Bold strokes from Gina
|‘Break Art Free’, a self portrait
For artist Gina Bold painting is medication, as well as meditation, writes Simon Wroe
GINA Bold will put a very personal side of herself on display this week. The artist will cover the walls of the Arlington Gallery in Parkway with paintings chronicling her loves and losses, her memories and dreams, and her long battle with depression.
“I can only tell my story and how I feel,” she says matter-of-factly.
“I start with a big, indefinable idea and I try to put it onto the canvas. I try to paint feelings. I’m not painting to sell things – I’m painting for myself. I don’t do things with the walls of other people’s living rooms in mind.”
Certainly, other people’s walls might not do credit to the emotional depth of some of Ms Bold’s work: the portrait of her father painted after his death entitled ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’, or the ‘Circle of Confusion’ whose circumference bears the legend “Please love me don’t kill me” in endless, ambiguous repetition.
All that might make Ms Bold’s art sound profoundly morose, but this is not the case. There is much to smile at too. ‘The Octet’ depicts the imaginary band she plays in, while ‘Plastic Couple Full of Shit’ is two bear-shaped squeezy bottles filled with, well, shit. A sign underneath explains the elements: “acrylic/plastic/rubber/horseshit on canvas”.
Gina Bold was born in 1959, the daughter of a Greek mother and Scottish father. As a young girl she lived in Abbey Road near the famous recording studios used by the Beatles. She was disruptive and petulant because, she says, she was a creative child in a loving but uncreative family.
She never received a formal education in art but fell into it by chance. While she was studying fashion at Kilburn Polytechnic she would gatecrash the lectures of a friend who was doing an art course at Reading. “That’s the first time I heard names like Goya and Delacroix,” she remembers.
When she painted her first oil in 1985, she had only her experiences in pattern cutting to help her. In 1987 she began overseeing quality control for the high-street clothing manufacturer River Island and put painting to one side.
It was only in 2003, with the death of her father and her subsequent breakdown (or “breakthrough” as she calls it) that Ms Bold decided to pick up the brushes again.
“For me, it is not a question of ‘I want to be an artist’,” she says. “I paint because I can’t find another way to express myself. I have a need for it, like medication.”
In fact, painting is the only medicine that Ms Bold will take for the depression that she has suffered since her emotional collapse. She says that the drugs make people into “zombies”, unable to express themselves at all.
As the number of people in the UK diagnosed with depression soars, Ms Bold is adamant that the problem should not be ignored.
She says: “I don’t think these things should be brushed under the carpet. I have severe emotional problems, panic attacks and depression, but I’m not looking for the sympathy vote. This is life – it happens and it’s hard.”
“When I make something visual it helps. It’s not just in my mind any more; it’s there for people to see. If my work makes other people with similar problems feel less alone then I think I would have achieved something worthwhile.”
Ms Bold’s approach to painting is unorthodox. She may paint nothing for weeks and then three or four pieces in succession, without pause. She can spend 24 hours straight at the easel, trying to get the idea out before it leaves her.
“I have to paint the whole piece in one go. I’m frightened I can’t get back there if I stop,” she says.
Her kitchen doubles as her studio, and her house brims with canvases. “I’ve got a bedroom full of paintings and a kitchen full of oils and brushes,” she says. What do you do next? I’d have to get rid of the wardrobe, the chest of drawers, the bed. It would be madness – you’d have to give up.”
Ms Bold has courted the idea of giving up several times over the years.
She says: “I’m not good at believing in the work. I was going to burn it all, sell my house and leave London but my friends stopped me.”
Paul Everitt is one of the friends who stopped her. He is head of artistic programmes at NOVAS, the charity which runs the Arlington Gallery and aims to bring people usually marginalised by society into the spotlight.
“Art at its best holds up a mirror to society,” he says, “and that is exactly what Gina’s work does – there’s a complete lack of fear.”
While Ms Bold admits she is delighted to be working with the gallery, she is cautious of making grand plans.
She said: “We’re working up to the beginning now, I think. I’d love to work in a studio on bigger canvases – ones that won’t fit into my kitchen.”
When she talks of getting “to the beginning”, it sounds as if she has made a sharp and permanent break with the past. It seems there are two ‘Ginas’: the one before her breakdown and the one after. Does she ever miss that other version of herself?
“I can’t get back to what I was before,” she says with a slight smile, “but I don’t think I want to any more. This is new and I want to explore it.”