"PAINTING is a faith and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion".
Even as Vincent van Gogh struggled to find his place among his contemporaries, the troubled genius put the opinion of others on the back-burner, wrote the words above and put his brush to canvas. What resulted was and still remains some of the most iconic works of art history has ever known. The work of eccentric artists such as van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali may leave the casual observer scratching his head in bewilderment, but for Gabriella D'Abreau those very artists and the art they produced have always left her in complete amazement. Words can't describe the feeling that came over D'Abreau as she saw with her own eyes Salvador Dali's "Persistence of Time" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
"My inspirations have always been artists who stepped out the box, who were oftentimes outcasts and who created work that was game-changing," says D'Abreau.
It was Dali's surrealism that got me passionate about art and using art to demonstate concepts and ideas. Whilst painting something pretty is always enjoyable, I also like to make work that makes people think in the same way Dali's bizarre painting got people thinking."
For as long as she can remember, art has always been an important part of D'Abreau's life. On a blank canvas, she can transform negative emotions into works of art, and with the stroke of a brush the colours on a palette bring even the most abstract of images to life. D'Abreau has always enjoyed drawing and painting and being creative on the whole but at the age of 14, she realised she had a real talent for art. She later interned at the prestigious Society of Illustrators in New York where her passion for art was nurtured.
Today the 25-year-old chafes at the words 'talented' and 'gifted', since she believes they downplay the long hours and effort that go into perfecting a single piece of art.
"Sure many people are naturally skilled in certain areas but I think a lot about being an artist for me is the effort and practice I put in: lots of looking at artwork and a lot of conceptualising as my work is not purely based on asethetics but also on ideas and concepts," she says.
Pursuing art as a means of livelihood is difficult, even more so if you're an artist in Trinidad; for starters art materials are costly. Like van Gogh, D'Abreau has also had to turn off the noise of public opinion and remain resolved to never compromise, creating deeply personal art just for the sake of making a quick dollar. That stance has not always been an easy one for D'Abreau.
"My work doesn't fit the stereotype of what you typically see in local galleries. I have even had the experience of a well-known gallery telling me that they would not exhibit my work because it didn't fit their clientele, so it has been quite challenging. My passion is not the painting of landscapes or portraits or still life or dancers. That makes it very difficult for people to come to see my work," she admits.
I would like to see more open minds willing to view work that is different and has something to say".
D'Abreau does commissions of all kinds, but her personal work almost always involves the female figure. By means of her art she explores the female experience through a personal, subjective and objective lens. Like Dali, D'Abreau uses symbols in her work. The use of nudity in her pieces has raised eyebrows and prompted questions and even makes some uncomfortable. Call it provocative or edgy, but D'Abreau makes no apology.
"I feel no need in my work to cover up the female body, there are incidents when she may be clothed, of course, but I do not make a deliberate effort to do so. Why should I hide this beautiful form given to us, this body which we use to work, to love and give life?" she asks.
The greatest challenge for visual art in Trinidad and Tobago is that it is not taken seriously. Those interested in visual art have always been artists, their friends and family, says D'Abreau. Ideally what she would like to see is the public and particularly young people flooding art exhibitions and getting excited and moved by art. Feedback for her work has been mostly positive, she has earned several awards over the years for her work. But for D'Abreau it matters more that her work gets out there for regular folks and not just artists to view, absorb and appreciate.
"In Trinidad art has the potential to play a much larger role than it currently plays. Art is documentary evidence of people, their thoughts and their life. When I'm gone, my art will remain. In Europe and America, for example, they look back at the works produced in the past as a way of speaking about the people and the times. Art is also important because it holds the latent power to carry ideas and concepts. It holds the power to encourage thought and to change preconceived notions and to eliminate ignorance," she adds.
Members of the public will get the chance to indulge in her latest works of art when D'Abreau presents her first solo exhibition 'Herstory' from September 28 - October 6, 2012, at the Art Society building in Federation Park, St Clair.