Creating art inspired by Glyndebourne

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During Festival 2017, Glyndebourne and the University of Brighton collaborated to provide an artist residency for two students on the PGCE Art and Design course. Olivia Broadbent Smith and Rebecca Bleach, spent the Festival season creating their own artistic responses to the work of Glyndebourne with exclusive access, from the gardens to the making departments and rehearsal rooms.

Both artists kept sketchbooks throughout the summer and produced a final piece in response to their time here which can be viewed in our gallery. We caught up with them in the week before their teaching roles began to discuss the experience.

Rebecca Bleach (left) and Olivia Broadbent Smith (right) displaying their work in progress. Photo: Emily Meredith

Rebecca Bleach studied art throughout school and A-Level, going on to gain a degree in History at Oxford rather than pursuing formal art education further. After finishing her degree Rebecca moved back to Brighton and completed a part time Art Foundation course. She explains that this ‘formed my identity as an artist and maker; I realised that I loved working in three dimensions, loved sculpture and design work, and by the end of those two years I had a slightly formed idea of who I was as an artist, but wasn’t in a position to take that further’.

Rebecca has found the experience of being one of Glyndebourne’s Visual Artists-in-Residence to be transformative to her own practice and identity as an artist, saying ‘This experience has been unlike anything in my background. It’s been fantastic in giving me the opportunities that I couldn’t quite have created for myself, and that I didn’t feel I had the background and expertise to put myself forward for. I even felt a bit of a fraud being an art teacher without an art degree. I certainly didn’t feel confident enough to present myself as an artist who worked independently, so this has been a really amazingly accessible way to continue my own practice. Glyndebourne also changed my view on how there can be a really positive relationship between an artistic skill and employment’

Olivia Broadbent Smith studied art at school, following this with a National Diploma in Art & Design specialising in Textiles, then studied Costume Production at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. After spending several years working professionally including as a seamstress, she decided to train as an art teacher. On her time at Glyndebourne, Olivia comments ‘I’ve never worked with such an open brief. I’ve always been given a starting point, a medium, guidelines. This has been completely different. It’s been interesting to see how I’m still drawn to colour and texture in my work and that dressmaking is still something that I love to do. It’s allowed me to reflect on my own creative process in a way that I haven’t had the freedom to do beforehand. It’s created an opportunity for creative expression that I’ve never pushed myself to do before.’

Olivia Broadbent Smith’s final art work, dress made from prints inspired by the gardens. Photo: Joanna Wettern

Olivia says of her final piece ‘It’s essentially a response to the gardens at Glyndebourne. Towards the beginning of the process I was immediately drawn to them, I like that nature feels really nurtured, but it’s a combination of human influence and nature’s response to it. It’s quite harmonious at Glyndebourne. I like the way the gardens feel a bit staged, there are a lot of parts which are essentially to house people who are having a picnic. It feels like you’re creating your own story as well. I was drawn to the ‘bloom and decay’ of nature – spending time here over the summer I’ve seen the changes that have come and how some flowers have now become seed pods, then died, and perpetuating some of that. A lot of my responses were exploring the gardens visually, the colour and my work became quite abstract, I’m not used to working in that way – I’m used to structure and working towards an outcome. I felt like I got to a really good place with my experiments with photography, and printmaking and repeat pattern, and I decided that I wanted to turn one of those patterns into a garment, and to re-make the dress I made for myself at the start of the season to wear to opening night but using fabric of my own design.’

Rebecca Bleach’s sketchbook and final art work. Photo: Helena Wynn

Rebecca explains her final piece, telling us ‘I have made an articulated opera singer marionette whose movements and environment are based on the architecture of the auditorium. I’ve made him out of sheets of foamboard stuck together into bricks and then carved with a scalpel, which is a technique that I saw being used to create aspects of the set in set box models for Hipermestra. It wasn’t a technique I would have thought to use or had ever encountered before that. Given my background in ceramics, when I originally had the idea that I wanted to make an outcome that captured the movements of the opera singers I anticipated making all of those pieces out of ceramics, and having a much weightier doll. I wanted to make something lightweight and floaty enough to be able to move in the way I’d seen on stage. I’ve carved the body of the marionette out of foam board and built his ‘set’ out of the same material. He is attached with one piece of wire, I’ve made tracks for the strings attached to his fingers and toes to move along so that his movements are limited, they’re very specific, and they’re all on curves. All his movements are circular, which is something I’d observed in opera singers that I’d seen rehearsing and performing – very fluid, sweeping and often circuitous movements.’

Rebecca Bleach (left) and Olivia Broadbent Smith (right) in the Glyndebourne auditorium. Photo: Joanna Wettern

Both artists commented on the freedom of the open brief they were given, and how this differed from their previous art-making experiences. Rebecca remarked that the environment at Glyndebourne provided the opportunity for a real exploration of creative methods, saying: ‘Being presented with such a variety of stimulus: the gardens, the props, the rehearsals, the wigs…everything, I noticed the things I was picking up on in all of those had a cohesion that forms my identity as an artist. I hadn’t really given the respect to this before, or enough conviction to be able to say “this is who I am, this is what I make, this is what I do” and the experience of working in Glyndebourne has given me so much more belief and conviction in saying that, because I’ve had the opportunity to do literally anything! I have attempted to approach it with the widest eyes and the biggest horizons, and it’s brought me back full circle to the work I was making before. So for me that’s been massively fulfilling to now be able to say much more confidently ‘I am an artist and I know what sort of work I produce’

Both Olivia and Rebecca feel they will be able to bring their learnings forward into their teaching roles, with Olivia saying ‘In terms of teaching practice, it has been really interesting to understand the challenges, and the barriers that you put up for yourself as a creative person, and I think that will help me relate more when I have GCSE pupils who ‘can’t do’ something. It’s going to help me to allow them to find their way through it and support them in that.’ Rebecca has started her teaching career in Tanbridge House School and Olivia in Peacehaven Community School.