Gabby Malpas

Gabby’s watercolours are intricate portrayals of blended cultures and beautiful objects. Locally grown fruit and flowers picked and bought near-by are rendered with a warmth and intimacy, forming a conversation between the rarefied, patterned flora that decorates the Chinese ceramics and Malaysian batik fabrics within her images.

Gabby creates many sketches of a single flower or piece of fruit, playing with multiple viewpoints. Compositions are then imagined using a mental assemblage of the images often long after the flower has shed its petals and the oranges have been eaten. Gabby regularly studies butterfly specimens and photos of birds, bringing them to life in her works. Ceramics discovered in junk shops and batik sarongs from her travels around South East Asia are the constants within this series. Gabby simplifies the patterns on these objects, often flattening them out to display a pared-down pattern. By bringing these floral and faunal representations together, Gabby captures the fleetingly beautiful alongside the traditional and enduring.

Antique documents sewn onto the watercolour paper before Gabby begins to paint also give some of her works this sense of history.

Gabby studied ceramics at Otago Polytechnic School of Fine Art from 1984-86, before travelling through South East Asia and then moving to London in the 1990s. Gabby says that unlike most of her contemporaries at Otago at the time, she used ‘clay as a canvas’ in the tradition of Majolica, creating brightly coloured works in contrast with the earthenware of her fellow students. Gabby’s love of colour has endured and her ceramicist background is evident in her use of pattern in her works. Gabby’s negation of depth through the use of pattern means that it is often easy to imagine many of her works adorning a beautiful vase or bowl.

Gabby has been working chiefly in watercolour and ink since moving to Australia in 2003. She is a self-taught watercolourist and says that she had to figure out her own technique of ‘moving the puddle around.’ Crisp lines are prevalent in Gabby’s work. The liquidity of watercolour has been negotiated delicately and deftly; undetectable washes are applied to nuance colour, shading is achieved through a careful application of paint. The overall effect is a restful escapism for the eye.

Gabby was raised in Auckland after being adopted by New Zealand parents as a baby. Gabby began to recognise her Chinese heritage appearing in her art whilst at Otago. After meeting her birth-mother in 2004, she says that her painting started to become ‘very oriental.’ In this series of works, Gabby has melded Chinese representational traditions with Malaysian patterns and birds and fruit from her life in New Zealand and Australia.

Read more about Gabby in our blog

Finalist: Art Revolution, Taipei (2017)
Finalist: Mosman Art Prize 2016
Finalist: Fleurieu food and wine Art prize: 2016
Finalist: Kirribilli Art Prize 2016
Finalist: North Sydney Art Prize 2015
Selected to show: Linden Postcard show 2015/2016
Finalist: Nora Heysen Centenary Art Prize – Still life 2011
Selected to exhibit: National Trust Harper’s Mansion Art Prize – Still life 2011
Selected to exhibit: Hornsby Art Prize 2011
Selected to exhibit: James Kiwi Watercolour Prize, 2012
Highly commended: Westmead Hospital Art Prize 2012
Highly commended, Watercolour: Blacktown City Art Prize: 2011 & 2012