Working with turmoil

Collage artist Gemma Baldock creates scenes that reflect playful moments as well as the troubles...
Collage artist Gemma Baldock creates scenes that reflect playful moments as well as the troubles that pepper life. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
Bouncing back from recent disappointment, emerging artist Gemma Baldock is staging a solo show in Dunedin, writes Bruce Munro.

An octopus grabs a swimmer’s leg, a bird scares a picnicker, a dog cocks a leg over a garden gnome ... Collage artist Gemma Baldock likes to inject a bit of humorous turmoil into her artwork.

"For a lot of my work, the inspiration is people I might know or a funny situation I might have seen," says Miss Baldock (21), whose new solo exhibition "Cut to the Chase" opens in Dunedin on Monday.

"I quite often put a little bit of turmoil in it. But I like to make it humorous, so people can relate to it."

If Baldock likes turmoil, it seems a little bit of turmoil also likes her. A fortnight ago, her artwork Love Thy Neighbour was awarded the $12,500 first prize in the Wanaka-based Aspiring Art Awards. The next morning, the award was withdrawn because the artwork, which had briefly appeared in a Marlborough exhibition, contravened the competition’s "no prior showings" rule.

Awards co-ordinator Yeverley McCarthy said at the time that Baldock had made an "innocent mistake".

The artwork had been part of a three-week exhibition in Blenheim which was cut short by the November Kaikoura earthquake.

"I felt it hadn’t really been seen by as many people as I hoped ... and I felt I owed it to the people who donated to my Boosted funding campaign [to stage the exhibition]," Miss Baldock says.

"I made an assumption, which was wrong. It was a huge shame ... and very disappointing. But you live and you learn. I won’t make assumptions like that ever again."

Love Thy Neighbour will be included in "Cut to the Chase".

Baldock is not new to the world of art, exhibitions and prizes.

Born in Auckland, Baldock took an early shine to art. She drew her first fully formed human figure, a picture for her grandmother, when she was two years old. And she won her first art prize when she was 3.

"Ever since I did that, it has been my true love. It really makes me happy."

Her family moved to Dunedin when Baldock was 6. She first exhibited her work at the Otago Art Society about a year later. At 16 she was the youngest member of the society. In 2015, she graduated from the Dunedin School of Art with a bachelor of visual arts degree.

Collage is Baldock’s medium of choice. As a young girl, she enjoyed playing with Fuzzy Felts and cut-out paper dolls.

"I’ve never really been able to shake the collage. It’s a little different, but very satisfying."

Textured and patterned papers are cut or torn to the desired shape and then components are pieced together.

"Handling every piece of paper provides a tactile pleasure that is an important part of my art-making process."

Taking the components, she layers them to build each form, be it an animal, a human or another element of the scene.

After the pieces have been manipulated into place to tell their story, the figures are glued to the background. Her recent works have employed a plainer, painted background, giving greater focus to the foreground narrative.

"I use collage as my main palette, with acrylic paint used to provide detailing and shading once each figure is complete."

"Cut to the Chase" is comprised of 11 framed works.

"These works express themes around relationship. They include simplified figures of people and animals that are part of my world. Some are playful and humorous while others represent the toils and troubles that pepper one’s life."

She encourages viewers to get up close to the works.

"You need to take a closer look to observe how the layers of paper create texture. Every different piece is individually crafted, the result being an orchestration of many parts coming together to produce a new whole."

Baldock has had exhibitions throughout the South Island. Her works now hang in homes in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and China.

In April last year she moved to Invercargill, where she is now the public programme manager at the Southland Art Society-run City Gallery. It is a job she relishes, but her dream remains becoming a full-time artist.

"I’ve always been encouraged to pursue my artistic dream. They [her parents] didn’t follow their real dreams until later in life. So they’ve always encouraged me to do what I truly love.

"It is not easy. Most evenings, after a day at the gallery, she is busy working on her art.

"It is a very difficult path to take" and is not made any easier by the fact that "most people have an opinion and lots of people aren’t afraid to say what they think of your art".

At the same time, she says, she has had lots of great support and being a full-time artist would be "just the best job in the world".


The show

• Gemma Baldock’s solo exhibition "Cut to the Chase" opens in the Otago Art Society gallery, at Dunedin Railway Station, on Monday and runs until the following Sunday.

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