Lucy Stein and Manuela Gernedel share thoughts on Carole Gibbons as inspiration
Three women painters have shared a common address. Two have a conversation embracing their muse, home, practices, generation and serendipity
Lucy Stein: I first met Carole in 1998 in a village called Competa in Andalucia, where I was spending my gap year being precocious in a house full of older Glaswegian artists, including her son Henry Guy. I lived with her for a few weeks and then she took over the studio I’d been working in and stayed for about two years. When she arrived she floated down the stone steps in a silver dress, rose-coloured mohair cardigan and a pair of old school trainers. Carole really rolls with the decades.
Manuela Gernedel: To me she was just the red-haired upstairs neighbour, for the entire time that we lived beneath her in Glasgow. It was only through you that I got to see her paintings, and that put things in perspective: everything else as part of one big thing. Orangie (the ginger cat), and apparently seven other Orangies buried in the garden; purple, pink and orange curtains and rugs dangling out of the windows; the sound of chopping firewood in the close at three am. It’s difficult not to make all this sound romantic. But it really isn’t that romantic. Annoying was the word I thought, a lot of the time. And surely so did she.
LS: I’m sure she did. I agree that it is dangerous for us to romanticise any lack of modernity in her living arrangement... and yet there is also her deeply romantic spirit to discuss. What always strikes me is, that being an artist, living for beauty and poetry, transcends everything with Carole. It has nothing to do with some idea of bohemianism.
MG: Yes, exactly, there is no trying, no pre-conception of an artist image; or maybe there simply is no criticality towards it. One time I found one of Carole’s friends in the close, worshipping a flower. I was staring, he told me: “if you’ve got a problem, solve it”. Maybe he really was just rude and I am reading too much into it, but I feel that that is the essence of it: you, yourself are the only one watching.
LS: I think one of the most interesting outcomes of our show is how your solidarity and dialogue as neighbours was up and down, but showing together illuminated a startling connection – a shared delicacy of touch and discordant palette, a feeling for the quiet but convulsive sacredness of objects and textures. It was picked up on by everyone, and especially Alasdair Gray who brought it up in his talk. That must have been slightly perplexing for you, especially since you had never seen her work until a month or so before the show?
MG: Yes, absolutely! I mean, even after seeing her paintings up in her flat it was a bit uncanny how all the work corresponded once we saw it together downstairs. Maybe we have opposite pursuits with a similar outcome: I begin with something figurative, which becomes secondary through layers of making. With Carole it seems there is the material first, building up to an image. Both ways, a fairly traditional concept of art making as an emotional response to the world of things.
LS: Carole seems to be committed to maintaining the motif in her work, I think, but it’s hard to deconstruct the process by which it comes about. There is an interior logic that is pretty out there but her work could never be described as outsider or even expressionistic. You know that she is in conversation with Matisse, Bonnard, Cezanne, and Vanessa Bell but the paintings still pulsate with a thoroughly bizarre, though tender, inner life. There is a lot of dry wit (and dry brush work) so I was really happy that we could put Rachal's cactus with ‘dry’ etched into it near Carole's ‘Chinese horse’ which is so built up you have to make a concerted effort to engage with the surface. I liked the ‘prickly woman’ analogy too.
Carole can be very dismissive of painting in Glasgow, although I think she’s an heiress to the colourist tradition with her strange Iberian palette.
MG: I Suppose you get that with a lot of Nordic painters: like Nolde or Munch. Maybe there is an element of escapism. Psycho-paintings and psychological paintings. A bit of both. Then again, seeing things like the blossoming cherry tree in the back garden of her flat it is obvious how it is all there alright and there is an astonishing exactness when it reappears in the paintings. Those are moments of intensity that are focused in on. But I agree it also is a survival strategy. Glasgow does invite an underdog tag – and who wouldn’t like some street cred? It only makes sense in exile, of course. The question is, which is the bigger desert to thrive in? Ideally we want to look like one of Rachal’s cacti – ‘dry’. But there is an unbeatable suspicion that it’s much more fun to have a bit of a Fellini cast going on. Have you seen Muscles of Joy play? That’s one good thing. They have a song called ‘Room of our own’. (Yes, I know it is V Woolf) so we are back to the necessity of space.
LS: No, I’ve never seen them, but coincidentally Ariki from that band was also in Competa when Carole, Henry and I were there. I like to categorise people, especially people who are hard to categorize, which is any good artist, so it's silly... but I think Carole has a similar type of enigma to Nico (speaking of Fellini cast!). They both had a statuesque feline beauty and the gravitas that comes from living for art and being talented. They both captivated talented men. Maybe this ability to be singular is particular to their generation? If so, that is even more reason to recognise the myth of the beautiful enigmatic woman alongside the work. In the past, any attempts to advertise her, rather than her work, were met with fury, but despite this Henry and I decided to show some old posed photographs alongside drawings in a vitrine at Gimpel Fils (with Carole’s blessing). They are too evocative to dismiss. Perhaps when you have a life’s work behind you it is OK to look back and see how cool and attractive you were, but at the time it’s not a good idea. I regret using a fashion photograph of myself on the back of a book. I cringe when I look at it now, even though it’s a strong image. It’s hard to know what is the right thing to do. You are very discreet Manuela, do you think about these things in relation to your artwork? I guess you have to think about it when you release a record.
MG: Yes it’s a problem. As an artist and especially as a woman artist you are destined to hobble from one cliché to another.
LS: That is why I loved those obnoxiously vaginal pastel drawings you made for the show. They were almost so brazen, so deep and throbbing and dirty it didn’t register after a few seconds and you could just luxuriate in them.
MG: Thanks Lucy! X. I was really into this idea of abstraction and expressiveness, and evening classes, and exorcism, and how I could get rid of it. After having a baby and not doing any art for a few months, I did not want to lean a stick against a wall (although I am not generally opposed to that kind of thing.) Actually I believe that is the worst way to go about making anything, this over-loadedness with ideas... and that is exactly what Carole doesn’t ever seem to do, it’s always super simple, classic. We were talking about image making earlier. For us it is hard to tell how Carole sits in there, she simply is two generations above us, and whatever she is, she has been for such a long time, any tailoring has been completed for decades. Her work and the flat with everything that is going on around it: it is a Gesamtkunstwerk. And that was the inspiration for the show. It IS okay to gather dried flowers and shells, and bang on about Sylvia Plath and Matisse.
Lucy Stein, Manuela Guernedel and Carole Gibbons are all painters working in Scotland