Artist Uncovered: Gabrielle Reith

DATE POSTED: 27th of August 2014

It is hard to imagine today but there was once a time when hospital walls were kept resolutely bare for the sake of hygiene as paintings were considered to be dust traps. Happily these days are long gone and it is now widely recognised that images have a powerful and positive impact on the wellbeing of all who frequent healthcare settings, the patients of course and also the visitors and staff.

Study for Tuscan Summer mixed media, 38x38cm
AiH Collection

On a primal level images connect directly with our subconscious and we respond to them with our senses, our feelings and emotions, even more so, research reveals, when they depict nature and the landscape.

Gabrielle Reith’s paintings with their strong colours and forms have the ability to convey a sense of place, real or imagined, and to transport us somewhere else.

Her linear compositions transform terrain and houses into elemental shapes verging on abstraction. The modernist square format she uses here serves to intensify the sense of rhythm and tension within the canvas. The artist focuses our mind on a particular feature or colour thus enhancing our experience of the work.

Study for Assisi mixed media, 38x38cm
AiH Collection

Reith graduated from Gray’s School of Art in 1998 and the paintings in the Art in Healthcare Collection date from her degree show. She was brought up in Aberdeenshire where she still lives today. Landscapes of great beauty have influenced her all her life and have trained her eyes from an early age to process seasonal changes and their colour variations. She has taken this practice with her on her travels abroad.

In both paintings Study for Assisi and Study for a Tuscan Summer the heat of Italy is palpable in the ochre tainted stones and purple shadows. The architectural details are abbreviated to curves and arches like shorthand signs to evoke the romanesque style typical of that region.

Study for Montenagiche mixed media, 38x38cm
AiH Collection

In sharp contrast, the two other paintings in the Art in Healthcare Collection with their blue and green tones immerse the viewer in the coolness of the Tuscan night. When the sun has ceased to beat down hard and recedes, giving way to dusk and darkness, ambiguous shapes begin to emerge, assuming mass and volume and an air of mystery.

Study for 10 Summer Minutes mixed media, 38x38cm
AiH Collection

Reith reinvents the landscape. She flattens it and then reintroduces depth with patterns and texture. By breaking it down into distinctive shapes, motifs and dark outlines that delineate the blocks of colours, the artist creates a universal language of signs and symbols.

Through this process, the landscape loses its specificity, it escapes the confines of geographical coordinates and enters the realm of the imagination. It becomes all our landscapes.

Since the late 1990s, Gabrielle Reith has developed a successful practice as designer and maker of a varied range of products inspired by the natural world and her young family. With their strong lines and colours, her recent textiles, carved jewellery and paper designs represent the natural expansion of her painterly talent.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh.

Gabrielle Reith's website

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.