We take great pleasure in introducing Gabrielle Mordy to you, artist and founder of Studio A. Gabrielle creates wonderfully textured and layered artworks that emerge from deep within her being. She brings her creative, abstract and intuitive resources to the fore in the making of her art as she does in how she lives her life.
In the following, she describes some key influences that have woven their way into her work from outside of herself.
Gabrielle founded Studio A, that provides professional development for artists’ with intellectual disability. We strongly recommend you have a look at their website.
She describes the culture at Studio A as one that she loves whole-heartedly, a culture that is respectful, fun and quirky! She has a well-spring of pride in being able to support a workplace where people can be warm and authentic; an environment that is both commercially successful as well as female-driven.
This Versus That, you know this place!
Deciding to create Studio A provided a sizeable challenge for Gabrielle because it coincided with the offer of a sensible and very well paying job. She found herself at a fork in her road and a choice had to be made. At the time, her father was anything but encouraging of her need to create Studio A, but her gut instinct won out! She admits to having loved taking this risk in hindsight as well as having embraced the excitement that came along with founding Studio A.
And there was no doubt that she was well-prepared for her crucial decision. The turning point had arrived and been worked through at a much earlier age. It was partly the result of Gabrielle’s parent’s divorce, a difficult and uncomfortable time for her when she fell into a state that she describes as being grey, where she felt dead and isolated. A time that was stressful to be living through. (Some people might call this depression.)
When there is nowhere else to go…
Back then when things were hard, her time was split between living with her separated parents. She spent some of her time in the countryside which she relished in. The remainder of her time she spent living in the suburbs which felt ‘plastic and unliveable’ to her. As Gabrielle says, ‘the church of Westfields’ was not what she was looking for! Living in the suburbs felt different as if she did not fit in with the lifestyle that others were living. She recalls feeling disconnected from people and the world generally. To counteract this, she was drawn to being in the garden and out in nature. Gabrielle needed to find a sense of expansion and to live each day with her imagination ignited.
It was as she made her way out of the depression that she found and connected more deeply with her inner being. She was beginning to recognise and invest in her quieter signals, in her feelings, relying on them to lead her.
These early learnings were to become her driving principles to explore and develop her art practice.
No control over the process or the results
Today, Gabrielle’s art does not arise from logic, it is intuitively driven and doesn’t make sense to her at first. The work she immersed herself in whilst doing her Masters in Fine Arts, plant dying, remains a great motivator.
It involves boiling eucalyptus leaves with a piece of metal inside a large pot to help fuse the colour to the paper being dyed. The way the paper is tied and folded affects how the paper is marked. Gabrielle particularly likes the fact that she cannot control this process or the results it produces.
The artist loves to take the dyed paper and work with the texture, torn edges, and layered fragments. She includes petite stitching, hand sewn in metallic thread, into the dyed fabric. It makes beautiful marks to accentuate her themes. Horses being one, that makes regular appearances in her work.
Gabrielle says, “horses can be wild and they take no bullshit”!
A wonderful metaphor for her approach to her broader way of working.
The Handless Maiden: A fairy tale
by the Brothers Grimm
Gabrielle wanted to share the importance of a fairy tale that she read some time ago and kept with her throughout her travels. It spoke to her then and has been perhaps in some ways underpinning who she has become ever since. It provides a consistent backdrop to her It goes like this:
Once upon a time a few days ago, the man down the road still owned a large stone that ground the villagers’ grain to flour. The miller had fallen on hard times and had nothing left but the great rough millstone in a shed, and the large flowering apple tree behind it.
One day, as he carried his silver-lipped axe into the forest to cut deadwood, a strange old man stepped from behind the tree. “There’s no need for you to torture yourself by cleaving wood,” wheedled the old man. “I shall dress you in riches if you will give me what stands behind your mill.”
“What is there behind my mill but the flowering apple tree?” thought the miller, and agreed to the old man’s bargain.
“In three years’ time, I’ll come to take what is mine,” chortled the stranger, and he limped away, disappearing between the staves of the trees.
So, the Queen stayed seven years at the inn and was happy with her child and her life. Her hands gradually grew back, first as little baby hands, pink as pearl, and then as little girl’s hands, and then finally as woman’s hands.
During this time the King returned from the war, and his old mother wept to him, “Why would you have me kill two innocents?” and displayed to him the eyes and the tongue.
Hearing the story, the king staggered and wept inconsolably. His mother saw his grief and told him these were the eyes and tongue of a doe and that she had sent the Queen and her child off into the forest.
The King vowed to go without drinking or eating and to travel as far as the sky is blue in order to find them. He searched for seven years. His hands became black, his beard mouldy brown like moss, his eyes were red-rimmed and parched. During this time he neither ate nor drank, but a force greater than he helped to live.
At last, he came to the inn kept by the woods people. The woman in white bade him enter, and he laid down, so tired. As he breathed the breath of deepest sleep, the veil billowed and gradually slipped from his face. He awakened to find a lovely woman and a beautiful child gazing down at him.
The miller met his wife on the path. She had run from their house, apron flying, hair askew. “Husband, husband, at the stroke of the hour, into our house, came a finer clock upon the wall, our rustic chairs were replaced by those hung in velvet, and the paltry cupboard abounds now with game, our trunks and boxes are overflowing. Pray tell how has this happened?” And even at that moment, golden rings appeared on her fingers and her hair was drawn up with a golden circlet.
“Ah,” said the miller, looking in awe as his own doublet turned to satin. Before his eyes his wooden shoes with the heels worn to nothing so he walked tilted backward, they too turned into fine shoes. “Well, it is from a stranger,” he gasped, “I came upon an old man in a dark coat in the forest and he promised great wealth if I gave him what is behind our mill. Surely, wife, we can plant another apple tree.”
“Oh, my husband!” wailed the woman, and she looked as though she had been struck dead. “The man in the black coat was the Devil, and what stands behind the mill is the tree, yes, but our daughter is also there sweeping the yard with a willow broom.”
And so the parents struggled home, weeping tears on all their finery. Their daughter stayed without husband for three years and had a temperament like the first sweet apples of spring. The day the Devil came to fetch her she bathed and put on a white gown and stood in a circle of chalk she’d drawn around herself. When the Devil reached out to grab her, an unseen force threw him across the yard.
The Devil screamed, “She must not bathe any more else I cannot come near.” The parents were terrified and so many weeks went by and she did not bathe until her hair was matted, her fingernails like black crescents, her skin grey, her clothes darkened and stiff with dirt.
Then, with the maiden every day more resembling a beast, the Devil came again. But the girl wept and her tears ran through her palms and down her arms. Now her hands and arms were pure white and clean. The Devil was enraged. “Chop off her hands, otherwise I cannot come near her.” The father was horrified. “You want me to sever the hands of my own child?” The Devil bellowed, “Everything here will die, including you, your wife, and all the fields as far as you can see.”
The King said he would keep watch that night. At dark, he came with his gardener and his magician, who knew how to speak with spirits. The three sat beneath a tree and watched. At midnight the maiden came floating by through the forest, her clothes dirty rags, her hair awry, her face streaked, her arms without hands, and the spirit in white beside her. They entered the orchard the same way as before. Again, a tree gracefully bent itself to her reach and she supped on the pear at its bough’s end. The magician came close, but not too close, to them and asked, “Are you of this world or not of this world?” And the girl answered, “I was once of the world, and yet I am not of this world.”
The King questioned the magician. “Is she human or spirit?” The magician answered that she was both. The king’s heart leapt and he rushed to her and cried, “I shall not forsake you. From this day forward, I shall care for you.” At his castle, he had made for her a pair of silver hands, which were fastened to her arms. And so it was that the king married the handless maiden.
In time, the King had to wage war in a far off kingdom, and he asked his mother to care for his young queen, for he loved her with all his heart, “If she gives birth to a child, send me a message right away.”
The father was so frightened he obeyed, and begging his daughter’s forgiveness he began to sharpen his silver lipped axe. The daughter submitted, saying, “I am your child, do as you must.” And this he did, and in the end no one could say who cried out the louder, the daughter or the father. Thus ended the girl’s life as she had known it.
When the Devil came again, the girl had cried so much the stumps that were left of her limbs were again clean, and the Devil was again thrown across the yard when he attempted to seize her. Cursing in words that set small fires in the forest, he disappeared forever, for he had lost all claim to her.
The father had aged one hundred years, and his wife also. Like, true people of the forest, they continued as best they could. The old father offered to keep his daughter in a castle in great beauty and riches for life, but the daughter said she felt it more fitting she become a beggar girl and depend on the goodness of others for sustenance. And so she had her arms bound in clean gauze, and at daybreak, she walked away from her life as she had known it. She walked and walked. High noon caused her sweat to streak the dirt on her face. The wind disheveled her hair until it was like a stork’s nest of trees all tangled this way and that.
In the midst of the night, she came to a royal orchard where the moon had put a gleam on the fruit that hung from the trees. She could not enter because the orchard was surrounded by a moat. She fell to her knees, for she was starved. A ghostly spirit in white appeared and shut the sluice gate so the moat was emptied. The maiden walked among the pear trees and somehow she knew that each perfect pear had been counted and numbered and that they were guarded as well. Nevertheless, a bough bent itself so low so she could reach it, its branch creaking. She puts her lips to the golden skin of a pear and ate while standing there in the moonlight, her arms bound in gauze, her hair affright, appearing like a mad woman, the handless maiden.
The gardener saw it all, but recognised the magic of the spirit who guarded the maiden, and did not interfere. After the girl finished eating the single pear, she withdrew across the moat and slept in the shelter of the wood. The next morning the King came to count his pears. He found one missing and, looking high and looking low, he could not find the vanished fruit. When asked, the gardener explained; “Last night two spirits drained the moat, entered the garden at high noon, and one without hands ate the pear that offered itself to her.”
The young queen gave birth to a happy babe and the king’s mother sent a message to the king telling him the good news. But on the way, the messenger tired, and coming to a river, felt sleepier and sleepier and finally fell entirely asleep by the river’s edge. The Devil came from behind a tree and switched the message to say the queen had given birth to a child that was half dog.
The King was horrified at the message, yet sent back a message saying to love the Queen and care for her in this terrible time. The lad who ran with the message again came to the river and feeling heavy as though he had eaten a feast, soon fell asleep by the side of the water. Whereupon the Devil again stepped out and changed the message to “Kill the Queen and her child.”
The old mother was shaken by this request and sent a messenger to confirm Back and forth the messengers ran, each one falling asleep at the river and the Devil changing messages that became increasingly terrible, the last being “Keep the tongue and eyes of the queen to prove she has been killed.”
The old mother could not stand to kill the sweet young Queen. Instead, she sacrificed a doe, took its tongue and eyes, and hid them away. Then she helped the young queen bind her infant to her breast, and veiling her, said she must flee for her life. The women wept and kissed each other goodbye.
The young Queen wandered till she came to the largest, wildest forest she had ever seen. She picked her way over and through and around trying to find a path. Near dark, the same spirit in white as before appeared and guided her to a poor inn ran by kindly woods people. Another maiden in a white gown took the Queen inside and knew her by name. The child was laid down.
“How do you know I am a Queen?” asked the maiden.
“We who are of the forest know these matters, my Queen. Rest now.”
“I am your wife and this is your child.” The King was willing to believe but saw the maiden had hands. “Through my travails and yet my good care, my hands have grown back,” said the maiden. And the woman in white brought the silver hands from a trunk where they’d been treasured. The King rose and embraced his Queen and his child and there was great joy in the forest that day.
All the spirits and dwellers of the inn had a fine repast. Afterward, the King and Queen and baby returned to the old mother, held a second wedding, and had many more children, all of whom told this story to a hundred others, who told this story to a hundred others, just as you are one of the hundred others I am telling it to.
Gabrielle shares some of her insights and understandings:
- Pay close attention to what you are spontaneously responding to before you are rationally aware, even if you think it might seem crazy.
- Trust what comes through, particularly in the beginning, without analysing or getting in the way of it.
- Respond to what is essentially attracting you.
- Don’t let your inner critic make you embarrassed to share your efforts. The path of happiness is to put the inner critic aside and enjoy yourself.
- Initially, consult with no-one, so that you do not interrupt what is coming through.
- Don’t worry about what you make, just make it and put it out into the world until you find your people.
- Allow yourself to let whatever is flowing through to be communicated without needing to understand it.
- Be curious about the materials, processes, and subjects that are calling you and do not be so concerned about the outcome. Ironically, the real beauty is that you get to the outcome by being in the process.
- Remember that it takes humility.
- Recognise the function that art plays in your life. Rather than putting it in a gallery space which contends with a narrower understanding of art, recognise that art has a fundamental place between people and their interactions.
- Let the activity of drawing be grounding and enjoyable.
- It is transitory and not permanent.
- Embracing your vulnerability is necessary.