Rachel Gilbert was born in Texas with family roots in Newfoundland, moving to the island in 2014 to study for BFA in Visual arts from Grenfell Campus. Working as an interdisciplinary artist, Gilbert specializes in painting and printmaking with subjects ranging from animals and nature to still-life and portraiture. She has been working with the arts community since 2016, starting with the Corner Brook Rotary Arts Centre’s Visual Arts Committee to her current position as the Communication & Design Assistant at St. Michael’s Printshop.
Jessica is a 24-year old inuk from Makkovik, Nunatsiavut. She is an artist with exhibition features at The Rooms and La Guildein Montreal, working in acrylic painting and seal skin mosaics, and she is currently working her second curatorial position for the Bonavista Biennale (first show wasSaunituinnaulongitutluni: Beyond Bone at the Rooms). Jessica comes from a large family of artists and craftspeople, including her mom Blanche, grandma Nellie, and aunt Dinah Andersen. As a trained biologist, her work both in science and in art focus on Inuit sovereignty, challenging colonial perspectives and reclaiming Inuit identity.
Gaayathri is a third yearvisual arts student from India, studying at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Grenfell Campus. Her art practice consists of painting, printmaking, and digital art. She also currently holds a MUCEP position at the Grenfell Art Gallery. In her free time,she enjoys hiking, swimming, and travelling.
Do you remember the first artwork you created? Could you describe it and how old were you?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I was always drawing animals. Though I can’t remember any as my earliest, it was probably a whale or a horse.
The Port Blandford community along Bonavista Bay is such a beautiful place. Could you share a little bit of your experiences growing up?
I feel very fortunate to have grown up in such a beautiful place. There was plenty of space to roam without coming across another person and I was free to do so since a young age. I was a pretty solitary kid and remember taking my dog out walking or skiing on the trailway most days after school. There’s a strong connection to the land there that
has deeply impacted me. Fishing and trouting, catching rabbits with my pop, helping mom in her vegetable garden, my dad getting his moose in the fall, and long days berry picking are all memorable times for me.
Your latest exhibition of hooked rugs titled Pond Portraits was shown on the Bonavista Peninsula this spring. Could you tell us about your inspiration for the series and what rug hooking means to you?
Another part of life growing up in central Newfoundland was weekends spent at the family cabin “in the woods”. It’s very common in Port Blandford to have a little cabin, usually overlooking a pond and only accessible by skidoo. In 2018, the wooded area surrounding our cabin was threatened to be cut down, and the community came together to protest. Seeing the collective love for the land inspired me to create Pond Portraits. I learned rug hooking from a great, great aunt in elementary school. For the series, I hand- dyed yarn with indigo to create different shades of blue, then spent hours hooking each pond. From Crooked Pond, where my dad built our cabin, to Rainy Lake; I have
a personal connection to each body of water featured in these works.
Printmaking often comes to the foreground in your artistic practice. You explore variety of print making techniques. How could you describe your relationship with the medium?
I learned printmaking during my first semester at NSCAD in 2017. Before that, I hadn’t even known what a print was, but I fell in love with it in that class, particularly relief and intaglio. My BFA was focused on printmaking and I was lucky to be exposed to many techniques at NSCAD. I love the linear process behind making a print, and how it engages your mind, but also the physical aspect of rolling ink and printing for long hours. I enjoy being able to move
between different tasks too, designing imagery, carving a block, tearing paper, printing, etc.
You have graduated from NASCAD with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree however you also hold a degree of Bachelor of Science in Biology from MUN. How does the background in Biology influence your art?
My background in biology ended up being hugely impactful to my practice. When I started art school I was ready to forget about science and make up for the time I thought I’d wasted studying it. But I’ve realized that biology gave me a background to work from, with much of my work focused on plants and animals. Now I’m thankful for it, and accept that I can be both an artist and a scientist.
This year you were an artist-in-residence at the Union House Arts in Port Union. Could you tell us about your experiences during your residency?
Three-week residency this November at Union House Arts was my first residency in Newfoundland, and the first since I’ve finished my BFA. I was a bit worried in the weeks leading up to arriving there, as since the pandemic hit, I hadn’t touched printmaking. Luckily I brought some carving tools and linoleum for a workshop I was putting on, and a few days into the residency, carving lino blocks was all I wanted to do! The landscape of the Bonavista peninsula inspired the imagery of everything I made there. The ocean, rock formations, and bogs hold a place in my heart and I realized how much I’ve missed being there. I’m so grateful for my time at Union House, as it allowed me to reconnect with both printmaking and my home.
Speaking of residencies, you also took a residency abroad. How was this international experience for you? Could you share a few moments of fun and frustration, if any?
My first residency was in South Africa, when I travelled there for three months with NSCAD’s Art in Schools program in 2018. I was in residence at the university’s art department, and it was the first time my practice was completely self-directed. I had been in art school a year and a half at that point, and definitely struggled there for a while to find direction. There were a lot of things to get used to, like having to leave the studio at night and not doing as much alone as I do here. But my time in South Africa changed me, and I’ll never love a landscape or it’s people as much anywhere else (next to Newfoundland, of course).
This year is quite unprecedented for humanity in general. Tell us about your experience being an artist and coping with the pandemic to date.
It was pretty difficult at first when things were being postponed and cancelled. Just having finished art school I had a couple of exhibitions coming up, and was planning a print exchange, and all of a sudden the future was so unknown. I made Pond Portraits during the first month and it was so helpful for me to have something to keep my hands busy. It also helped me cope with my homesickness at the time, as a connection to the landscape I longed for. I was lucky that Two Whales Coffee shop held the exhibition of them virtually via social media, and my residency at Union House that was originally supposed to be April, was rescheduled.
Who are your favorite writers and does their writing influence your visual art?
Rebecca Solnit, specifically her book the Faraway Nearby, influenced the work for my first show, Tea Setting. I’m not sure what genre her books would fall into, as she weaves together history, science, poetry and personal memoir, but I really admire her writing. During my residency I read Michael Crummey’s latest novel, The Innocents. His depictions of early settlers to the island is partly what drove me to create my most recent prints of wild species we eat here in Newfoundland. Additionally, I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver for years. Her writing combining prose with her background in biology really resonates with me, and is part of what drove me to go to art school after
What is your view on the place of handmade art vs. digital art in the future?
I appreciate both digital and traditional techniques. My practice wouldn’t exist without either, though I sometimes struggle with a balance between the two, and it’s easy for me to rely too much on working digitally. It’s always a relief to pick up carving tools after spending too long on my iPad.
Could you share a few contemporary visual artists whose work you admire?
There’s so many! In printmaking there’s my professor Charley Young, Swoon, Nicole Pietrantoni, and Molly Lemon to name a few. Outside of print, I love the work of Jane Walker, Amy Malbeuf, Pam Hall, and Brigitta Varadi.