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In conversation with Nelda Gilliam


In Conversation with: Nelda Gilliam
At Bastakiya Art Fair 2010

N: I do art because I have to. I am an artist and that’s how I think, but I don’t
think things through as to what I am going to put on the canvas. I have done
so in the past and I find it very difficult. I can have a concept and translate it into an installation though. I don’t understand why that is much easier.

C: What do you look for in your work?

N: When working on canvas I aim toward working freely. This does not happen
very often, but I am aware of it when it is over! I am free on the canvas when the
marks and brushstrokes come very spontaneously. What I connect with is that when I look at my work, I see that the placement of colours works and that the lines are right and the whole composition is harmonious. This may be because, I then feel I am making sense of myself and of whom I am inside. I think that the main thrill for me is the putting of marks of paint on the canvas, marks that come from me personally, also it is about the energy invested and intuitive choices of colours I make when doing so.
It’s a very pure spontaneous way of making art.

C: What is your response to artists who struggle with identity and censorship as we have heard in the talks here at Bastakiya Art Fair earlier?

N: Why are people struggling with their identity? Give me a break! We are who we are, no matter where we are.

C: What would your advice be to artists worried about trends and market forces in the arts?

N: I am sure artists fall into that and my advice would be to just get on with it and do the work.

C: I see that some artists find it hard to contextualise their work and try to fit in with some sort of label in order for galleries to look at their work. We were talking the
other day about how your way of working, which could be termed as gestural expressionism, has almost become unfashionable.

N: So it is unfashionable to be yourself?

C: I particularly liked your piece in this show stating: ‘Just be natural’! How did you start in art making?

N: It has been a real slow development because of the circumstances of where I came from and the story of discovering myself. I always knew I was an artist and I did study art at the University in Houston. When coming to Saudi Arabia in 1993, and no longer had a permanent job so I found time to develop as an artist.
In Saudi Arabia at the time there was not a lot of art material available so I started picking up bits and pieces and things around the vacant lots. So, through my determination and passion I continued to develop my work. And of course I had help
along the way and lots of encouragement.

C: Who were your influences then and now?

N: I particularly liked Franz Kline’s work because of the energy in his brushstrokes,
Karl Appel, and Cy Tombly. I made a special trip to London to see his exhibition at the Tate. He is just so natural and that’s what I want to do more than anything else, to just let it come from me effortlessly. I look at Basquiat’s work a lot, I like his work a lot
because it is just total self-expression and it just comes to him. I also like Johnny Gents work when it is sensitive and personal.

C: Do you concentrate on working in installation and on canvas mostly?

N: I also like drawing, and I do a lot of that at the studio in Huston. Two years ago I had an exhibition there inspired by Dubai. It was called Dubai Lines.

C: Do you think when art is personal it is also universal and touches that cord with the viewer?

N: I think for the viewer to recognise it, the viewer has to know something about him or herself. Some people do not have the same sensitivity and would not see it that way.

C: Do you think it is necessary to include politics and current affairs in one’s work?

N: Well, I am a little bit tired about work that addresses the wars. Everybody knows it goes on everywhere in the world and has been going on since the beginning of time.
It will never end because of that’s the way we are.

Installation Work , Nelda Gilliam, at XVA Gallery

Wall Piece, Nelda Gilliam, at XVA Gallery

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