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The Seafaring Painter Pushing The Boundaries Of Maritime Art

Studio Visit

Forgoing typical paper and canvas, Gemma Rasdall paints her deeply-considered seascapes on recycled sailcloth. What’s more, the Sydney-based artist draws her inspiration from her time on the water, rather than the shore’s edge, instilling her works with a resonating authenticity.

Just before opening her latest exhibition, The Calm, last night, Gemma invited our photographer Alisha Gore aboard her yacht to discover more.

19th July, 2019

Artist Gemma Rasdall on her floating home. Photo – Alisha Gore.

The Sydney-based artist doesn’t have a parrot, but she does have puppy Arkie! Photo – Alisha Gore.

Inspired by seascapes and living on the sea! Photo – Alisha Gore.

When she’s not painting, Gemma is renovating her yacht – which she purchased entirely from selling artworks! Photo – Alisha Gore.

Gemma’s home allows her to be as close as possible to her artistic inspirations! Photo – Alisha Gore.

Gemma studied a Bachelor of Design and worked as a textiles print designer before going full-time with her art. Photo – Alisha Gore.

‘I love nothing more than chucking on my headphones, pressing play on an audiobook and painting the day away,’ says Gemma. ‘I really enjoy solitude, which is lucky considering the artist profession is typically a lonely one.’ Photo – Alisha Gore.

When she’s not on the water, she and Arkie cycle to her little painting studio in Sydney’s Inner West. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Gemma at work in her studio. Photo – Alisha Gore.

The little ‘den’ is filled with inspiration, collected knick-knacks, art, and ceramics, as well as boxes of Nag Champa incense. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Just last night she opened a new solo exhibition, The Calm, at Art Gallery on Darling. Photo – Alisha Gore.

In watery washes of colour, Gemma’s new body of work is a visual remedy for stress and anxiety. Photo – Alisha Gore.

Elle Murrell
Friday 19th July 2019

‘I thrive off the highs and lows of creative life.’ – Gemma Rasdall.

Gemma Rasdall, a self-described bizarre combination of  ‘workaholic, sailing sea gypsy and artist’, is living the (/my) dream!

Growing up in the beautiful bay of Pittwater, Gemma sailed on little racing boats every weekend, while most of her weeknights were spent creating with her siblings under the guidance of their art teacher mother. ‘Both passions continued throughout my adolescence, so when it came to deciding what to do for my Year 12 Art major work, I decided to combine both to develop a practice: painting seascapes on sailcloth,’ she recalls.

An incredibly dedicated individual, Gemma’s mantra is that when you try really hard, it usually it pays off, and also that it’s work ethic, not talent that makes for success. She was already living these age-old adages as a young, diligent student. Her secondary-school major artwork was accepted into Art Express, propelling her art practice, and leading to group exhibition opportunities.

Despite her parents’ encouragement to study art at university, Gemma was out to avoid becoming a ‘poor artist’, and enrolled in Bachelor of Design, before working several years as a textiles print designer. She found that path creatively limiting. ‘My heart wasn’t really in it,’ she reflects ‘I was spending every night after work and weekend continuing to produce my paintings on sailcloth, exhibiting regularly, and selling most of them!’

Eighteen-months ago that ‘itching creative anxiety’ forced Gemma to take the plunge into painting full-time. And so what became of her sink-or-sail moment? Gemma hasn’t looked back, and just last night she opened a new solo exhibition, The Calm, at Art Gallery on Darling. The series of mixed-media paintings (acrylics, soft pastel and charcoal) utilise recycled sailcloth, which the artist has collected and developed a special preparation process for over the years. ‘I love the texture of the Dacron, especially the wrinkled, weather-worn and patched sails… they stretch beautifully over a canvas frame too as they are extremely strong,’ she explains.

In watery washes of colour, the new artworks seek to serve as visual remedies for stress and anxiety. ‘My own experiences with anxiety over the years have unconsciously lead to me produce visually restful artwork. Walking into a studio filled with soft seascapes surrounding the walls is instantly calming… and as a highly-driven person, I really rely on strategies to reduce stress,’ Gemma shares. ‘The ocean and sailing have always been my escape, so by capturing that sense of freedom through art I am able to benefit from my work too.’

Gemma and puppy Arkie are currently living on her modest little yacht, which she purchased from Tin Can Bay, Queensland (entirely funded by selling artwork) and sailed down solo! When she’s not renovating it, or out on the bay sourcing inspiration, the artist paints from her slightly-steadier studio in the Inner West. Future bodies of work, however, will come to life from Scotland Island, a water-access-only island in the middle of Pittwater, to which Gemma is relocating her studio, to be even closer to the water.

Next, she is scouting artist residencies and will ‘chip away at the Australian art prize scene, to build exposure, connections with other artists, and find new opportunities’. Ever pragmatic, Gemma is also exploring a mix of freelance design, art teaching and boating jobs to stay afloat financially.

‘I think the best (and sometimes worst) part about being an artist is the rollercoaster of uncertainty that is life. There are no limitations to my work… I plan exhibitions and take on projects that interest me, spend long periods working really hard, but then can take weeks off sailing on my boat for an adventure too,’ she tells, hinting at dream voyages painting her way along the East Coast or even making a passage to New Caledonia (I’m planning to stowaway!). ‘Despite its instability, I thrive off the highs and lows of creative life, and could never be satisfied with a straight-line career path ever again.’

‘The Calm’ by Gemma Rasdall
July 18th to 21st
Art Gallery on Darling
307 Darling Street
Balmain, New South Wales

Gemma Rasdall’s art at Gemmarasdall.com or follow her on Instagram @gemmarasdall.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net