School. Sue set me on the path I still follow: carrying a pocket size sketchbook and drawing from life at every opportunity, this was my art school.

My formal training was in theatre, which, I believed, was a way to encompass all of the art forms which I loved. Perhaps as a result I work with narrative all the time and realised recently that I cannot actually start a piece of work without a bit of text or story. But it was through a chance encounter with Michael Morpurgo that I came to do my first illustration commission. The result, Where My Wellies Take Me … published in 2012 was, to my great delight, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Since then I have worked on several book projects including J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which, for a non-fantasy artist who insists on drawing everything from life, was a considerable challenge!

I am still trying to work out the difference between ‘art’ and ‘illustration’ and there are of course contrasts between the requirements of working on a book commission and following your own desires in the seclusion of the studio, but I don’t think there is enough of a difference to merit the snobbery that seems to exist between the two disciplines. I really enjoy bringing ‘artwork’ into books, and then taking ideas out of books to make into art – which is what I am doing again now. I love it.

What I most enjoyed about Fantastic Beasts was studying the real beasts which I think inspired Rowling’s fantastical creatures. I don’t get to travel much but not far from where I live there is the Kielder Water Bird of Prey Centre, a brilliant place to study many species up close. The new work is born partly out of my new found fascination with some of those birds and the part that they play in our history and folklore. I went back recently to draw ‘Cuillen’, a Golden Eagle, who would occasionally jump onto the toe of my boot to see what I was doing. Birds of prey never sit still, they are constantly alert and with an otherworldly sense of majesty, a bit like the army horses I went to draw when I did artwork for War Horse; they were so magnificent in themselves you think ‘Why am I doing this?’ But, as an artist, being story-led means constantly gatecrashing into different worlds and trying to understand through drawing. When you are really looking, you are learning in a way you cannot from a photograph. It takes a unique form of concentration and practice, something one could argue is either out of date or even more important in an age where we all have the ‘immediate’ and the ‘instant’ at our fingertips.

I live and work in north Northumberland in a studio I built myself with my husband from local larch, by way of an ‘eco-friendly’ low budget workspace which has become my habitat and that of many birds and bats, and numerous broods of swallows over the years. We are lucky to be surrounded by wildlife of many sorts. Just the other day a sparrowhawk flew into the duck coop and I got to sit there with it for a good half hour before it flew off again. It is some of these things, and snippets of Chaucer, Fontaine’s fables and Cold War politics (the latter is to do with the pelicans in St James’s Park, opposite) that inspire the new work.

At the same time, for each new subject, I like to create and adapt new ways of working combining printmaking techniques with painting, metal and paper collage. For this exhibition I am using real gold in my work for the first time combined with copperplate etching. I am lucky to have my own large etching press. It’s like an assistant, but as any printmaker knows, and any chef, there are technical issues to take into consideration, things you can’t mess around with. In a way this is frustrating but I also enjoy the ‘restrictions’ this places on my work. Otherwise there are too many ideas and possibilities, and always the conflict, shared by many artists in the solitude of their studios I imagine: the absolute conviction and ‘need’ to do one’s work, and the constant self-doubt and questioning of the very same.

Olivia Lomenech Gill (Northumberland, 2019)