Gail Brodholt is best known for her exotically coloured depictions of tube platforms and railway stations in multi-coloured linocut. Her compositions heighten the romance of the scene, commuters become the main protagonist in each of their own private plays. The viewer is left to imagine where they are going, where they have come from, and what’s on their mind. Brodholt often uses the structures of the buildings that these figures inhabit to form strong patterns of grids and lines that help to emphasise perspective and scale, and somehow offer a sense of strength and certainty that contrasts the ambiguity of the figures. In this interview Gail Brodholt tells us about the allure of the London transport network, how she decides on those beautiful colours, and what it is that she finds so magical about printmaking.
Lisa: What came first, the paintings or the prints?
Gail: I have a degree in Fine Art (Painting) and as part of the course I studied printmaking. In the first year we had to spend one term painting, one term printmaking and one term sculpting. Funnily enough, I really didn’t get on well with printmaking! I spent a few years, after graduation, exclusively on my painting and it wasn’t until a number of years later that I took up printmaking again, mainly as it fitted in well with raising my three children. Second time round I was hooked!
Lisa: What is the appeal of making pictures about the London Transport system for you?
Gail: I grew up in South East London and the whole area is a network of railway lines – you are never far away from the sound of a train rumbling by. For a while we lived in a house which backed onto a railway line and I often used to look at the passengers in the train carriages and wonder what their stories were. This fascination has never left me.
Lisa: Do you feel a level of expectation to make work using the subject matter you are known for?
Gail: My first successful linocuts were of tube stations, followed by train stations. Recently I’ve turned my attention to motorways – the great swathes of road cutting through the countryside has become a preoccupation. I suppose that the main thing for me is that I keep exploring new avenues – I expect I’ll be onto airports next! I need to be interested in the subject and I try not to be too worried about how a new subject will be received. If the impulse is genuine then that will shine through.
Lisa: Do you work from photographs or develop ideas from sketches?
Gail: I go out with my sketch book and make lots of very quick pencil drawings of a place I’m interested in. I then go back into the studio and work up a very detailed preparatory drawing which I will then transfer onto the matrix I’m using, either lino or canvas. I will often use photographs as a supplement because they are so valuable for recording the details I may not have managed to catch in my sketches.
Lisa: How do you finalise what palette you are going to use for a print – do you ever experiment with different colour-ways?
Gail: I have a rough idea of what colours I want to use before I start but you cannot predict how they will look when you’ve printed them together. As a consequence I will often print 20 or more trial proofs before I’m happy with the colour combinations.
Lisa: How important is the paper that you print on, and what types of paper do you tend to work with?
Gail: I don’t experiment with different papers in my printmaking as I’m a creature of habit – I always use Somerset Soft White Textured 300gsm for all my linocuts.
Lisa: Do you have a particular print that you are especially proud of?
Gail: Generally the print I’m most proud of is the one I’ve just done (which is a happy state of affairs!) Unfortunately it doesn’t last long before I start to notice things I could have done differently but luckily by this time I’ve started to think about the next one anyway. This is what drives you on as an artist – you always think that the perfect work is just ahead.
Lisa: Can you describe where you do the majority of your work and why you like working there?
Gail: I have a lovely studio at Second Floor Studio and Arts, Woolwich, SE London, which I share with another printmaker, Louise Davies. It’s right on the river just by the Thames Barrier and there are over 400 artists and makers on site so there’s plenty going on. It’s on the ground floor which is important because I have an old Albion cast iron press, made in 1841, which weighs a ton (literally!) and needs a reinforced floor.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Gail: I’m actually working on a new motorway print of the M25. I’m thinking of calling it ‘The Road To Hell’ after the Chris Rea song which I think was also about that wonderful road.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Gail: I have a good range of my prints and paintings on my website, www.gailbrodholt.com, where there is also a galleries page where you can find out details of where to see my work. I take part in a number of group and solo shows throughout the year, details of which are also on my website. I also take part in Open Studios in Woolwich once a year (this year in June) which is an opportunity for anyone to come along and see what a working printmaking studio looks like.