Dimensions: 210 x 210 mm
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Gail Brodholt’s linocuts often depict the London Underground, train stations, or other scenes of transport. These are the liminal spaces of our daily lives, filled with people trying to get to their next destination, not particularly focused on the intricacies and design of travel or of movement. But there are narratives within these places that we rush through each day, and Gail’s pieces contain within them myriad stories both grand and inconsequential.
Gail calls each picture ‘a very personal experience’—and each viewer could focus on a different detail or narrative. For example, one person may be entranced by the beauty and pattern of the architecture in Poetry of Departures II, and another could be more interested in the backstory of the couple in the centre of the composition, who are perhaps preparing for a weekend away. These disparate stories of people and of places intertwine in this work and in many others in Gail’s oeuvre to create a pattern of bustling human travel, a theatre of the everyday. Gail allows us to see the interlocking beauty of those small moments of the ‘in between’ that make up our unique days, weeks, and lives.
Gail believes that everyone ‘brings their own history and perspective to a picture … what they see is not just a visual representation of something in the real world (like a photograph) but it’s a blend of recognition and emotion.’ But sometimes Gail’s title choices, which are often taken from songs, poems, or prose, suggest a narrative that the viewer might not have immediately attached to the scene. For instance, Gail’s linocut of the Shard and the surrounding area, Some High, Lonely Tow’r, transcends its industrial and architectural subject because of it its title. Gail took this phrase from John Milton’s poem Il Penseroso, published in 1645. In this poem, Milton reflects on the power of melancholy—which to him appears as a helpful goddess—to inspire creative thought and writing. Milton portrays himself as a melancholic visionary with ‘my Lamp at midnight hour, / Be seen in some high lonely Tow’r.’ In conjunction with this title, the purples and blues, the flock of dark birds in the sky, and the forlorn graffiti on the walls take on the lugubrious wistfulness of the poem for which the picture was named. In the context of this linocut’s title, The Shard transforms into a tower from almost four centuries ago, and the people working inside of the modern building become poets in the throes of melancholic musings or candlelit scribblings.
A more immediate parallel between poetry and picture appears in the linocut Buses on the Strand. This work is named for a 1958 poem by R. P. Lister that includes evocative imagery describing buses as ‘Red like tomatoes in their trusses’ and ‘Scarlet and portly and seraphic.’ Gail appreciates ‘immediate’ poetry like this, where an image is directly conjured, without intellectual or cultural background being necessary for the comprehension of the composition. She wishes the same for her linocuts. But Buses on the Strand is not a straightforward illustration of the poem; rather it is an organic melding of text and image. The title and the linocut inform one another and belong to one another. The bright red used in the poem to illustrate the jubilance of London buses become one of the four colours that Gail utilises in her linocut. This red is not only the tomato hue for the buses, but also the brick of the defunct Strand station, the curtains in the windows above it, and the accessories worn and carried by those hurrying along the street. To anyone who has lived in or even visited London, this work can bring up many memories or associations: of running to catch a bus, of rainy days, or of sounds of the city.
This poem by R. P. Lister was included in the ‘Poetry on the Underground’ initiative. It is therefore fitting that Buses on the Strand has been part of a Transport for London commission that Gail received last year. The other new print involved in this project is Walk on the Wild Side (named after the Lou Reed form 1972). These prints depict two stations—Aldwych and Highgate High Level—that have been abandoned. The former is on The Strand near Temple, and the latter is directly above the current Highgate station. These two stations are part of the ‘Hidden London’ initiative: tours spearheaded by TfL and the London Transport Museum to show people some of the forgotten histories of underground London. Gail’s linocuts have always brought attention to the parts of our lives—the commutes and the comings and goings—that we are least likely to appreciate. These new pieces continue Gail’s work of highlighting the parts of London and of daily life that traditionally escape our consideration.
Printing her new works on a press made in 1841, Gail makes images that are simultaneously decidedly modern and yet nostalgic for the past. This is why she can borrow poetic titles both from 1645 and from 1972—and from any other years between, before, and afterward. Whether the viewer is yearning for yesterday or tomorrow, her linocuts speak to a life that is poetic, narrative, and full of meaning and colour.
Christine Slobogin, February 2020.