20 Questions….. Rachel Gadsden

Continuing this strand of exploring process and creativity with a host of artists working across genres and form, with different practice and results… From novels to choreography, post dramatic texts to sculpture… I ask the same 20 questions to a series of artists, writers and makers, and they respond as they wish, ignoring some questions, enlarging on others, responding to queries about process and creativity. It is my hope over time this will create a fascinating cross-disciplinary archive.

It is my delight and privilege to introduce 20 Questions…. Rachel Gadsden.

Rachel Gadsden at work

Rachel Gadsden at work

Rachel Gadsden is a British visual artist, who has a BA and MA in Fine Art who works across mainstream and disability sectors. Her methodology is expressionistic, energetic, raw, motivated by the frail and human. In 1999 Gadsden exhibited at Dostoyevsky Museum. Wasteland was voted most popular painting in Hunting Competition 2003.  Awards include: Artsadmin Bursary 2004, Dada Visual Artist of the Year 2005, Shrewsbury International Painting Prize 2006, Holton Lee International Disability Arts Prize 2007, Momentum Arts Council/Dada-South Bursary and Dada International Arts Award 2009. Global Alchemy was commended in Freedom To Create 2011: Global Alchemy is now permanently exhibited in Mandela’s Walk To Freedom. Gadsden became the first contemporary artist-in-residence at Hampton Court Palace; and was the first artist for Parliamentary Outreach 2009 – 2010. Recent commissions: painting for the Beijing-London Paralympics Handover at Stoke Mandeville; Gadsden was lead artist for Starting Line, a major collaborative performance for the London 2012 Paralympic Torch Relay Festival. In 2011 Gadsden won an international Unlimited 2012 Cultural Olympiad commission, in collaboration with the Bambanani Group of Khayelitsha Township SA – Unlimited Global Alchemy, and in 2013 she represented UK as part of “Qatar – UK Year of Culture” for British Council and the first ever Art and Disability Festival in the Middle East, HRH Prince Charles and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall formally opened Gadsden’s solo exhibition This Breathing World at Katara Cultural Village, Doha.  Gadsden’s vision continues onwards with a forthcoming new role as Artist for Parliament in the Autumn 2013, a commission for this year’s Liberty Disability Arts Festival for the re opening of the Olympic Park in September, a commission for International Women’s Day in South Africa August 2013 and a collaboration with the Steve Biko Museum in Easter next year to name a few.

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

Playing make believe games with my identical twin sister when we were very small children, my imagination was able to expand and developed

 What was your big breakthrough?

Personally: Realizing that if I just allowed my drawings to emerge they would.

Professionally – being selected and appointed to be the first contemporary artist in residence at Hampton Court Palace since the artist Holbein 400 years ago, also to be the first artist to be selected and appointed to be Artist for Parliamentary Outreach.

 What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Juggling the creative process with the never-ending need to fulfill the administration that goes with a hectic artistic practice.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

Primo Levi ~ If this is a Man (book);  Goya’s Caprichos Drawings and late paintings; Mina Loy’s Poetry. 

What’s more important: form or content?

Always content

How do you know when a project is finished?

The project speaks to me and tells me to stop, I don’t decide.

 Do you read your reviews?


 What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Work hard, and look outwards as well as inwards and keep feeding your imagination.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Any Goya late work or Ruben’s Massacre of the Innocents and a Rodin sculpture and a Michelangelo late drawing to name a few!

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That an artist or a creative person is somehow gifted.

 What are you working on now?

A performance commission for liberty Festival with Mark Brew called “Cube of Curiosity”; Performance collaboration for South Africa International Women’s Day in Cape Town, August 2013, with Director Mandla Mbowthe, Andille Vellem, Don Coyote called “Talking Souls”, I travel to SA in a week to start rehearsals. A major evolving commission for DadaFest 2014 that includes International Middle East collaboration, plus development for Unity 2014 with Disability Arts Cymru. And also a major fine art commission for UK Parliament Autumn 2013.  

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

Too many to name really I have a list of thousands of artwork, plays films, poetry that inspire me every day, but any of Michelangelo’s late drawings are probably on the top of the list.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

That some of the unbelievable opportunities that I have had would emerge.

What’s your greatest ambition?

That the next piece I make will be better than the last and that I live another day to be able to make that happen.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

The insecurity I have now is related to my diminishing eye sight issues rather than insecurities relating to what I create, I have witnessed a growing energy and confidence that is over whelming as far as my creative practice is concerned, I just hope I can continue to create. I tackle this all with the very real notion that I have no option other than to keep making everything happen.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

I rarely focus on the negative and at the moment I can’t think of anything horrid. I am forever humbled by the extraordinary support I have and do receive about my work.

 And the best thing?

“Gadsden is creating an artwork with frantic speed, fighting her own real-life fight against the dying of the light. In the act of painting, she tells us, she is “living in the second”. A profoundly affecting reminder of our shared humanity.”   Luke Jennings – Guardian/Observer

 If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

Breathing to stay alive

 What is your philosophy or life motto?

Get on with it; life is short, and so very precious.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

It is my life.

 What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

Desire is everything


For further information about Rachel’s work, plus links to websites, films etc, please go to:



 Arts Council England Film (5mins) – Rachel Gadsden and her Unlimited Global Alchemy 2012 Cultural Olympiad International Commission


Arts Council England Film (5mins) The Creative Case for Diversity – Rachel Gadsden


 Triumphant Return 3mins approx




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