Appreciating art is not a passive experience. It requires the active engagement of the viewer, drawing from their own life and history to create meaning.
This is what draws Gabriela Hirt to abstract and expressionist painting.
“What I like about it is that it really invites the viewer to be creative, him or herself, because you kind of have to fill in the blanks,” she says. “You create your own story. You tap into your own memory, your own experience. And you have to create. It’s not all there ready for you.”
This level of creative freedom is what initially attracted Gabriela to painting. Her journey into the medium came out of the need for a change away from her professional career as a journalist. The restrictions of journalism were not conducive to the new stories she wished to express.
“I was actually actively reflecting if I should go—like change my writing, explore more creative writing. But somehow, I was not drawn to that. And in retrospect, I think it would be hard for me to get away from the limitations [of journalistic writing].”
Sometimes, a person does not discover they are an artist until later in life. It is not something that has even been considered or realized. For Gabriela, it began as something she could do with her children. Playing and experimenting together led to a discovery of a new outlet.
“I deliberately did not take any classes because I really wanted to kind of be like radically honest and authentic and just explore myself and learn by doing,” Gabriela says. “And I think that’s both my strength and weakness. The strength of not being in any box and having all kinds of rules in the back of head. But of course, the weakness of lacking the benefits of training.”
Each piece begins with her background in writing. It can be words and phrases or something longer, but her canvas is initially covered in writing before she ever picks up a brush. From here, paint is applied in layers, often looking quite chaotic to start with. But subsequent layers begin to come together and help her to understand what the story of the piece is.
“My work usually tells a story, pretty much every painting,” she says. “And even if I might not know it before, there is a story developing. And sometimes there’s also literally the surprise where I’m like, ‘Oh my God! This is what this means.’ And it can sometimes be immediate. Sometimes, it can be during the process that maybe I see something and I go with it and I’m realizing this is about this experience. And then I bring that out more. Or, it’s really I’m not even aware of it and two months later I look at the piece, and I’m like, ‘Wow! This is actually processing this experience or this memory.’”
The new year is already beginning to shape up for Gabriela. In January, you can see her work at Art @Bentall, and in late February, work from The Postcard Climate Project, an exhibition she is a part of, will be displayed.
“I’m quite busy with that, getting art from the community and actually internationally as well. And then creating a big installation for climate solutions.”
For more information about the exhibition at Art @Bentall, visit https://www.vanvaf.com/art-gallery.
Information on The Postcard Climate Project can be found at https://gagegallery.ca/community-engagement/.
By Nathan Durec