Interview: Gaby Berglund Cardenas


This is your first big exhibition. How does it feel to be in the spotlight? Did you imagine this would happen?

Since I was a young girl I day-dreamed about having a studio overlooking the water. In fact, a sketch I did in the 80’s has now turned into something surreal because it looks just like my studio in Dalmaji today.  However, I never dreamed of seeing my work in an exhibition. I didn't realize that long are the days when artists could live a frugal life and seldom sell a painting or get recognition in their lifetime. Today if we want to make of art a profession, we must market ourselves.

To be in the spotlight can feel like walking around with mirrors in front of you. People are those mirrors and sometimes if it gets to be too much it can prevent you from looking out and seeing the things that really matter, what's happening out there in the world, other people's disadvantages and suffering. If we can't see that then we don't try to help.

I see this sudden place in the spotlight as something temporary that we must go through right before and after an exhibition. To to stay focused or to not get lost, I look for solitude, go out in nature and work with my mind. I actually look forward to the period when I can go back  between my studio and nature and just create. That period is like a dance to me. When I'm in my studio it feels like I'm immersed in this warm, calm place, safe like a womb. This is what my husband calls ''your own bubble''.

How would you best describe the art you are showing at this exhibition?

Painting has always been like a visual diary for me. It allows me to explore emotions and inner realities that are present in many of us. My work is meditative. It's usually about an issue that concerns me but I end up making peace with it through the oil, the canvas, the paper, whatever medium I decide to use. I don't want the viewer to say: ''oh, it looks like a photo!'' but ''oh, I feel touched when I look at your work.'' My reward is to make the viewer ''feel''.

Could you describe some common elements that appear in your work?

Letters, books and poems often appear in my paintings. They come from my appreciation for poetry and books since I was a child. To me, they represent the possibility of unsaid words.  There is wonder in the written word: a song from a mother to her child; whispered words of hope;  the stirrings of protest, igniting a revolution.  I try to capture this in my paintings.

The theme of motherhood also runs deep in my work. A scar from a cesarean birth is a symbol of love and sacrifice. I often feel like I’m walking the tightrope, with one child on each arm for balance. The beauty of my role as a woman is to pursue what I want in life while helping my children to discover what they want to do to be happy.

There are also questions of identity. They are reflections of the different roles and inner realities of a woman, an artist, a mother, a daughter and an expat. These reflections were the result of an enriching journey after moving to Busan in 2009, a journey that has also led me to contemplate my place as a human being in an unpredictable universe.

The natural aspects of life such as the seashore are also present. Abstract depictions of leaves and flowers taken away by the sea-shore represent human beings taken by surprise by unexpected life events – over and over again. We really have no control over what will happen next. Sometimes it feels like the world is chaotic, however we can take responsibility over our own actions. We can rise to any and all occasions.

Can you speak about the creative process from concept to finished product?

The beauty of the creative process is that it's mystical and unpredictable. You are never sure of the end result, it can involve long periods of bad sleep because ideas can pump like a fountain the moment you put your head on the pillow. I keep an idea book or journal next to my bed. Writing down my ideas allows me to put them to rest. Sometimes an idea can rest in your mind or in your sketch book for years until the right moment comes.  Other times it can feel like dream walking, so you must stop doing whatever you're doing and run to your studio and get some colors and put that ''feeling'' onto paper or canvas or whatever medium you want to use. You want to stay there for hours and days until you finish even though you never know exactly how it's going to look like at the end.

There are many conversations to be had about the creative process and it's such a subjective matter so, I will instead use an example: It was a walk on Dalmaji Hill and spotting some gorgeous sunflowers that led me to start the series for this exhibition. The Last Sunflower in Dalmaji, however the series isn't about flowers, I used the sunflowers to symbolise people.

When I came back to the spot where the sunflowers were and I found them almost dead, I cut a branch and took it home. The melancholy of the situation got me to think about how we change with the passing of time, the lessons we learn, how people can become more beautiful when they mature and so on.  Days passed and I soon realized that only the transparency and the brush strokes of Korean ink and gouache (opaque watercolor prepared with gum) could allow me to express what I wanted. I didn't want to paint sunflowers, but rather to simply express a feeling. The series expanded into 9 pieces and to other mediums such as etching and  sculpture and it ended with a performance art-art therapy workshop. It was shown and mostly sold out at Gallery Lee & Bae during Embracing our Creativity exhibition last month.

Have you seen your style evolve since you first started painting. What are some differences from say, 10 years ago?

Yes, it has changed, not only my style but also my work habits. Before I had creative periods, on and off. Today, and for the last 2 years, I've been painting on a daily basis. Like the artist Chuck Close says: ''Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Just the last 2 years have been so enriching that in addition to oil paintings I started to use mediums such as Korean ink and gouache, in a non-traditional way,  as well as techniques such as etchings with copper plates and aquatint. I really love etching prints, an old technique from the 1600's.

Being a wife and mother how do you balance art with family?

It's funny how my mom thought I would live a Bohemian life if I became an artist and my life is very far from it now.

I have said before that art isn't a profession but a verdict, a form of existence. This is true, but to make it work I must treat it as any other profession and put into it a large measure of discipline and hard work. I get up early and plan my day's work. I work when my kids are away in school, early in the morning or late at night when they sleep. At the end of the day it all works out.

You can see Gaby's work at the Picasso Gallery in Haeundae May 12th ~ 18th or contact her for private showings at 

Photos by Anastasia Khan.



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