An interview with Gabby Malpas – “I call it my ‘mojo’”
1. Tells us about yourself and what you do.
I’m an exhibiting and licensed artist who has been professional for 3 years after 30 years of painting.
I majored in ceramics at Art school and now use watercolours as my preferred medium.
I’m a Chinese adoptee, raised in a white family. These days many of my pieces communicate my experiences as a transracial adoptee.
2. When and what prompted you to start in your art world- painting/sculpture ?
My parents put pencils and paper in front of me as soon as I could hold a pencil. I was destined for art school from that moment. I still marvel at how my working class parents had this vision for me based on the information they had been given about my birthmother. I feel very fortunate in that regard.
3. Whom/what moment makes you feel the happiest?
These days it’s when I’ve completed a project and it’s packed up, ready to send, the digital images have come back from the digitizer or when the exhibition has been installed. It’s then when I take a breather, assess the work I’ve completed and maybe congratulate myself for a job well done.
The buzz of pure excitement comes when I receive a new brief from a client for new work or a commission – the possibilities start popping into my head.
4. Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?
When I was 15 I started my first holiday job in the lingerie department of a suburban Auckland department store. It was monotonous, poorly paid and some of the customers were not great but it taught me life lessons that I still refer to today: customer service, listening and understanding people’s needs and above all, stickability.
A job in retail also taught me very early on that I needed to earn more money if I wanted to one day become a full-time artist. So when I was about 24 I learnt keyboard and computer skills and started at the very bottom as a filing clerk at the Prudential in Reading, UK, gradually getting better jobs/wages over time before working in publishing then London agencies as a digital project manager. I still do a small amount of hours per week as a contract worker.
5. What(or who) inspires you to do what you love in your creative business? Who is favourite modern day artists?
Elizabeth Blackadder RA – she has inspired so many of my still life painting compositions
Philip Sutton RA and John Wolsely
The scale of these two painters’ works are breathtaking – I would one day like to paint large landscapes with such vigour
Jason Phu – I thinks he’s a genius
Kaffe Fassett and Ken Done
I love the way Ken Done and Kaffe Fassett have turned their art into very successful, commercial brands yet retain their artistic integrity.
Matisse, Gauguin, Josef Frank, Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Khalo and Ernest Henckel
Traditional Japanese woodcuts
Chinese blue and white export ware
Peranakan ceramics and art
Fauve, Chinoiserie and Botanical art
6. How many exhibitions have you done? And where?
I’ve been an exhibiting artist since 1987 so have exhibited in many shows and galleries in NZ, the UK and Australia. I have work in public and private collections worldwide.
7. Do you know when your work his finished?
A work is never finished! You can always add more.
These days I do have a cutoff point on my work though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when.
When I’m preparing for a show I set myself a cutoff date – and while I may still be working on pieces on that date, I limit myself to making a choice from completed works unless I’m really passionate about a particular work.
8. What topics do you especially enjoy to draw?
I’m definitely an organic object painter/drawer – soft edges, curves and sinuous lines are all good. However, I’ve always admired artists who produce images of hard edged things: buildings, machinery.
9. Which piece of art is your favourite and why ? Were there any deep meanings on your favourites ones?
I think one of my favourite images is ‘colourblind’. Painted in 2015 for my show at Breathing Colours Gallery in Sydney: it was a work about being Chinese and raised in a white, adoptive family in an age where dismissal of race and colour (“we are all the same race under the sun/god”, idea), was common. This is often not meant as harmful but by denying the difference in race it also dismisses the racism and prejudice that many of us as people of colour face. It’s especially traumatising for us transracial adoptees growing up in white families.
I was very proud of this work as I loved the image but it was very powerful I felt in communicating what I wanted to say
10. Where do you work : indoors, outdoors, with view or not, with music, if so, what his your favourite music?
I work indoors in my studio. I try to draw from life where possible but as plants fade/die I have a lot of photographs I have taken as reference so they inform how the plant structure is. For me this is very important as a lot of my followers are gardeners and know their plants!
11. What mood/ state of mind do you have whilst working?
I need to be calm but energized. I call it my ‘mojo’. These days it’s very easy to be in this state because I work every day and I have trained myself to be this disciplined.
12. How did you develop this technique? Can you tell us a bit about it?
I call my techniques: ‘colouring in’, blobbing it up’ and ‘moving the puddle’.
Although I am meticulous about drawing everything out in pencil first which takes a lot of time this is so when I start putting the colour down it can go very quickly. For me, this is about getting the most out of the very liquid medium of watercolour: I let it ‘do its thang’ in a very controlled environment – I put a good ‘blob’ of colour down and then create tone by adding water. Then I shift the puddle with my brush to the edges of the designated area so that it fills that space completely.
Quite often I will layer up these areas over time…
13. Besides this medium and style, do you use any other art form?
I’ve started working in liquid acrylics in dark backgrounds on canvas and in 2018 I’d like to make more use of my digital resources and start creating digital art.
14. What inspires you as an experienced artist?
I’m thinking more about: what doesn’t?
For me inspiration doesn’t mean: something inspires me to create a work around that object/experience but objects, sights, smells, interactions, experiences and especially colours inform my work or help guide it to a new direction.
15. What frustrated you whilst working?
Interruptions interruptions and not being able to devote as much time to my work.
16. Have you ever done a workshop? And why?
I have attended workshops run by other artists and find them a great way to take a look at my techniques, learn new ones and improve on the ones I have. I also love seeing how other artists work and the processes behind their work.
17. Tell us about how do you connect with other artists, and your customers (how do you network)?
As an artist I feel it is a large part of my job to go and support other artists by going to shows, talks etc. I use social media a lot and have connected with other creative from all over the world. Although I post daily, I try to think about what people might be interested in – so studio/humourous shots/posts are often liked as there is more of the story coming through.
18. Are involved in the art society groups? If yes do you know any names of those groups?
Not really – I just do my own thing
However, I am a NAVA member and would recommend any artist to join.
19. What do enjoy doing besides painting?
Travel and food is big on my list. I used to travel a lot when I lived in the UK and before I got married but it was mostly solo. These days though because I am living my dream life as an artist (with a job on the side), and would rather be painting than stuck at an airport, I don’t travel as much.
That said: any vacation travel is geared more towards experiences and bucket list stuff than any other trips and it’s great to go away with my husband who shares the same interests when it comes to travel and food.
20. What advice can you offer other creative people who are just starting out and following their passion?
Practise practise practice and don’t give up. It takes time to build a good body of work, a following and then sales. Trust me when I say it can really get hard especially when you are still working to pay the bills. I often think to myself that I wish I had worked harder on my art when I was younger and then taken the leap sooner. Do it as soon as you can because if you don’t you will always wonder : ‘what if?’. Also: be nice – you never know who you will meet in future and then when they will pop up again – but don’t be a pushover.
21. What dreams do you still want to achieve or fulfill in your life?
One day I would like to be hung in the Royal Academy summer show and the Sulman Art prize.
It is a dream of mine to design for Designers Guild, Liberty of London, Wedgewood and Hermes.
I would also like to see Tibet, Myanmar, Bhutan, drive around the countrysides of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal but also see more of Australia: Uluru, Northern Territory, South Australia, Country NSW, Victoria and Tasmania – so quite a lot on my bucket list.
22. What is your general outlook on life?
It depends on what mood I am in.
23. What is the most important lesson in life that you have learned?
You can go through hardship in your life but it doesn’t excuse you from being a dick to other people.
24. What book are you reading right now, and do you have a book you would like to recommend? Right now I’m reading two books on Adoption:
‘The perks of being an adoptee’ by Mae Claire, a Haitian transracial adoptee living in the US
‘The colour of time’ a compilation of adult Australian transracial adoptee experiences published by the AU government department: DSS (Dept of Social Srvices) in tandem with ISS (International Social Service Australia), PARC (Post Adoption Resource Centre) and ICAV (Intercountry Adoptee Voices)
The books are not an easy read – some of the stories are distressing and heartbreaking but it informs my work as a volunteer in the adoption community and my art.
There are a couple of books I’d recommend that I’ve read lately:
Thomas Keneally: ‘the Commonwealth of thieves’. A history of white Australia. As a relatively new immigrant I feel it is important that I begin to understand the origins of the country and I’ve always loved his writing starting with ‘the chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’, read back in the 80s. I found his book more informative and less patronizing than Robert Hughes’ ‘The fatal shore’
‘Stick out your tongue’ Ma Jian. A collection of short stories based in Tibet. I read this on the flight to Shanghai recently – leaving it on the plane when I realized this book had been banned in China. The stories are haunting, brutal and beautiful in equal measure.
25. Tell us about how you prioritize your personal work?
I still work in a corporate job but minimal hours around the working week. So I make sure emails are checked first thing and responses/tasks are completed.
I have a to do list in my diary or on a list on my studio wall: this is the list of errands I need to do that week or the list of subject matter to paint. It’s very satisfying to cross off items as they are done – it’s a project management tip.
26. Where do we find you and your art work?
In Sydney you can find giftware and art at the following stockists:
In Singapore: Utterly Art, 20 Mosque Street. Utterly Art Represent me in Singapore and Hong Kong at their gallery and at the Affordable Art Fairs.
In China: Arocolor, 100 Zixiu Road, Minhang district: Arocolour have a large selection of original works and produce high quality products featuring my art