Featured Artist - Gabby Malpas

At Calypso we publish cards by artists from all over the world – tell us where you grew up and where you live and work.

I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. I left there in 1988, travelled through southeast Asia, then lived in the UK until 2003 when I found my way to Australia and stayed. I live in Sydney.

What is your work environment like, do you have a home studio? An ocean view? what sort of music do you like to listen to while you work?

I’ve always worked at home – that could be on the floor or dining room table in share houses, on the kitchen table or these days, I do have a studio that is a spare room in my house. I also rent studio space at a Sydney clay studio where I make and fire my clay pieces. I’m a diehard disco and happy house music fan.

How is your day structured as a working artist?

I am actually very organized. I try and exercise every weekday to begin with. Not all days are creative days – there are submissions/proposals/catalogues to write, emails and other admin tasks to attend to and often meetings or events to go to.  As a large part of my practice is to make, making days are mostly limited to either my home or clay studios. I have a continuous body of work in progress for shows, submissions or as stock. I’m an early riser, so also early to bed.

How did you begin your career as an artist?

I began when I started art school in 1984. I had ambitions to be a full-time artist –I didn’t know how to do that then and I’m still learning and evolving now. I did know however, that I needed to be able to afford to do that, so I spent 35+ years in a corporate job as a project manager while I was also trying to establish myself as an artist and create work. After a while I began to apply many of my business skills and learnings to my own practice.

What was your first big success as an artist?

It was an incredible validation when my graduate show of painted terracotta pots sold out. The turning point came in 2014 when I started working with an art coach: Artshine is an Australian company that helps artists take their work to the next level – be it via shows, connections, manufacturing or licensing.  Sometimes as an artist, it’s very hard to take a step back and look at your work objectively. It’s easy to lose sight of your goals but also, I’ve learnt as an artist, quite often you need help to get your foot in the door.

What inspires your work?

I’m always impressed by some of the watercolor and painting techniques I see on social media. Lately I’ve been very interested in Asian artists and ceramics as I continue to research and reclaim my Chinese heritage. I am fascinated about the migration flow from China into the Pacific and Americas and how closely some of the motifs and artforms resemble each other. Somehow, I am always drawn back to nature – especially botany. I’ve spent years in gardens starting with my mother’s garden when I was small – looking at flowers, pulling them apart to see how they are made and collecting seeds. I am inspired by the wonderful native plants of Australia.

Are there other artists that inspire you?

The good old NZ standbys: Rita Angus, Ralph Hotere, and Gretchen Albrecht. John Woseley – for his incredible compositions and large scale works on paper. Elizabeth Blackadder – I’m interested in her compositions and handling as a watercolor artist. Tanaka Isson - He was able to capture nature in a way that I’m still working up to.In the past few years I have found I am drawn to artists for more than just their work – the following have also taught me a lot about art and life : Neil Grant, Christine Boswijk and Jean Loomis were teachers/tutors of mine in NZ.  Plus, I credit younger artists in my studio and community for their fresh ideas and thinking.

What is your earliest memory of creating art?

I would sit under the kitchen table and draw from about four onwards. I remember drawing very intricate line drawings of things… but when they didn’t turn out as I wanted them to, I would add more lines and detail. If anyone asked what they were I’d say: ‘a machine.’

What is your favorite medium?

Right now, a year later after returning to clay as a medium in 2020, I still have to say that liquid paints and paper are still my favorite. Interestingly, I developed my watercolor technique as a natural progression from working with glazes. There’s a fluidity and instant-ness with paper and water/liquid colors that makes for fresh work.  I like my work to look quick and effortless – even though it takes days.

How has your style changed over time?

I think that my style has evolved rather than changed. I guess the biggest or most enduring change to my art happened in 2014. That’s when I began to make art around my life experiences as a Chinese adoptee, raised in a white family. You see, I waited until I was ready – there were some difficult messages I wanted to convey but I wanted to do it in a loving and respectful way that showed joy and celebration. I am proud of the connections I have made from showing such works: other adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents and bi-racial/second generation folks have found connections and solace in some of my work, and I think that’s wonderful.

 Of all the cards we publish by you, do you have a favorite?

I have to say my favorite so far is the first one: ‘Japonicas in a Peranakan Teapot.’  This card is also very special to me because it was produced during 2020 when the world was reeling from COVID-19. There were some very dark days as countries went in and out of lockdown and there were so many unknowns. So this card with a lovely message was just very timely and uplifting – and it came to me during Sydney Springtime.

Click here to see Gabby Malpas' entire collection.