Exhibition Essay for Watching Walls by Louise Martin-Chew
Perceptionsand experiences of place inform Bridie Gillman’s paintings, abstracted toconvey the felt rather than the seen. A childhood spent in Indonesia, and manysubsequent cross-cultural residencies, has seen her capture the layers of travelin her practice. Watching Walls is a new and sumptuous body of work(paintings, ceramic sculpture, and a soundscape made in collaboration with herpartner, musician Reuben Schafer) emerging from a residency in Portugal’sArraiolos. The small inland town is best known for its historic buildings (oftenblue and white) and its rug-making traditions.
Gillmanwas living in an 18th century building, absorbing the layering of paintand frescoes on the walls, the light which changed with time of day, and thesounds and movements of people around the town. The backdrop of church bells,which chime every half hour, imbue the large canvases she produced here with asense of punctuated time.
Theinstallation titled Her mother’s room holds the soundscape. A singlefamily owned this building over generations until fifteen years ago, with MariaAngelica the last of the family. Gillman, sleeping in Maria Angelica’s mother’sroom, was surrounded with the original furniture.Here the light and colour shifted the pink walls from red to gold; these momentsare captured with a sense of disquiet. In her awareness of the histories inthis room are those who have gone before, lingering.
Gillman’srugs (created using a technique she learnt in Arraiolos and with wool produced there,and which viewers may sit on) rest on a plinth in the centre of theinstallation. Ranging around them, paintings titled Her mother’s room areimmersive. In Her mother’s room (through the doors) (2023) clouds of translucentpaint in muted colours (pink, gold, grey, blue) are anchored by rust redsections on either side. They recreate the layers of history carried by thewalls with the flatness of thinner rust-coloured areas, pinned between the pastand contemporary experience. For Gillman, ‘It is important that people knoweach work is about a specific observation, that the paintings are rooted inreality. Though of course, everyone brings their own experience.’
Other paintings, such as Touched,rubbed, worn. (2023) are gestural and open, with luminosity that holds anafterimage in the retina. Marks capture space in shades of pink and white, drawingtogether and then apart, a reminder of amorphous skies as the day lightens. Itssurface engages, shape-shifting nuances that speak to the longevity of this environment.Gillman’s abstract ceramic sculptures are tactile, expressions of the ineffablein their surfaces, their sinuous shape, colour variations and treatment.
Thisexhibition sees Gillman using her painterly evocations to take us deep inside apast that is caught and ameliorated with the now. They make tangible heremotional responses in a way that engages our own.
 Gillman said, ‘Maria Angelica was an artist, had no children and fewresources, so the building fell into disrepair. The pink room I occupied washer mother's room, and it looks almost exactly as it was found, same faded pinkwalls, furniture and broken chandelier. It is interesting to me that MariaAngelica didn't sleep in this room (the best one in my opinion!). Rather shekept it as a type of memorial.’