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The Localist

Meet the Artist: Gavin Dobson

“London will always be my biggest inspiration. As a gay man growing up in the North East in the 1980s and 1990s, when I first arrived in London to study Fine Art it was somewhat of an eye opener – queer spaces, queer people, drag queens, unashamedly going about their day.”

Dive head first into summer with Gavin Dobson’s Hockney-esque poolscapes, ice lolly screen prints and colour-soaked celebrations of London’s queer life. Now based in East London, after moving from the North East in the ’90s, Gavin’s painting explores homosexuality and the various subcultures that are still prevalent. “Storytelling is very important to me”, he says. “I am fascinated by unearthing new stories and situations to take into my painting, alongside creating bold and intriguing imagery from narratives throughout my life.”

As well as showing at The Other Art Fair, Gavin has recently shown his work as part of the Queer Frontiers show at Whitechapel’s Artiq gallery and ‘Louder and Prouder’ at Brunswick Art Gallery, where he exhibited oil paintings from his coveted pool-themed collection. “We were going on holiday, or supposed to be. Unfortunately it was the summer of 2020 so instead I created a collection of oil paintings – a fantasy of what may have been. Perfect bodies in paradise conditions.”

Gavin’s colour-saturated paintings are often loose and expressive tackling the emotional highs and lows of being a gay man in contemporary Britain. “Queer culture exists beyond a week at Pride”, says Gavin. “And it has a proud and sadly unearthed history which in turn has effected notions surrounding masculinity/ femininity and indeed what it means to be gay.”

What’s inspiring you at the moment?
Currently, I am revisiting and expanding a collection I started at the beginning of lockdown called ‘Wet’ looking into the fascination of the ideal male form and swimming pools as queer spaces. With nods to Hockney and the Queer culture tied into many Lidos and men’s bathing ponds in London, it’s a collection of paintings, drawings and screen prints.

Which city has been your greatest inspiration?
It is, and I think possibly always will be, London. As a gay man growing up in the North East in the 1980s and 1990s, when I first arrived in London to study Fine Art it was somewhat of an eye opener – queer spaces, queer people, drag queens, unashamedly going about their day. When you have to hide who you are for such a large part of your life or certainly can’t truly explore it, arriving in such a big city was a great moment to meet people like myself and start to understand my own community and history. A far cry from travelling miles to the nearest city up north to a small grimy pub, where on exiting it wasn’t uncommon to have bottles thrown at you. Thankfully that has generally changed. But London is beyond queer – it’s a culture to itself, full of diversity and history, arts, social movements and, though far from perfect, I still find myself engaged in all it has to offer.

What have you learned about yourself as your work has evolved?
That ultimately if I like the artwork, that is enough. I used to worry that my painting wasn’t tight enough or loose enough or my style wasn’t uniform enough and then I realised it only mattered if the end painting felt right for the purpose that I intended.

What or who do you look to when you have a creative block?
I am a keen doodler, and I find that my best ideas often spring when I’m mid run, or in a coffee shop. Artist block is very frustrating. Bizarrely, I don’t generally visit galleries if I am having a creative block. I find that seeing other people doing what I can’t seem to do at that time depressing and stressful. However after a few days reading, relaxing and embracing other art forms such as theatre or literature normally something will spring to mind. Sometimes though it’s important to just keep drawing or painting. It will probably be dreadful for a while, but then it will click and before you know it you have an interesting piece.

What would you do if not art?
Storytelling is very important in my artwork so it would be writing. I have dabbled and it was a lot of fun and something I am definitely exploring soon. Again it’s the idea of narrating an idea or pushing forward something that would be the start of a conversation. I like that in all the arts.