Featured Artist: Gemma Burridge
"Being able to name something as art for yourself, even if it's not presented to the "art world", can still be art!"
I was lucky enough to run into Gemma (she/her) while waiting for the bus awhile back. She was wearing a very cool, hand painted jean jacket and I asked whether she was an artist. Well, it turns out she is! I am very excited to share a conversation I had with her about art and creativity with all of you today.
DECADENT: Hello! Thank you for making the time to do this!
GEMMA: Of course!
DECADENT: So, I want to start with your subject matter. You told me,
"I am a people watcher and I am most inspired by humans themselves. I am fascinated with the human figure (portraits especially!) and think that artwork depicting people holds a lot of emotion. "
So how about we start out with the idea of people as your subject matter.
GEMMA: Okay, great. I mean, you can't really go up to people [with interesting or expressive faces] and say, "Hey! What's going on with you?" Painting faces is really weird because it is such a strong way to communicate emotion, whatever expression there is, and it's always going to be mysterious because it's not you, it's someone else.
DECADENT: Right. Unless you're painting a self portrait in which case maybe it is you. Have you painted any self portraits?
GEMMA: Yes! So I don't know if you've ever heard of Cindy Sherman, but she's this artist that did photographic self-portraits. And it's a bit costume-y. She would depict herself in different roles, like in one of them, she's sitting in a chair with a gun, or in another she's a man. And so, for this prompt we had to depict ourselves in a very famous pop culture setting or something well-known to the art world, so I did the Girl With The Pearl Earring.
It is weird to paint yourself because I feel like I'm almost in a trance and I don't associate myself with it but then I sit back and I'm like, "Woah, wait, that kind of looks like me..."
DECADENT: That is crazy. When you are working on, or when you finish a self portrait, do you feel like you understand yourself better or does it just feel like you've made yourself that much more complex?
GEMMA: Oh my god...
DECADENT: Sorry, not to make an existential crisis worse.
GEMMA: Well for me personally, not to get too deep, but I feel like it was almost healing. I would notice things about my face that I don't notice or that I had never seen before.
And then to paint myself without my brain having negative thoughts, to just translate that somewhere else, it was like I could see myself with fresh eyes.
So it was really nice. I was like, "Oh wow, is that how I see myself? I didn't really know that."
DECADENT: That's so cool. I've felt that way about figure drawing before because, like you said, it can be a little shocking to stand in a circle with other artists around a nude model. But then, once you start drawing, it really doesn't matter that they aren't wearing any clothes.
GEMMA: I know!
DECADENT: So, you said that you like making art for friends and also said something about the everyday-ness of art and, considering that I met you because you were wearing your art, painted on a jean jacket, I think there is something about functional art that is really cool.
GEMMA: In terms of the clothes, I think it's really cool because it's almost like an artifact that you can take with you wherever you go.
And I do think it makes it more accessible: the idea that you can find art in everyday places.
I am still learning about the art world, but so far I've found it a little snobby. Being able to name something as art for yourself, even if it's not presented to the "art world", can still be art! I like the idea that I'm able to give people things that I think is art, or paint something that originally was not art. I think it's more personal in that way. It's not on a gallery wall but it can be around everyday.
DECADENT: Do you like going to art museums?
GEMMA: Yeah, I haven't been able to for awhile, but I do like going. I feel like every time I go, I end up wanting to change my whole style.
It's so fun, but it's also intimidating: I feel like, "Oh my god, I'm never going to be that good," or, "I will never be praised like this." Because a lot of the time it can be difficult to make it as an artist.
DECADENT: Although, like you said, there is something really special about personal art. Have you discovered any of your favorite artists through your art museum visits?
GEMMA: Well, I really like Hyman Bloom.
DECADENT: Did you go to the MFA show a couple years ago?
GEMMA: Yeah! It was very cool, very creepy. Also, Jenny Saville.
DECADENT: Do you feel like the artists you like influence your own style?
GEMMA: I do think I have been influenced by them. Especially Jenny Saville. I think she spent some time with a plastic surgeon or something. So her work is all about the body, expectations of women in society. Some of her pieces look like butchered flesh. She is really breaking norms. It's very intense.
And for Hyman Bloom, I just really like the dead-ness of it. I don't know, I just think creepy stuff is kind of cool.
DECADENT: Oh, I totally get that. Okay, so can we talk about your background in art? Have you always considered yourself an artist? Or was there a time when you felt like you first started making art? And also, who were some of your early sources of inspiration?
GEMMA: Well, I've always been a big doodler. And I would always take an art class in school, if I could. So I've always been making art.
In terms of influences, that's a tough one. I think when I was younger, there was more learning about the big artists. So I think early on it was more about learning how to do art and not so much how to be creative with it. But now, with a little more of a foundation, you can be a little more creative.
DECADENT: I know there's always a tension between being classically trained in art and using you imagination to break all those rules. And making art is so personal. It really depends on the individual. So, for you, what motivates you to create?
GEMMA: I would say that I'm actually more inspired to make art if I'm feeling kind of low. Maybe that's a little bit weird. I'm not really good at opening up to people generally...I'm kind of repressed. I find it hard to do that, but I think that painting faces and painting sad faces especially...I think I'm almost saying, "Hey. Something's going on but I don't really know how to tell you."
DECADENT: I totally feel that. How do you feel after you do that?
GEMMA: I think [I feel] better. I think it is kind of cathartic.
Kind of like you're expelling all of the [feelings] bubbling up. And sometimes it's kind of fun, it's almost like a snapshot of how you felt at that moment.
DECADENT: That is such a cool aspect of art: that it can capture so much feeling without having to explain it. So I think you said you are primarily a painter, but you also craft a bit?
GEMMA: Yes. Definitely primarily painting but I do make some jewelry. Like, I have some beer cap earrings that I will paint on. I don't know, I was very bored this summer, so I had a lot of crafting going on.
DECADENT: So did you not really craft before the pandemic?
GEMMA: Yeah, honestly it just kind of started happening. When I went back to New Zealand I had to do my two weeks of quarantine and I was so bored. I don't think I even spoke to anybody.
So yeah, it definitely has become more of a hobby since quarantine.
DECADENT: Are there any other mediums that you're hoping to get into?
GEMMA: I do really want to get into embroidery and sewing.
I also sketch a lot.
I'm very weird about my sketchbooks. If I do a page that I don't like, I will rip it out. I don't know why I feel like I have to have it a certain way, as though someone is going to look at it someday, because they are just for me, so it's weird that I do that.
DECADENT: Haha, I get that though. So how do you like to use your sketchbooks?
GEMMA: I almost use my sketchbooks as a diary. I really like buying sketchbooks. I'll want a new one because I'll feel like the one I'm using isn't that great and I've already messed it up so I may as well start a new one.
DECADENT: Remind me, what year are you in college again?
DECADENT: Okay. So where do you think you might take your art in the next year and then after college?
GEMMA: I mean, it's been really exciting the past few years of college, being able to study it. I do think I've been able to see a lot of improvement. So I guess I'm just hoping in the next year that I keep getting better technically, so that I can do whatever I want later on.
Long term, I have no idea, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm probably going to move back to New Zealand after graduation, depending on visa stuff.
I think I might be really interested in going to art school in New Zealand. But then obviously that's a conversation I will have to have with my parents.
DECADENT: Oh yeah, do you have any artists in the family?
GEMMA: Not really. My grandad was really into art and I think my great-great-grandad was a famous artist in New Zealand. But otherwise, no one's really ever done anything with [art].
DECADENT: Well you could be the first! So, I don't actually usually ask artists this, but I'm kind of curious to know: what do you do when you're not doing art?
GEMMA: Honestly, I am a big TV watcher. I'm kind of a homebody, I like staying inside. I like to cook and bake. And I used to play piano. But yeah, It's either painting or else binge-watching Harry Potter.
DECADENT: Yeah, I think people often put artists on a pedestal and forget that a lot of the time, artists are doing the same things everyone else does. Which brings me to my final question: what is it like being an artist at Boston College, for you?
GEMMA: It does definitely feel like you are the odd one out. But not necessarily in a bad way.
The art department is so small! And kind of hidden away on the fourth floor of Devlin. And no one really goes there unless they're an art person. So it does kind of feel like we stick out like a sore thumb. Like, when I'm carrying my portfolio, I feel like, "Well, it's obvious what I'm doing. Look at all the finance boys..."
But it's fun! I've met a lot of cool people through my art classes. I honestly think that the art classes have some of the coolest people in them. We all just talk, and I feel like that doesn't happen in other classes. It's very friendly and open, which is cool. I don't know if that happens in other classes, but I feel like it's just an art thing: there is space to chat while you're making art. You get into a bit more intimate discussions too, I guess.