Interview: Gemma Flack
Natasha Emeck | On 05, Apr 2015
Popular Tumblr artist Gemma Flack talks zines, body positivity and the inspired Melbourne contemporary art scene.
AÂ testament to how online platforms can helpÂ emerging artists thrive, share and evolve – Gemma Flack’sÂ distinct style is not only edgy but carries an important underlying message.
The UK born talent talked toÂ The Creative IssueÂ about her artistic influences, her fears and everything in between.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself. What got you interested in art/zines? Have you taken art classes?
GF: I’ve been interested in art for as long as I can remember, it was always always my favourite class and I never imagined myself doing anything else. After high school, I continued studying art and illustration at college in the UK; my course was specifically set up to train artists to work freelance, so it gave me a good start in understanding the business. My tutors were all practicing illustrators so it was great to work with them and have that experience. I became interested in zines through other artists I knew who were making them, and I started to buy a few online here and there. I went to my first zine fair when I lived in London, but really started getting into the zine scene properly in Melbourne a few years ago. I did my first fair in 2013 and it was so good! Melbourne zine people are the best and I found it very welcoming. The thing I love about making zines is that there’s no pressure – you can make whatever you want, and you can make it to whatever standard you want. I love beautifully illustrated indie comics that have been professionally printed, as I also love black and white photocopied little cheap and wonky zines. I think the medium of zines allows you to be quite free, both in the topics you’re exploring, and just how you put it all together. I think it’s also important to be consuming alternative media and reading about experiences from people who have lived very different lives to you, which is why zines are great as they give people a voice and a way to be heard on their own terms.
Q: What’s your preferred medium? What materials do you usually use?
GF: I’ve always been a pen and paper person, I mostly use pen, ink and markers on bleedbroof paper or Bristol board. I’ve been using copic markers a lot recentlyÂ but I’ve also just become a gouache convert, I love gouache! It’s opened up a whole new way or working for me, and I’m really looking forward to exploring it more. It’s also so nice to paint, as I haven’t done much in a long time, and it’s so relaxing. I can go into a painting trance for hours, that never happens with markers! Then once I’ve done the work on paper, I scan my work and use Photoshop to tidy up all bits that I messed up.
Q: Can you go into detail about where you find inspiration for most of your work?Â
GF: I generally find my inspiration from people – I’m interested in the lived experiences of women particularly, and exploring themes of identity and the experience of being a girl, having a body, and existing in society. I’m inspired by teen angst, queer kids, insecurity and vulnerability, girls in their bedrooms, girls getting out there and doing things, walking in nature, and just sitting by myself and processing my thoughts and feelings. I also browse the internet a lot (too much) and keep folders on my desktop for putting inspiring images into, which I then forget about and never look at.
Q: Do you think there’s a need for more body positivity in the art world (or more broadly, in the world itself)?Â
GF: 100% totally and absolutely! I am still on my body positivity journey, and I wrote a zine about my experience called Work In Progress, which was very cathartic. I used to really have a lot of hate for myself, and it’s taken a lot of work but I’ve turned my attitude around over the last few years. So much hurt comes from people’s negative feelings towards themselves, and I think it’s absolutely heroic that people are standing up and saying a big ‘fuck you’ to beauty standards and ideals. A lot of pressure is heaped onto young girls especially to be all about their looks, and to conform to these ideals, so I hope that my work helps young girls to feel like they are able to be their true selves, and to embrace their individuality. The mainstream media only represents a small section of society, so I think it’s important for artists and zinemakers and people who have a voice to use their position, and stand up and give representation to all the people who don’t fit in.
Q: Can you tell me about ‘Imaginary Girl Bands’ and the process of putting that project together?Â
GF: I volunteer at Sticky Institute (a zine shop/art space in Melbourne) and every year at their zine fair they have a fundraiser and ask some zinemakers to make a special limited edition zine to donate to the cause. I thought for ages about what I was going to do, and had some pretty vague and terrible ideas, and was really worried about having nothing. But inspiration hit at late notice, as it usually does for me – I only ended up having a few weeks to finish it, and it consumed my life for a little while! I made an open edition of regular photocopied versions, plus 25 extra special risograph printed copies. This was a really exciting project for me as it was the first time I designed a zine to be printed on a risograph, There is an extra layer of process because you need to separate all your colours out so each colour is on a different layer/piece of paper, which involves doing multiple copies of the same artwork in different ways. I’m really proud of the zine, partly because I made it in a really short time, but also just because I’m just really happy with the final result. I was also very pleased and blown away by the response, as all the riso copies sold out within the first hour of the zine fair.
Q: Has Tumblr helped/influenced you in any way as an artist?Â
Tumblr has helped me a lot – both on my own personal journey into body positivity but also with helping me connect with other artists, and just providing too much inspiration for me to ever have the time to act on! I’ve met a lot of great people there and it has helped me to become more confident with my art, as I am realising that people seem to like what I do and they want to see more of it. It has also helped me become a lot more politically minded, interested in intersectional feminism, and has helped me to promote more diversity in my work and to be more aware of the world around me. It’s an excellent tool for getting feedback, but it can be a tricky line to walk – obviously I enjoy getting likes and follows, but for me it can be bad for my mental health if I think too much about how many likes a particular piece has got, or how many new followers I got that week. I have to make sure that it’s not my only source of validation, and that I keep reminding myself that I make art for me, because I want to. And if anyone else likes it, well that’s a huge bonus.