This week we spoke to Gala Lillian Glotzbach — a young, Berlin-born painter whose dreamy compositions caught our eye on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. Despite being in the throes of preparation for her upcoming solo exhibition, Gala was kind enough to host us in her studio for a green tea and a delightful conversation about her practice. We talked about the cathartic yet draining qualities of her introspective expressions, the evolution of her colour palettes, and her connection to her Caribbean roots.
I first asked about the meaning behind Gala’s upcoming exhibition.
“The title is Thirsty for a Distant River, and it’s a lyric from a Sade song. I feel inspired by this phrase because I feel like my own work has a lot to do with longing and trying to find a place to calm down — this distant river. I connect the river with the cleansing of the soul. That’s my biggest dream — to finally somehow feel cleansed. To leave my past behind, give it a space, but still be thirsty and wanting more from life. I get so inspired by people who talk about their past and their life, and that’s what I want to achieve — to be someone others want to relate to; trying to not hide.”
I was interested to hear about her emotional relationship to her practice.
“It can be very draining sometimes because I dig into my past. It’s about my childhood, my experiences and processing a lot of emotions. That’s why I feel like I have to have some ambition to get up in the morning and go to the studio to think about past traumas because it can be very, very draining. But if you get the balance out of it and you know why you’re doing it, it can also be very rewarding.”
I wondered how she navigates this “draining” side-effect of her expression.
“I would say it just needs time... I sleep a lot and watch movies, read and talk to my friends. It can be good distractions but I don’t want to be distracted constantly. It’s healthy for me to also do these things and then come back [to painting] with different perspective.”
We then discussed the more positive, cathartic side of the coin.
“It’s relieving because when I draw and think about past experiences, I can understand these feelings I have better. I really think about my brush being an extension of the soul.The colours that show up in front of me are chosen."
I was then curious if her work always had this intensely introspective tone to it.
“Not always. I used to enjoy using a lot of colours when I started. I drew a lot of colourful and fantastical stuff. I feel like I’m still doing that in a way, but the colours have changed. It’s not even like I did it on purpose, it’s how my soul feels at the moment. And I try to let it out in a really authentic way.”
“I don’t want to create art that is decorative or just nice to look at. I know my art is very dark, in a way, but I just want to be honest and to tell my truth... I love wearing colourful clothes, and I love being warm. People tell me that I’m very happy and smiling.”
“I’ve always talked a lot about my feelings, and I started going to therapy when I was really young. I just got used to reflecting on things a lot. For me, that was always important. I think the best way of healing is understanding and expressing it. I’m not saying it’ll just fly away then, but I think, for me, it’s really important to give it a space and to show these feelings like ‘okay, you can stay there. I’ll move on’. This is really my way of dealing with the past. For me, it’s also important to eat well and take care of my body and move a lot. I’ve always been dancing. I would love to get into more performance art as well, but I think right now I’m just with painting.”
Gala then spoke of her influences.
“The art movement I feel most connected to is surrealism. I wouldn’t say my paintings are typical surrealist paintings, but I have to say I think it’s the category that I most identify with. I love this kind of view of taking things to a deeper level and kind of switching from reality into this dream state. I’ve been working a lot with the unconscious, and I realized how the unconscious levels can be so loud in a way where we have to quiet them down.”
I was curious, too, about sources of inspiration outside the world of painting.
“Something that’s a really big influence as well is just being in nature. This is the purest form of life and it’s really inspiring for me... Also, a performance artist, Ana Mendieta. She died in 1985, she’s also a Cuban artist and for me it’s really nice to have an artist from the Caribbean, because I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, and there’s not much representation at all — just a few. So when I discovered her, it was so nice to have an artist I could really relate to.”
As a parting question, I wondered if there was any particular feeling Gala wanted to evoke in those viewing her work.
“The best compliments I get are people that say, ‘This reminds me of a place’, or, ‘This reminds me of a feeling that I couldn’t have put into words’, and, ‘This is somehow difficult to look at, but I can’t look away’... That’s what I want to do; to give these very intense emotions a space, and I want people to think about their emotions.”
Thank you to Gala. You can experience Gala’s work in the physical realm next week at her solo exhibition, hosted by Art House Rising.
Words & portraits by Ewan Waddell.