Artist Spotlight: Mel Gausden
Mel Gausden earned her Bachelor of Arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2009. She currently lives and works in Hamilton, Ontario.
Gausden's work combines symbols and markers of Canadiana with painterly gesture, mark-making, and bold highlights. Her practice is fueled by time spent exploring the Canadian Wilderness.
Gausden's upcoming exhibition, A Fairytale for the End of the World, opening March 5, 2022 at Bau-Xi Vancouver, presents new colourful and dynamic paintings inspired by her encounters with mystical nightscapes.
Exhibition on view at Bau-Xi Vancouver from March 5-19, 2022
My process is a vital part of my work, and probably the thing that I’ve spent the most time developing. On my frequent trips to the backcountry, I always carry a sketchbook, and while I'm out in the canoe or on a hike, I'll often stop to make quick sketches. Then, later at the campfire, I’ll develop those ideas a bit more, or jot down thoughts that I’ve had. Other times, an old memory will trigger something, and I’ll go through my photos to find a couple to use as a framework for a painting. Sometimes it will just be something that I see passing by momentarily that lights a spark. I take each initial sketch or photo and create a more detailed sketch with watercolour, pencil crayon, ink and/or acrylic - basically whatever I can get my hands on - to recreate the idea in the best way. Then I use those working sketches to reverse engineer the final painting with oil paint. This process opens space for intuition, abstraction and experimentation in the final work. If I’m not fully satisfied with the working sketch, I will work out the idea more fully using thinned oil paints on paper. There are some really great things that happen because of the different way you work when the oils are so thin.
Peter Doig is the only artist that has been a constant influence throughout my career. I remember reading an interview he did where he talked about having "open paintings", and I thought that was such a great idea - allowing my paintings to be "open" is a way to remind myself not to overpaint things, and to allow them to sit and develop a bit on their own.
Right now, I’m also in love with Ben Reeves' work, as well as the work of Adam Lee, Andreas Eriksson and Emmanuel Osahor. I’m often influenced by the atmosphere or colours of other artists' work, and I use those as a springboard to try and evolve my own work.
In terms of historical influences, Emily Carr’s gasoline paintings were a huge inspiration for my recent works on paper. All the credit for those goes to Monica Tap, who suggested looking into them in the first place.
On Shifting to Painting Nightscapes
There were a million and one things that inspired me to start painting nightscapes. I’m in love with the rich, deep blues of the night sky at the moment - there’s so much colour that comes out as dusk sets in. The sun has a tendency to wash colours out, but in the evening, everything is golden and lush. There are so many differing light sources that can affect that colour: campfires are a bit of an obsession for me, but sometimes a flashlight will highlight something in an interesting way, or the moonlight will add a glow to the world. We have a ton of fireflies in our backyard, and these little blinking specks add a whole new dimension. The possibilities of light seem endless. I’ve always been a bit of a space nerd as well - I try to plan out camping trips to correlate with meteor showers and moon phases. Last summer I went up to Killarney, which is designated as a dark sky preserve. I got some photos of the stars, and they were so bright it was otherworldly.
Another inspiration for these works has been the word panic and its etymlogy. This was actually an earlier inspiration that I sat on for quite a few years. As humans, our survival instincts tell us to be especially wary at night, and putting a name to something that’s unknown is a human way of making it less frightening. Panic comes from the Greek word panikos, which originated from the word Pan, who was the Greek god of shepherds, woods and pastures. Early Greeks believed that sudden noises in the woods came from Pan when he was woken up from sleep. So part of me wanted to give in to that universal impulse of "night panic" with painting, and let a bit of the unease of the night come through.