In conversation with Grace Green:
natural vibrancy & eco anxiety
To me, your art seems illustrative and magical, towards the playful side but also encapsulating deeper explorations of femininity and growth. Could you tell me a bit about your style and how you have developed it?
'I’ve always been doodling as a kid and it’s just progressed through studying art. At uni I lived with one of my best friends who was pregnant, and so I would draw her throughout her pregnancy and then with the baby, so that’s where the mother-and-child ideas of femininity came from- just appreciating that. She was a drawing student at Falmouth and it was really nice to see her and live with her after the baby was born, and to draw her breastfeeding, just trying to encapsulate the anxiety that comes with motherhood, but also the beauty too.
‘I also like looking at plants, it’s one of my favourite things to draw, sometimes the abstracted shapes within the plants might not make sense, and when I look under a microscope you get the circular patterns and geometric bubbles which I like to enlarge out. Also the colours are enhanced as well. Colour is my main focus. I don’t generally have to think about colour too much, it comes quite naturally. It’s the other stuff that I have to think about, like form, line, tone.’
Grace Green is a visual artist from Bristol who has had work exhibited at ‘The Other Fair’ at the Arnolfini and the Passenger Shed. I talk to her about eco-anxiety, femininity and the celebration of the everyday.
'Breastfeeding' (pencil on paper)
‘Definitely both; a healthy dose of both. And knowing what you want. I will think of a composition of maybe a landscape, but then afterwards it starts to become more free-flowing and I like how other shapes and other colours will speak to one another and I like to let that do the talking. I do generally, when I start a painting, have a little idea of what I want. Quite often the titles actually come after, so I’ll paint on a feeling and then maybe read a bit of poetry that formulates my thoughts, connecting with artists who came before me.’
How do you accumulate your inspiration?
‘Visiting greenhouses and things like that, seeing gardeners and people in nature doing what would be seen as everyday tasks but putting them on a pedestal and appreciating them slowing down. Just sitting in nature, you wouldn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary but that’s what’s nice.’
‘I sit still, everything else moves’ (acrylic and indian ink on paper)
Would you say you work more instantaneously as opposed to planned?
That’s quite lovely too, that focus on everyday moments that you will notice, but in the grand scheme of things might not be overly influential.
‘Yeah, so it ends up being a celebration of that. Honestly because of the way things are going with the climate crisis, it will be that which we look back on and appreciate. So many plant species and animal species are becoming extinct.’
It seems like your work is celebrating the natural form and the corporeal. The women seem carefree and interconnected with nature.
‘Yeah, travelling has really inspired my work, particularly in India. Seeing how the farmers in India are quite often women selling in the markets with baskets on their heads. I was surprised to see so many women out there. So that’s what inspired me. Also they’re wearing these beautiful colourful sarees, so that’s what attracted me, travelling and looking at textiles across the world, like in Morocco how they use pigments within their natural dyes. It was really fun, I loved seeing all of it- the indigo dye and where they get their pigments and shapes from. It all links back to nature again.’
Seeing the progression of natural materials into clothes is something that most people in England are also quite distanced from, not really being in touch with where clothes actually come from, which is obviously a massive issue in terms of fast fashion and things like that.
‘Yeah definitely. I’m interested in slowing down and appreciating the process of clothes, which is when I draw my women. Sometimes they’re naked, but sometimes they’ve got dresses on with prints of the batik patterns and things like that. So it’s all is like a big circle of nature.’
I was reading something last night about Edward Hoagland, who explored the evolutionary function of joy and questioned what really explains the ‘exuberance of well-being’; do you think that joy is the counterweight to nature’s potential demise?
‘You do have to surround yourself with things that can pick you up, I guess. Going out and sitting in nature really does lift your mood. I agree with him. Unity is a good word that I like to look at. I wrote something down here, ‘Unity within art is hard to define because each person’s gaze may differ but when it is present, your eye and brain are pleased to see it. And unity between colours is most pleasing, how two colours can sit next to one another and react or even morph together is beautiful. Within my own practise I make connections between humans and nature and the pressing concern for the need to find balance for us to co-exist. Unity creates a sense of harmony and wholeness, in all senses of the word.’
So do you mainly wish to portray nature in quite a joyful, optimistic light?
'Yes definitely. A reminder of the anxiety, but the main thing is having hope.’
Seeing all of the facts about the ecological crisis can get very overwhelming, how do you think art can practically affect people or help with a crisis that seems very difficult to act upon individually?
‘You have conversations with your family and friends about how you can lessen your carbon footprint, and there’s always that feeling of guilt. It is becoming something all consuming, but I think it’s good to remember that you can only do what you can, nothing more. Painting is my way of sharing the message of celebrating nature. To teach and give guidance is the only way.’
The people who are under the direct firing line won’t be us, it will be the developing nations, so it is a fairly distanced concern; they can feel it getting warmer but it is hard to see the effects. Did you experience that whilst traveling?
‘Yeah there are refugees of climate change, like islands that have been completely flooded. It is real, just no so real in England. When I was in India the Rajasthani desert can get so hot. I’m really inspired by Vandana Shiva, a seed activist. She collects seeds from the farmers and holds them in a seed bank, so that if they were to ever have a drought or famine she could give them out. They pay a tiny subscription or give her seeds in return, so she gets to keep some of them. It is a very charitable thing that she has done, she has saved thousands of types of grains of rice against GMO and deforestation.
I’ve also been looking at how humans are known to be parasites and ideas of mutualism and symbiotic relationships, and how doing one thing can affect another. Small scale farming is something that I wanted to celebrate in a recent painting called ‘Hillside Harvest’. It’s about how we can coexist and keep on surviving without keeping on taking, taking, taking and not
giving anything back.’
'Hillside Harvest' (acrylic on wood)
I would like to go back a bit to your artwork, particularly the texture that comes through, the contrasting colours and it’s overall eclecticism with the layered patterns of leaves. Could you describe that to me?
'Looking at textiles is hugely important from travelling, looking at every different strand of thread and how that can translate into brushstrokes. Circular patterns that are used in folk art in England, Moroccan Berbers and Rajasthani gypsies, many different folk arts. Even New Age travellers in England and the way they paint their boats and gypsy wagons and how this is so often linked to nature, old stories and fables.’
Thank you so much for your insights, Grace. To finish, do you have any upcoming exhibitions? What are you working on at the moment?
‘I’m painting a series of pieces about farming in India, but I have an exhibition the 23rd September at Loose Cannon near Arnolfini, but also an exhibition in Somerset in November/December.’
All artwork by Grace Green.
Could you tell me a bit about your artistic mediums? Different paints or particular materials you prefer?
‘I work quite quickly and gesturally, so I like fast drying mediums and I use acrylic on wood panel. I like the fact it doesn’t spring back. When I’m working on paper I use Indian ink because it holds its colour really well and it’s also quite flowing. It has the vibrancy, which is what watercolours don’t have. So things like that which have high vibrancy.’
What is your general experience being a young artists in Bristol after graduating?
‘After you graduate you do have that scare of trying to earn enough money; that was the biggest thing. I did move back to my hometown for a bit, just to save some money. I think you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s something you can live without, your creative practise. Somewhere like Bristol is a great place to have a studio, there are so many different events happening.’