The clothes say it all! Canadian artist Celine Gabrielle captures the endless variety of personality and personal expression embedded within our clothing. For her, fashion holds memories, traditions, beliefs, opinions, and presence. They can be a way to fit in or stand out--and for her subjects, they surely stand out in the crowd! Gabrielle's paintings show her subjects owning the space, each one standing proud and saying it loud through vivid, bright colors and gorgeous fashion. Each piece is a statement, as each of her subjects wear statement pieces. Join us in conversation as we discuss how nostalgia influences her work, her thoughts on creating prints as an artist, and what it was like coming back to painting after 20 years.

Artist Statement:

I love bright, bright colors, in big hunks and chunks. Details zoomed in on. Light and shadows, folded-in-on itself to present something altogether different but recognizable. Alluring and intriguing. Never boring. Always engaging. Right now that comes out as paintings, on big canvases, close-up slightly abstract and yet incredibly crisp at the same time.

As a child of the 80's/90's not only was I influenced by the bold in your face neon colors, big shoulder pads and modern technology take over, I was also greatly influenced by both my baby boomer parents and my grandparents. I'm very inspired by pop culture, fashion, style, design and architecture across many generations as far back as the 1920's art deco and flapper girls right through to the 2000's mega stars like Lady Gaga and the haute couture trends of today. As a self taught artist I'm influenced by the well known artists I had access to, many popularized in pop culture like Tamara de Lempicka, Rene Magritte, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso.

My work takes from my obsession with fashion and that the clothes we wear is how we tell the world who we are, or maybe who we aspire to be.  Sometimes it speaks our culture and can connect us to a place or time in history. Sometimes it blurs the lines of all that. It always tells a story. I start with an image or a piece of clothing that inspires me. It has to speak to me. I’m slow. I work in many layers. I start with acrylic to block in main colors and shapes quickly. Then I switch to oils. I take my time carefully studying my references and refining section by section. I love that my paintings look realistic from far, but up close as I work it's just abstract color and shapes—like an illusion.

I create because it’s fun, it challenges me and gives me energy. I’m a champion of color and exuberance. I want the joy and pleasure I have making my works to go with them. Like coming home to a bouquet of wildflowers on the kitchen table­—an unexpected pop, a wow moment on an ordinary day.

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of a Black woman wearing a dark blue dress.

Your work has a strong emphasis on the clothing worn by your subjects. Do you have an interest in fashion?

Absolutely! I love it, fashion is eye candy and I have a killer sweet tooth! On top of that, I’m fascinated by the connection between fashion, identity and how fashion can be used to make a statement. I’ve always looked up to and admired people with strong ideas and opinions and who use the clothes they wear as part of that personal expression. There have been role models in my personal life and also in pop culture who have been strong examples for me. Fashion/the clothes we wear represent time and place, they can sometimes be an expression of feelings, they can be fantasy, sometimes they help us fit in, other times they help us stand out, and sometimes they’re used symbolically in ceremonies and I find that endlessly fascinating. Currently I’m struggling with my love of fashion vs the terrible, terrible negative environmental impact the fashion industry has created with fast fashion and extreme consumerism. I’m thinking about that a lot lately and how my love/hate relationship with fashion/clothes is impacting the art I’m making.

The way your render different types of fabric and folds in your work is incredible! Where did you study art? Have you always been interested in painting realistically?

I had an incredible experience at a public arts high school that gave me exposure to a variety of techniques and mediums including, life drawing, ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, and photography. High school is where I fell in love with painting. After high school, because of a variety of factors including self doubt, fear of crippling student loans and being a starving artist forever, I pursued a completely different career and didn’t paint anything again for over 20 years. Looking back at the work I created as a child and through high school, I do see some threads with people and fashion. In 2018, I decided to start experimenting with making art again and decided to take an oil painting night class, a medium I had never worked with before. Learning to work with oils was what really enabled me to create the textures and definition in my pieces that I just wasn’t able to create when I was trying to work with watercolor and acrylics.

As far as painting realistically, yes it’s always something I’ve been drawn to. One artist I’ve admired from a young age is Tamara de Lempicka, whose work I would describe as “stylized realism” and though my work is different than hers, it is in part the way I would describe mine as well. I work large, typically over 36x36 and that allows me to zoom in and go deep into the details, bringing them to life. I also exaggerate my shadow and and my highlights and work with an intense over saturated palette, which is what I think creates my own version of a “stylized realism”.

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of two hands wearing an assortment of large rings. The background is hot pink.

What aspect of your life influences your art practice the most?

My influences are a mashup of past and present, interesting people with interesting stories, fantasies of haute couture, red carpet, fashion magazines, pop-culture, and current events.

Tell us about your love of bright colors, which shows up repeatedly in your vivid use of paint.

I would say nostalgia is probably the biggest influence on my bright saturated palette from growing up in the 80’s/90’s--a time of big bold in-your-face colors. It was a happy time for me and bright bold colors feel like life and joy and still make me happy now. The colors I use vibrate with energy and radiate that out to you. When you are in front of my work you can feel it, I love that!

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of a person wearing a light blue jumpsuit and high heeled shoes. The background is bright orange.

What advice would you give artists who want to start selling prints of their work?

I am a slow painter. For example, in 2021 I only completed eight large-scale oil paintings. Limited edition fine art prints have become a big part of my practice and business. Before I started offering prints, I heard a lot of mixed thoughts and feelings about them both pro and con. For me, it came down to the fact that prints allow me to stay true to myself and my inspiration and share my work with more art lovers. I’m sick of the idea of the starving artist and some of the elitist and mysterious ways of the art world… I’m a supporter of prosperous artists and artists doing whatever feels right for them to be successful and if that includes prints then they should go for it.

I love that you host the podcast “Art, okay cool,” which discusses different aspects of being an artist. Why did you decide to start this podcast?

I created the podcast as a way to share in real time the reality’s of trying to be an emerging artist. The highs, the lows, and all the behind-the-scenes stuff that I am basically just trying to figure out as I go along as a self-taught, female, small town Canadian artist with no connections in the art world. I’m trying to create what I wish I had had at the very beginning of this career choice. It’s a way of reaching back and providing information to any emerging artist who might be a few steps behind where I am now who doesn’t have the information or support that they are looking for and try to offer them some of that, if only by way of weekly podcasts.

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of a woman with brown hair wearing bright green earrings and a shirt made up of shiny, rainbow-colored streamers.

What is the most surprising thing about your experience as an artist—that you would not have expected when first starting out?

That people actually like my work AND want to buy it!!! Self doubt held me back for 20 years and so once I finally started creating and sharing my work, getting positive feedback, opportunities, and selling pieces after thinking that that wouldn’t happen for me, it’s very rewarding that people see value in what I’m creating and want to live with my art in their homes. I’m surprised and grateful.

Do you have anything coming up that you’d like to share?

Along the same lines as my podcast, creating community, and offering support, I have recently started offering Artist Pep Rallies. I act as the host and moderator of these small groups of six artists who meet virtually once a week for four weeks, to share information, hype each other up, and cheer each other on. All the details can be found on my website.

I also have this crazy project in the works this year that I’m calling The Million Dollar Artist Project, which is basically my way of pushing back against the “starving artist” mentality and being very transparent about trying to make money and thrive as an artist. If you search #tmdap on IG or TikTok, I’ve been creating a series of videos about it

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of a person sitting in a char wearing a lime-green suit. Their socks are orange, their shoes are silver, and the background is navy blue.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I have a few things in the works for this year, some art fairs including The Artist Project Toronto in the spring as well as a solo show at Petroff Gallery in Toronto in May, hoping to get into my first artist residency, waiting to hear back on a few grant applications, creating new work, and sharing information and enthusiasm with the art community.

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of a hand giving the peace wearing lots of rings. One of the rings spells the word "Cool".

Image Description: A painting by Celine Gabrielle of a woman posing in front of a magenta background while wearing an orange dress.
All images courtesy of the artist.