Colors and shapes and fur oh my. Gala Bent‘s fantasy worlds are beyond the stuff of dreams. They’re a mix of the organic hair, grass, trees and the abstract, mathematics, geometry, brightly colored shapes. Gala Bent’s connection to nature is evident in this interview.
Where are you from?
Michigan (suburbs of Detroit).
Where do you live now?
How have the two separate locations affected your work?
Both places are pocked and interrupted by water. I’ve been a long-time hydrophile, and I think there’s something about having stared at water for great lengths that plays out in my understanding of how to draw or paint.
When did you begin to get serious about drawing?
I started my first hard-bound sketchbook when I was ten, and I’ve been filling them ever since.
What was going through your head while you were drawing “Hallowed and Hallowed”?
I’d been trying to make images that toyed with the idea of open space, void or mysterious interiors. It was part of a certain recurring image I was having of a cave leading to a wide, open dark space that was at once exhilarating and dreadful. I used the architectural forms to pierce the dome form and make it seem hollow, and then put the whole thing on stilts to further emphasize the possibility that a massive thing might be lighter than it appears.
Where were you when you thought of the “Herd of Hanging Gardens”?
I was actually thinking of Maya Lin’s sculptures that showed the shape of water inside different lakes or oceans. They end up looking like inverted mountains, and I liked that inversion. Ironically, after I added grass to the top, I looked at it upside down and it seemed to work better as actual floating mountains with trailing tentacles than as scoops of underground mountains with blowing grasses, which is what they were at first.
Why is it a herd?
Because everything seems to resound into patterns.
Tell us about “Watcher”. Who is the watcher? Who or what is being watched?
The Watcher idea comes from the feeling I have when I’m around mountains that they’re actually present somehow—like big hulking sleeping bears. Or the sense when you’re in the mountains that you are trespassing into a living system, which it is.
How has your work been received at the different shows that you’ve been to? Was the interpretation and reception different from what you expected?
People are often either excited by the imaginative side of the work or romanced by the drawing style. If people hate the work, they usually don’t take the time to tell me! Ha! I think the most satisfying response is when the work somehow overlaps with an experience or perception that a person has—when it makes a strong resonance.
What have you learned about your work and yourself from the exhibitions that you’ve been in?
As I’ve been asked to explain elements of the work, I have come to understand it more. One question I’m often asked is what the colored geometry bits or the more hairy, organic portions mean. I don’t think there’s an easy explanation for either one of those things, and they shift function from piece to piece, but it’s often a description of a tension between ways of thinking. The geometry can stand in for clear and calculated reasoning, while the scattered fits or flows are the elements that don’t work tidily inside the model.
What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited and why?
That’s a great question. I have to say that the Northwest forests, even though they’re so close, are some of my favorite places—the variety of elevations and slopes makes for a continuous change of undergrowth and canopy, and then the dramatic spots like cliffs or falls… at the same time, I still daydream about swimming in Lake Michigan or any of Michigan’s great lakes, because it’s so dreamy to experience what feels ocean-sized, but is fresh water. I have many indelible color memories connected to the reflection of different skies in water.
How has your art matured since you first began? What about illustration attracted you so much?
I’ve tried my best to get beyond the temptation to make things beautiful that don’t have any teeth, conceptually or viscerally. I am happiest when I’ve achieved that balance. Actually, I’m not truly an illustrator, in that I don’t work very often for clients, or to serve existing content. But what I love about illustration is the element of story—a movement in time and character that can be related to theatre.
What other media have you experimented with?
Almost everything… but my recurring favorites are book arts, animation, writing and sculpture.
How does the feel of etching compare to drawing?
Etching is often more of a chemical process than a physical one (unless you are using the drypoint technique, in which the plate is physically scratched to create burrs). The process of etching, then, has an element of slow discovery and surprise. You make decisions based on your ideas of how they will look when the plate is etched (in an acid bath), inked and printed. Etching is based in metals—plates and scribes—which gives it a totally different set of smells, textures and gestures compared to paper, paint, pencils.
Tell us about the process and idea behind “Bashful Room”, particularly “The Shivering Wall”.
I love thinking about architecture as a second body that we build around ourselves. It has circulating air (respiration), water (hydration), electricity (nerves, calories) and even a waste system… Skin and bones and everything else can be given an architectural equivalent. So the bashful room was designed around the feelings of art openings, and was about the specific space of a gallery—the positive and negative social/physical things that happen when you have loaded a measure of expectation into a room. The Shivering Wall makes the painted surface rise into goose bumps and sprout hair.
What is your dream project?
I would love to collaborate with gifted animators to make my drawings begin to move in a way that is more time-intensive than the animations that I do on my own. Film in general, and animation specifically, are often better as collaborative efforts.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on drawings and animation/video for a show in San Francisco in the fall of 2012, and am also preparing for an exhibition in Seattle for Neddy finalists at Cornish (a fellowship for painters).
When is the best time of day and why? When are you most productive?
Mid- to late morning for thinking and talking and writing. Night time for drawing and painting.