A refractive opening

It was a wonderful evening last night mixing with our art friends at Rachel Bremner's exhibition opening. I have been asked to publish my opening speech so I thought this would be the best place for it so you can read if interested. I gave my speech a lot of thought, knowing Rachel as I do, knowing how she works and the passion and love she has for her work and her life. I tried to capture a few elements of what it's like to work as a solitary artist as both Rachel and I enjoy our very special time alone in our respective studios.  Obviously in my talk I ad-libbed a lot as is my want to make the talk interesting and a bit of fun as well.  Enjoy these images and enjoy the read it's, not that long, thank you!

Chipping away at the smalti. 

Rachel at work.

Tools of the trade.

With Rachel at the opening.

Last night!

Hello and welcome to the gathering!

As an intro to the exhibition I would like to talk, very briefly, about two things: Refraction and Rachel.

One of the earliest things we learn as school children in science is how the eye works and how “light” alters according to the changing light around us. We learn how light is absorbed by an object, how it reflects light and how it refracts light. So, on that score, I’m probably not telling you anything new. But what I love about the word “refraction” is that it means to break up. The word comes from mid 17th century Latin refractio. In this case light waves bend and break-up as they pass through certain objects, a little perhaps, as our lives bend and break and come together again over a lifetime.

How apt however, is this word Refraction.  Not only is it bending and breaking up of the waves of light that enter an object but so too Rachel performs a task of “breaking-up” her media into pieces. In a sense she is providing us with the objects to which our eyes respond, in that refractive way.

Tactile materials of stone, glass, tile and other objects are used in Rachel’s work. Can you imagine picking up and feeling stone like obsidian knowing it was formed by rapid solidification of lava without chrystallization. I mean wow, this material is ancient, possibly thousands of years old.

And smalti, even the word is seductive. Z-M-A-R-L-T-E-E. Smalti is a form of chrystallized coloured glass used widely in mosaics traditionally and even more in modern interpretations.

Rachel finds when working with stone her feeling are those of calmness and in contrast, when working with smalti her input becomes energized. She explains that stone absorbs light and smalti refracts light. For Rachel her media, to a certain extent, dictate the placement of bits. Making judgments and decisions about the direction of a piece of work can be a complex thing. She places honest importance on making the pieces from quite disparate origins, to work together.

I asked Rachel the question “what do people say when you tell them you are a mosaic artist?” Rachel’s response was “Oh my aunt can do that!”. I specifically asked her this question because I am asked the same thing and when I tell them I am a calligrapher, I get exactly the same answer and their eyes glaze over … end of conversation.

And it’s not that we mind so much. We don’t need to convince anyone of anything, but it is a strange phenomenon. So, Rachel guides people to her website and the conversation can start all over again. But a website can’t give the whole picture which is why we are here. One needs to look at the original work, move about the object and experience the changing light over an extended period of time. Allow yourself to be in the moment and experience the sophistication of light’s interplay with the earth’s objects. Touch them … but a warning they may bite you!

Let’s talk about the process of the work itself: one can sit and look at a blank board and wait and wait and wait until a bead of sweat drops off the forehead OR a drop of blood falls off a cut finger in Rachel’s case and makes the first mark and inspiration begins but, it doesn’t quite work that way. As a maker of things, in this case mosaic works, Rachel makes a headlong start by placing her media down on the substrate and then she makes a decision, an educated decision I like to say, where the next bit should go … and from there she makes another educated decision responding to the first and subsequent pieces until the work comes together as a whole. Her reward is in the process, her enjoyment, or the angst, of the time spent to work with the materials, choosing them, sharp or smooth, feeling them, caressing them, placing them. We don’t need to know what the works mean in a literal sense but know that they come from a place of joy or of sorrow, an expression of ones life.

Our purpose as artists - I believe - is not merely a copying the past but a heartfelt telling of the present. As artists we should be obliged to tell a story of our own time and I can see clearly Rachel does this. She has a strong sense of place and a strong sense of self, she takes from within and gives to us, to others of our own time and not only that Rachel forges a legacy for future generations. Rachel has presented us with works in this exhibition that express her life through her art, using her head, her hands and her heart.

I am so delighted to be here with all of you to celebrate and congratulate Rachel’s excellent work and officially open her show. Thank you Rachel!


chris said…
Given that I am thousands of miles away, I could not attend Rachel's opening, but I wish I could have! Your words are great, Gemma! The enticement is there, the admiration is obvious, and I explored Rachel's website to see more, more, more!

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