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Q&A Session with Molly Garnier

Ahead of our forthcoming exhibition "Contemplation" a two person show with Vivienne Williams RCA, we asked Molly Garnier a series of questions about her work and inspiration. Here's what she told us:

Q & A

How did you get into art?

As a child I used to always be painting and scribbling. I had an amazing art department at school where we used oils and print making. I then went on to study painting at Edinburgh College of Art and since 2003 I have been a practicing professional artist.

How do you start each piece? Do you generally have an idea about the image you’re going to create before you begin?

My work falls into two categories, sitting subjects be it portraits or nudes and landscapes. I spend a lot of time looking at light on a subject and seeing how it hits the thing I am painting. Essentially my paintings are about light.  All my work begins on a board where I create an orange background to paint on which often glows through the layers of paint. My recent work centers around the landscape, I go walking a lot and I notice skies and the way the light affects the ever-changing landscape.

What materials do you use and why?

I use oils. I love the way they can be applied. The paint can be built up using thin layers or applied thickly. It can be scratched into and worked with a pallet knife. I use a dry point brush when applying my paint.  My work is often built up with thin layers and I like to apply paint then often take it away, revealing and hiding detail within my surfaces.  I use my fingers, a cloth, brushes, small pallet knife for details and big brushes for underpainting. I work on board as I like being able to rub back with a cloth and see the grain of wood come through and see the brush stokes within the painting.  I find it more forgiving than canvas.


Where do you get your inspiration from?

I am inspired by the land, sea and sky and the ever-changing quality of light on subjects.  I live on the Norfolk coast and walk five minutes to the sea from our house every day. I am inspired by our vast skies and limitless horizons. I work from photographs and memory. The photographs are often just a reference point for me to start from. My paintings are a response to nature, often it is calmness but sometimes tension within the landscape.  I am originally known as a figurative painter.  My nudes stemmed from an interest in 19th Century nude photography. I create small paintings of the female nude half glimpsed through darkness.  It is not about actual realism, but I am more concerned with the impression my nudes have.  As with the landscapes, often my figurative studies are about the shape of the shadows and the contrast of light. 

What is your studio like?

My studio is at the bottom of my garden in Sheringham on the Norfolk Coast.  I had it custom built, and it is my sanctuary especially during lockdown.  I am connected to everyday life of the house but able to escape and be cut off too from the madness of family life. It is a beautiful space with big glass doors and windows.  I have a huge table pallet and it is quite messy.  I work on an easel that I have had for 22 years since leaving school! I also have a ledge to perch my paintings on so I can work on a body of 4-5 paintings at once whilst the layers dry.  I listen to 6 music and often find I am moving away whilst painting! I have a huge number of opened oil paints on a shelf ready to use as I work quite spontaneously.

Which other artists (past or present) inspire you?

I really love going to art galleries and especially looking at the old masters, Caravaggio, Vermeer and seeing how the paintings are built up using under painting. I also love Frank Auberbach and his use of paint and the way he pushes the paint over the canvas.  I am mesmerized by Rothko and his timeless spiritual paintings and the glow of his paintings. They make me feel alive and remind me to breathe. 

What is it you are trying to achieve in your pieces?

I try to create an emotion within the viewer, a connection.  I want my paintings to be contemplative and perhaps meditative.   I play with subtleties of light and surface and try to capture a moment. In a sense I am painting things that move me or trigger something in me that makes me want to recreate it.  I also want to create a sense of balance of colour, mood and atmosphere within the work.  

Often my work changes with the light. A finished painting can take on many different moods depending on the light. The thin layers often reveal and hide detail within the canvas, sometimes ambiguously and sometimes dramatic.  At times I suggest detail.  Lockdown has encouraged me to create these works stemming from places we long to visit and hold in our memory.

How do you know when a piece is finished and when it’s the right time to stop?

 I get to a point with my paintings where I know they are approaching a conclusion; they just suddenly feel right.  I tend to dot the completed paintings around the house, maybe put them up on a shelf. I leave them there and I accidently glimpse them when I pass. After a while if things do not sit comfortably with me then I know I need to change things.  But just getting the work out of my studio in different lights and rooms, I can get a better sense of if a painting is finished. 

Are there any other art forms that you would like to try such as sculpture, ceramics, printmaking?

 I love screen Printing and mono prints.  I spent a long time doing print making at Art College and I love the processes of printing and building up layers.  It is quite similar to the way I paint.

What are you working on currently?

I have been asked to do numerous commissions for families of late. Often, they are of a place that is of importance to the customer. People have asked me to do family portraits walking along a beach.   I am always painting. I enjoy having new projects on the go and creating new bodies of work and exploring new ideas.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your work?

I owe much of my success as an artist to being spotted at Edinburgh College of Art degree show and having immediate representation within Galleries. This was a stepping-stone into exhibiting and setting up my practice as an artist straight from graduating.  My paintings are very much part of me, and I really enjoy knowing that they are in people’s homes creating a reaction.  In August during lockdown, I sold a painting called Worlds Meet to a lady whose response was so emotional. The gallery told me she burst into tears when looking at it and they had never experienced such a reaction. This makes my heart full. 

Contemplation will be in our Long Melford gallery, hopefully open to the public, from April 17th. All works will be available for purchase online from April 3rd.