Young artist Rachel Gray rose to fame by being the first British female artist to ever host an exhibition at Malaysia’s National Visual Arts Galler y. Kathlyn D’souza chats with her on her career, and fascination with animals, which serve as her muse Tell us about yourself.
I love colour and I adore all animals. Four legs and a tail? I’m sold! I’ve been painting and sketching for as long as I can remember; it’s always been my thing. It’s fair to say I live and breathe art and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to combine both animals and art in my life and with my paintings. When not painting and sketching or surrounding myself with animals, I find time to travel, which is another major passion of mine.
Do you remember your first piece of artwork?
I can’t remember my first painting, as I was two when I started—my parents still have the artworks though! However, I do remember one of the first logos I created, I was young, roughly 10 or 11. My school held a project to preserve the local bat colonies, installing bat houses in the area to help them breed and sustain their numbers. There was a small group of students put together to help run this project, I remember creating the logo— the badge for what we called the ‘Bat Squad’; oh I thought it was brilliant at the time!
Where and how do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration is all around me; for my abstract works, my inspiration are the surroundings, and for the past few years my inspiration has come from Malaysia itself. For the Wildlife portraits—which stems from the stunning and rare wildlife found here, everything from the orang-utan, Malaysian tiger, hornbills and proboscis monkeys and so on, I can observe and paint all the shapes and sizes of wildlife all day long.
What kind of technique do you use?
For the abstract oil paintings, I use only brush strokes and pallet knifes to create the textures, colours and depth. As for the wildlife portraits, those are painted digitally by hand via my Wacom tablet and Macbook Pro. I take pride in not using Adobe Photoshop, pattern brushes, filters, colour or image manipulation for my portraits. They are completely created from scratch and inspired by the photographs that I have taken around Malaysia and Asia, either in the jungle or at the zoo, but whenever possible I prefer to see the animals in the wild.
Tell us about your recent exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery. We understand that you were the first British female artist to ever achieve such a thing.
It is such an unbelievable honour, particularly this year as the National Gallery celebrates its 60th anniversary. The response from the public and media have been absolutely amazing; I really have loved, and still am enjoying, every moment of this whole experience, it’s magical! The exhibition comprising 32 of my paintings was called ‘Instinct and Experiences’, which reflects the contrasts in this collection. It brings together both my abstract oil paintings and my digital wildlife portraits. Across both media, I try to combine what is instinctive and what is drawn from my experiences in Malaysia and thus express it.
What’s next for you? Do you have any ongoing or upcoming projects?
So many exciting things! I can’t share them all with you just yet, but do watch this space. I am currently working on a new collection of both Malaysian wildlife portraits and abstract works for an up-andcoming solo exhibition. Please visit the website or follow me on Instagram for my latest exhibitions and events. For pet and wildlife portraits visit rgportraits.com. My portfolio can be found on rachelgray. carbonmade.com plus Instagram at rachelgray.artist.