Conversation with Gabrielle Garland
We recently chatted with artist Gabrielle Garland, whose work explores how we create, experience and interpret the concept of “home.” Gabrielle works primarily in painting and drawing, with a focus on rendering the interiors and exteriors of houses she sees in real life or finds on the internet. Her artworks are portraits in the non-traditional sense — while you don’t see any figures in the pieces, there’s a distinct energy, and hints of a narrative, in each one. Her work has been shown at the Felix Art Fair, the Logan Center Gallery, Art Basel Miami, The Pit LA and more. We spoke to Gabrielle about her parents’ influence on her work, how she chooses which houses to capture and why she loves YouTube home tours.
I read on your gallery website that your work uses “an elastic perspective that draws out the specific personality” of each house. There is an energy, almost a precariousness that I notice. Can you tell me more about that perspective?
I could start by going backwards, to give you a little bit of history. Artists’ lives sometimes come through in their art. We put so much of ourselves into the work.
I’m a New York City native and both of my parents are artists. They met in art school, at Herron School of Art and Design and moved to New York City. I was born here and lived in the Chelsea Hotel when I was a baby. Later, they moved to the East Village. I succeeded our apartment after my dad passed away from COVID in 2020. My parents’ styles are very different from mine, but I feel like I learned so much from both of them. My mother started a decorative painting firm when I was young, and I grew up working with her on all kinds of different projects. I think that experience still influences my work today. I worked with her for so long before I even went to art school myself.
My dad started off as a very figurative painter, but later his work changed to surreal landscapes. I feel like my color palette is influenced by my father’s work. My mother’s work was very much about historic preservation and investigative work. It was very demanding, exhausting, painful and dangerous work. On one project she spent ten years working and restoring the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. Having been there for so long, two of her painters — they all lived together in the same house — fell in love and got married.
Restoring something like that is really a kind of detective work. It involves carefully removing layers of paint to reveal the work beneath it, and often all that’s left are fragments of the original work. My mom, if you can imagine this, had a set of upside-down bifocals made, with the reading part of the lenses at the top, so she could see the details more easily while constantly looking up. It was super detailed work, and there were extensive photos and measurements and tracings that had to be made from patterns and in identifying the original work.
All of this is to say that I developed a strong association between painting and built space. One trait that all my work shares is a distorted approach to perspective. But to me, these distortions are more accurate than following the rules of perspective precisely. I am able to emphasize one area over another, like we do in real life.
the best photograph only tells us what it is like to be nailed to a single spot, with a fixed field of vision
I’m interested in some of the context clues you include in your compositions. Some houses, especially the ones with palm trees in the background, reminded me of Los Angeles.
I spent a lot of time in LA when I was younger working as a teen model in the 90’s, so I love LA and obviously that’s shown through my paintings. I make sure to take photographs whenever I’m there, but being physically present in the space, on the street — that’s important.
I do like what the camera does to transform the image, though. If you look at a photograph, the lens distorts the perspective. It kind of hints at the ways you can distort it further, but even the best photograph only tells us what it is like to be nailed to a single spot, with a fixed field of vision. I do like the art of photography even though I don’t think of my photographs as art, and I don’t show my photographs. It's easy to be a photographer, but it’s very hard to be good at it.
How do you choose what houses to paint?
Sometimes I’ll find a house, and I’ll go back on a perfect day. Sunny days give me the most information, along with shape, color, and repetition. Also, I do like using found images as source material. Like, Instagram is a window to the world, and when I find photographs online, I don’t have any memory of those spaces, so in a sense, I’m more free to interpret and transform them. I’m imagining what it could be.
What I was trying to say before about the camera and how it has a fixed field of vision — you never experience space from a single vantage point. We always move and shift our focus. When we experience the space, we always remember specific details that stand out from others, so I try to convey that in the paintings. I try to twist things to fit into this square or rectangle or whatever the shape of the canvas is to communicate this perception of space, to twist the rules of perspective and communicate my experience, or imagined experience.
Do people tell you that your paintings remind them of their childhood home or somewhere they know?
All the time. I love that. I paint these carefully composed and staged facades that I feel are pretty familiar to so many people —from all over the world. For example, in my paintings of LA, if you take the palm trees out, there was a certain time period where you’d see a front-gabled, cross-gabled, or side-gabled roof. There was this style in which these houses were being built all the time, the Craftsman house.
Yes, definitely. Now, I notice a lot of boxy houses and apartment buildings that don’t have the same charm.
I just watched this amazing YouTube video on the history of dingbat apartments
. They’re square with the parking below, and the only thing that differentiates them from each other are the decorations — their name or some theme that the owner has decided. Other than that they‘re pretty unremarkable on the inside and pretty plain, but they always have a name in some beautiful, weird, font.
You’ve also talked about how there’s this timeless need for folks to make a space feel like home. How does this guide your process?
It’s so important. Everything we do is about making a home, and even though I don’t show the inhabitants in my spaces, I feel like I use the objects and the details to suggest their presence. I never have human figures in my pieces, but I feel like they’re portraits of people.
Especially the houses — they’re very anthropomorphic in a way. Sometimes I even see faces in the homes when I step back. But maybe we all do that. It seems like we see faces in clouds, or faces in everything.
I’m always interested in those Architectural Digest YouTube tours where you see inside people’s homes and you really get a sense of what items are important to them, and how they reflect their personality.
Those videos are so great. I love them, especially because I see space as connected and continuous — so the videos are really great since you don’t have to choose one view over another, or leave anything out. It’s just like a moving painting. It’s all stuck together. I can watch those things for hours.