Gabby Malpas creates watercolours that are intricate portrayals of plants, birds, blended cultures and beautiful objects. Locally grown fruit and flowers picked and bought nearby are rendered with a warmth and intimacy, forming a conversation between the rarefied, patterned flora that decorates the Chinese ceramics and Malaysian batik fabrics within her images.
Gabby creates many sketches of a single flower or piece of fruit, playing with multiple viewpoints. Compositions are then imagined using a mental assemblage of the images often long after the flower has shed its petals and the oranges have been eaten. She regularly studies butterfly specimens and photos of birds, bringing them to life in her works.
Ceramics discovered in junk shops and batik sarongs from her travels around South East Asia are also constants. Gabby simplifies the patterns on these objects, often flattening them out to display a pared-down pattern. By bringing these floral and faunal representations together, Gabby captures the fleetingly beautiful alongside the traditional and enduring. Antique documents sewn onto the watercolour paper before Gabby begins to paint also give some of her works this sense of history.
Gabby has been working chiefly in ‘liquid’ colour since leaving art school and honed her skills with watercolour and ink since moving to Australia in 2003. She is a self-taught watercolourist and says that she had to figure out her own technique of ‘moving the puddle around.’ Crisp lines are prevalent in her work. The liquidity of watercolour has been negotiated delicately and deftly; undetectable washes are applied to nuance colour, shading is achieved through a careful application of paint. The overall effect is a restful escapism for the eye.
Gabby was raised in Auckland after being adopted by New Zealand parents as a baby. She began to recognize her Chinese heritage appearing in her art while at art school in Otago, Dunedin:
“I was throwing extremely traditional Han Chinese shapes on the pottery wheel – only recognising what they were when I saw similar forms in museums or textbooks”.
After studying ceramics at Otago Polytechnic School of Fine Art from 1984-86, she travelled through South East Asia, ending up in London in 1989. Gabby says that unlike most of her contemporaries at Otago at the time, she used ‘clay as a canvas’ in the tradition of Majolica, creating brightly coloured works in contrast with the earthenware of her fellow students.
Her love of colour has endured and her ceramicist background is evident in her use of pattern in her works and the negation of depth through the use of pattern means that it is often easy to imagine many of her works adorning a beautiful vase or bowl.
After meeting her birth-mother in 2004, she says that her painting started to become ‘very oriental.’ It was this long-awaited event that influenced Gabby’s work and shaped it into the very unique style it is today: a melding of European and Asian styles with a large ‘dollop’ of Australian and NZ influence. In this series of works, Gabby has melded Chinese representational traditions with SE Asian patterns, with birds and fruit from her life in New Zealand, the UK and Australia.
Gabby recent show: ‘where are you from?’ at the Platform 72 Gallery in Sydney has, for the first time, delved into her personal history and her adoption to produce a number of images that convey her history, her feelings and emotions in the way she wanted: with love, respect and above all, a little of the humour that binds us all. In this show Gabby drew on the influences that have shaped her world: East end music halls, European grand masters, old world artefacts, Pacifica, SE Asian textiles, English gardens, tropical plants and NZ culture. The result is a collection of pictures combining unexpected elements to create strangely familiar images.
As part of her art practice Gabby regularly collaborates with other artists and designers to produce joint designs or products such as fabrics and garments. By collaborating, more opportunities for design open up as Gabby’s images lend themselves to giftware or designs that are different to her own vision but compliment her work.
One such collaboration is with her friend Sarah Ryan of Hillandale Gardens and Nursery to produce seed packets for seeds grown from Sarah’s cottage garden specialist plants. The project is called: ‘Sarah’s seeds’. It is a labour of love: plant varieties are agreed on and images are painted before the packets are designed, printed and assembled by hand. As availability is dependant on the yearly crop, Sarah’s seeds quantities are often small and they are growing a small by steady number of fans.
Other prints and giftware are availavble at exhibitions and fairs, including
– melamine trays and platters
– textiles: cushions, teatowels and silk scarves
– cards, notebooks and calendars
– prints on canvas, or paper sized A4 up to A1
And zip along to her Facebook page to find out what she’s working on and where she’s currently exhibiting.
In Australia you can find some of Gabby’s homeware range at Sew Make Create in Chippendale and she often has exhibitions at galleries like Platform72 in Chippendale, and the Breathing Colours Gallery in Balmain.
In New Zealand, you can find Gabby’s work at The Print Shop Gallery & Framer – Remuera
Finalist: Nora Heysen Centenary Art Prize – Still life 2011
Selected to exhibit: National Trust Harper’s Mansion Art Prize – Still life 2011
Selected to exhibit: Hornsby Art Prize 2011
Selected to exhibit: James Kiwi Watercolour Prize, 2012
Highly commended: Westmead Hospital Art Prize 2012
Highly commended, Watercolour: Blacktown City Art Prize: 2011 & 2012