Making Art from the City: The Ideas of Emerging Artist Gala Bell

We chat with London based artist Gala Bell in the lead up to her taking part in Focus LDN's next major group show The Londoner's Compass this October 19th - 23rd at The Strand Gallery. 

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

I realised from a really young age. I think most artists realise they want to be artists when they are children, with those first interactions that they have with materials. I have drawings that I did from the age of three. I used to repetitively draw a dog, a witch, a dog, a witch, a house, a swan. Picasso always said he tried his whole life to do what kids do and it’s this natural creative flow without overthinking; it just happens naturally. It’s what I wanted to do.  I’ve always known that. 

Your art does not seem tied to any particular method of creation. Are you still looking for your voice or is do you think that one medium is not capable of portraying your art? 

I think partly I am still looking for my voice, but I read something written by Marcel Duchamp the other day, and I thought, “yes!”  -it made sense to me. He said, “I never want to conform to my own aesthetic.” He started off by doing cubist paintings and then went to another extreme and did his urinal and his ready-mades. I agree with that; he pushed himself very far. If he continuously did paintings like the ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ he probably would have done very well as a cubist, but he never would have created this milestone of the ready-mades and modern art, the history of the world actually, would be very different. I think it’s important to push your own boundaries. There is a pressure for artists to have an identity, but I think we all struggle with identity a little bit. I don’t really know who I am entirely yet, and I hope to keep learning about myself.

From which artist’s work do you take the most inspiration and why?

Most recently, Isa Genzken - she’s a German artist, in her sixties, still working today.  Her range of work is so broad, it moves seamlessly between sculpture, painting, fashion, installation. She’s playful, bold and fearless in her absurdity. She uses materials polar opposite to each other, like concrete with radio antennas. She makes a lot of work from stuff found from the street and crams them into very  architectural sculptures. She’s one of my favourites.

Stars of the State, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.2 m

How do you go about planning the subject matter in your art?

I never plan. It just happens. I don’t like working from photographs or planning things because I feel its too concrete. I like to go into something and play with the materials and see what happens with my unconscious. That’s the most important thing to me; certain symbols in your own life will just come out naturally. There are themes which run through my work like the most recent projects are trying to take the value out of things. 

I started of by working on bank notes erasing the number symbols and the heads so you didn’t know where the money was from or how much it was worth. To me it began to symbolise something else like free-trade or some utopian ideals in a way. It was trying to take the value out of something, which led on to my gel paintings coming around using plastics and cheap materials, things you can find on the outskirts of London in Afro-Caribbean hair salons; all factory produced, disposable, synthetic, materials which don’t have a lot of value in themselves. The stuff we get rid of! And are globally battling to get rid of.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your creative career thus far?

Spending time in Berlin last year. Working in a studio there really opened my eyes to a new way of appreciating aesthetics. Being in a new city I felt really inspired, it challenged my own tastes,  my senses were heightened in this emotionally raw and challenging city

Do you think that’s biggest difference between the places?

Berlin has had a traumatic history, you can feel that from the people, even though many haven’t witnessed it themselves it lingers in the walls. The rave scene arrived only because of anarchy, when the wall was up the East was in a state of deprivation, people were killed, separated from loved ones, they didn’t care about rules, they were enraged and frustrated, and from this anarchist energy the dance scene evolved, which was reflected in the art done at the time- performance art with blood by Hermann Nitsch, Beuys building a public mock Berlin wall out of bread and jam , Gunter Brus abusing himself with paint…

Kaleido, Gel, PVC, loom bands, oil paint, silk, latex, elastic, glitter, holographic foil

London has a rich heritage, the biggest world brands, and because it’s been wealthier and socially more secure, artworks aren’t really put together in the same way, there is a different energy, different concerns. Concern for entertainment and glamour. Berlin feels unprocessed, from the street, it has a different openness about it that challenges you, it’s confrontational and it’s not polite.

You have put on a number of group shows, what advice would you give to any budding curators?

The space is very important for any curator. Looking into acquiring unusual venues or spaces rather than renting galleries, is probably quite a good thing to do. London needs an art scene which is not run by a commercial space, but rather artists doing it for themselves. Pull in as many people as possible to help achieve your goals- one of the last shows I did was with Vans, and I never even thought they would be interested in doing an art show because they are a skate brand, a shoe brand, but getting involved with them was great because it gave me a wider platform, a different audience, and they gave so much to the event by showing their support, to the outside it made it look more credible to have a familiar brand involved, and it opened it up to their own audience, people I wouldn’t normally reach. Always ask for more, never be too satisfied.

Gala will be exhibiting her work, "Kaleido" in Focus LDN's second major show of 2016, The Londoner's Compass this October 19th - 23rd.