Interview with Gemma Kauffman: A Portal Into the Unknown

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Gemma Kauffman has recently joined Rise Art, bringing her expressive abstract paintings to the platform. Gemma has an individual approach to painting; she meditates to dive deep within her consciousness, channeling spontaneous expression. Unhindered by the intellect her work expresses the beauty of the natural world as experienced through the unseen, ethereal lens of the soul.

Gemma meditating in the studio.

 

How would you describe your artistic style?

Spiritual, Abstract. Expressive.

Chakra, 2019, acrylic, oil, ink, collage, pigment, 150 x 100cm

 

What message and/or themes do you want to communicate in your work?

My work has a theme of soul making and inner world activation/guidance. For me paintings are a portal into the unknown, they can take us beyond the surface of life and into the depth of Being. The immediacy of paint is the perfect accompaniment to meditation for exploring a level of consciousness where everything is connected. 

There is also a lightness and a joy that comes through from working quickly with spontaneous, expressive marks. Following the flow of instinct is fun, it’s like surfing, you have to be very, very present. I find that working in abstraction brings some kind of unique synthesis and integration to the body, mind and spirit.

I know that when I’m painting I’m hyper aware of the importance of dreaming, of liminal space. Of prioritising a space that is unstructured and unknown, valuing a place for inner life to play out and transform.

Enchanted Bliss, 2020, Japanese acrylic, 120 x 100cm

 

How has your practice evolved over the years? Have you always worked in an abstract style?

My style has become increasingly abstract, the more comfortable I am in the realm of the abstract, the more pure the expression is. My early paintings have more suggestions of narrative; hints of landscapes and figures, leaning towards symbolism. There used to be this tension between narrative and abstraction and I really enjoyed this interplay. It had enormous energy and taught me so much about different layers of awareness, such as the personal, the archetypal, and the transcendent. Long before I began studying Vedic Knowledge and Depth Psychology, I had the raw experience of paintings that were very powerful formative learnings. These days I have more vocabulary and I’m more familiar with what’s happening. I like thinking back to what it was like to go on those early painting journeys, I couldn’t quite believe what was happening.

Beyond Retro, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 61cm

I’ve become more and more at ease with the painting process. I used to feel like I was painting for my life! So much intensity. Each canvas would be five paintings in one. Partly a lack of resources, partly not knowing when/how to stop. Now with more years of meditation and becoming a teacher of meditation, I trust the process. I can access the inner states that allow me to flow with the present. I’m more attuned to the subtleties of the experience. I feel like paintings enjoy working with me, they know I do my best to listen, that I can be bold and that I won’t try to hold on, if the direction of the painting is to let go. 

 

What’s an average day like in your studio?

The first second that I’m through the door I’m always taken back by how bright and beautiful the space is. The first few moments are like stepping into a dream. I’m usually with my faithful companion Nina, I love the sound of her paws padding down the corridor as we approach the studio.

If I have a new painting, I go straight to it and sit down and drink in what’s happening. Noticing what I notice, it’s always very revealing, very curious how different a painting is the first time I’ve stepped away and then come back. It’s the beginning of a new relationship, a new journey. I’m not writing anything, I’m not really even thinking about anything, just being, just hanging out. I love just hanging out in vibration, in intelligence, in an otherworldly place. It’s so peaceful and energising.

Gemma painting in the studio

I don’t have a plan when I go to the studio. The studio might have a plan for me. Getting through the door is my main job and from there it just goes the way it goes. If there is a blank canvas it’s hard for me to resist. If there’s an invitation for me to continue an existing painting I just go with it. Sometimes I’m more reflective. I’ll pick up old sketch books and ponder, maybe choose a divination card. I like not really knowing what I’m doing. I cannot force myself to do things I don’t want to do when I’m in that space. The studio is the place to calibrate, feel the possibility, tune in.

It took a long time to get the studio the way I wanted. Many friends helped me along the way, painting and building and organising, there have been so many different chapters of studio life. So many phases of energy, I used to do a lot of different stuff, such as dressing up, cocooning myself in fabric, photography, film, writing, always drawing, a lot of ritual type exploration, all of it has been discovery. The studio is an extension of a painting, it’s an in between space, a dream space. If I was to meditate and fall asleep at the studio I’d still consider it a good day at the studio.

 

What/who are your key influences?

Artist wise I feel grateful for artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Hilma af Klint. I feel like both these women gave me permission to be as intense as is necessary, to follow the threads of instinct. I feel like they both experienced that the work they created had a life force of its own and that they were really responding to the will of the artwork, rather than the other way round. It can feel a bit out there sometimes, so I appreciate artists that have gone to these deep places and shared their story.

Colour has a big influence on me. It has always been like that. The feelings that different colours emit, especially from flowers and plants blows my mind. A big part of what I do at the canvas is experiment with how paint can match the saturation of geranium petals for example. Colours relate to each other, it’s the juxtaposition and contrast that creates new colours. I see that canvas and paint is the perfect playground to discover what is possible with colour, with what feelings and atmospheres can be created and what energy can be expressed. I mean that in terms of colour composition, colour harmony, colour clash/pop, there are no rules, colours do unexpected things, especially with changing light. Dusk for example is incredible, the powdery lilac shimmer that appears as an auric edge… I haven’t even started to really go there yet. One day. When we move closer to nature I will feel more deeply into these mysteries and see how it comes through in my work.

Egyptian Infinite, 2021, acrylic paint, oil paint, gold leaf, gold ink, oil pastel, chalk, varnish, 90 x 90cm

Depth psychology is a big influence, Carl Jung, his journey of individuation via active imagination. This resonates with me so deeply. I’m pretty clear that through the paintings that have come through me over the years that I’ve been able to heal and transform some very deep stuff in my consciousness. While Jung has lived the example of what is possible, Joseph Campbell has given us the archetypal template of the hero journey so that we can structure and navigate our mythic life, the soul life. This is the great adventure of our life, everything else is noise. You would think with Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung and James Hillman, that with all these great teachers that as a culture we would recognise the value of cultivating our deep intuition, the initiation of the inward journey. We need to become the shamans of our own existence, to die and be reborn symbolically over and over again. Instead we buy stuff and hope for the best.

Textiles, I’m crazy about old retro fabrics, I love the overstuffed fabric shops in Spain and France for example. The colour is true, fabric these days it’s a lie, the colours don’t sing, there is always a trace of black dye muddying the colour. It bothers me, it messes with my sensibilities, I don’t want people to start thinking this is what colour is. If colour doesn’t make your heart sing – don’t accept it. It’s not true.

Storm Flower, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90cm

 

Who are some Rise Artists you’re enjoying? 

I like Rebecca Hardaker. The way she is creating an experience with her painting. It also feels quite textile, the painterly equivalent of patchwork. Also that feeling of exploration, transcribing her thinking across the surface. Not afraid to invoke the inner child, in fact appreciating and inviting this level of expression. You know it would be energising to hang out with her paintings, it wouldn’t be possible to be passive. I like her use of colour interplay – colours bouncing off each other here, there and everywhere, yet there is coherence, there is wholeness.

I met her in the rainforest, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90cm

 

Are you currently working on any exciting new projects?

Yes. A project is in the pipeline combining spiritual coaching with paintings. I’ve got a group of paintings, most of them came through within a two year period and they seem to want to stay together. I feel like I’m getting ‘downloads’ that they have a group mission that they want me to come on board with.

Ancient Ethereal, 2020, acrylic paint, oil pastel, chalk, varnish spray, 150 x 100cm

I love divination cards. I don’t work with tarot, although one day I might. I have many other decks of cards. My favourites are the Enlightenment cards. I also have The Divine Feminine cards, Power Animals, so many different cards for different chapters of life. At the beginning of this year, after having my daughter four months earlier, I was at the studio for the first time, hanging out, feeling really unsure about what was going on with my painting life.

I had no energy to paint. I was way more into receiving the energy from the different paintings, so I just let my attention go there and I started to receive so much energy that for the first time, I started writing it down. Each painting wanted to share some key healing themes with me. So I had a notebook of dialogue with each of these paintings. Then the image came into my mind to create a deck of cards relating to this group of paintings. In the style of a divination deck.

Gemma picking a card

So, I created a couple of test card sets, just like the one I saw in my mind’s eye. Then the idea faded and life got busy again. I gave a few to my friends as gifts, ones that I know really appreciate cards, friends that have been on card journeys. Then in the last month or so it got really lively again and I started coaching again. When people were at the studio I’d find myself asking them to choose a card and then we would meditate with the corresponding painting and amazing stuff started to happen.

Gemma holding up the card that corresponds to the painting

People would have wild epiphany, clarity, emotion, higher self guidance and I just kind of mediated the whole thing using my coaching skills to hold the space for what was happening. So it’s really opened my eyes to what’s possible here. I don’t want to get excited and try and make it something before it’s ready. I’m more open to the idea that I might have to find a way to help the paintings live out their desire to be healing guides. Whether that can happen in a gallery space or a spiritual retreat space I’m not sure.

Through This Chaos, 2017, acrylic, ink, oil, pigment, varnish, 120 x 100cm

It’s a logistical nightmare because they are big pieces. On average each one has at least one edge of the canvas 1m or bigger so I can’t just put them in the car. So I don’t know what the next stage will be. I know from the earliest days I had a feeling that the paintings were more like teachers and I’ve wanted to contribute to this perspective of painting being a living entity. This development feels an extension of this idea, taking the step so that people can actually experience what it means to journey inward and receive inner guidance with support from the abstract realm.

Gemma showing her card sets

I’d love for it to happen in London but it might not be the most fertile place. Japan and Portugal are on the radar.

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