Gabriella Boyd's inflamed paintings imbue tender, sensory experiences from everyday life. Her expressionist compositions are recognised for their lucid colour palette that sets forth dreamlike scenery.
Since graduating from the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2017, Boyd has gained traction as a distinctive painter whose practice is ubiquitous with current painting trends.
Her paintings have featured in heralded institutional exhibitions including Mixing it up: Painting Today (9 September–12 December 2021) at Hayward Gallery, and solo gallery shows such as Signal (31 March–13 May 2022) at Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco, and For days (1 July–8 August 2020) at Seventeen, London.
Stellar works have found homes in a number of prestigious London-based collections, including Blessing iii (2020) in Southbank's Arts Council Collection and Sunhead (2017) in the Royal Academy of Arts Collection.
The Scottish-born artist's first solo exhibition at GRIMM recently opened in New York, entitled Mile (18 November 2022–7 January 2023). To coincide with her new show, Gabriella Boyd discusses her approach to painting unusual perspectives through her intuitive use of colour and form.
Could you tell us a little about the focus of your presentation at GRIMM?
Most of the paintings in Mile share a sense of journeying, either nodding to physical travel between places or people, or a more internal transition from one state to another—a mental mapping or bodily flow. I made these paintings simultaneously—palette and motifs bleeding between the works. Each work depicts a self-contained world and together they form a system. I see the pairing of works as a continuation of the painting—sometimes inviting harmony and sometimes forcing a more jarring relationship.
I'm led by the emotive properties of colour, often in a wholly intuitive way and also leaning on the undercurrents of the connotations we hold. In these paintings, there are reoccurring tones that feel at once synthetic and visceral; electricity conflated with a nervous system, a saccharine yellow on the brink of sickness.
While I'm making I swing between an entirely emotionally felt place and a more removed position, where I address the idea of connection as a symbol like a shorthand or sign.
The wisteria tree that appears throughout these works—could you explain your decision to include this imagery? Does it refer to a specific memory of yours?
The wisteria motif was born out of a previous work. Last year, I started a painting of two figures, one plaiting the other's hair. The longer I spent working on it, the more the figure being held by the end of their plait became a stand-in for restriction as well as nurture—she was tethered.
Painted in silvery whites and reds, I began to see the length of woven hair as a bloody umbilical cord. The day after installing the painting in Signal—my solo show at Friends Indeed Gallery in San Francisco, earlier this year—I came across a wisteria tree. Its smooth silvery twisted trunk looked to me completely like an umbilical cord. I started seeing iterations of these twisted roots and branches all over London.
So the certainty of wanting to use the wisteria as a motif came out of that plait painting, but these trees have now become their own things in the new paintings. The trees are somehow weightless, either attached to and crawling up houses, or at a strange proximity from walls, just a few inches away—dominating and reliant. While completely organic, they feel symbolic of metropolitan life—rooted in an urban landscape and tethered to buildings.
The way you play with perspective and navigate space is really interesting. Could you tell us a little about your approach?
I do feel like I'm navigating when I'm painting. The spaces in these works evolved gradually from spending time looking at each painting, inhabiting its own internal logic or atmosphere, and then building from there. Needing something like faith in what's there so far, or believing in the foundations, before I commit to it as a world.
My approach varies from work to work—sometimes I'll use a whole previous painting as a starting point or motif, and other times I'll start with a set of unchanging elements which I work with. I made these paintings between London and Glasgow, so there are parts of space, light, and feeling from both of these cities.
The raised M8 motorway was at the exact same height as my third-floor studio window in Glasgow in the summer. I worried at first, that the constant belt of traffic at eye level could be panic-inducing or distracting at best. In fact it became strangely cathartic—large vinyl scenes printed on the sides of vans gliding past like weird gifts. It's these kind of moments that cannot be planned, which feed into the paintings through osmosis.
What's next for you?
First some rest and then I'll begin to gather juice for new paintings. I have a specific painting back in the studio which is taking time to resolve, a problem child! I look forward to getting back to that with fresh eyes.—[O]
Main image: Gabriella Boyd, Night carriage (2022). Oil on canvas. 140 x 210 cm. © Gabriella Boyd. Courtesy the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam/New York/London. Photo: Theo Christelis.