I have been so looking forward to writing this piece about Alicia Gradon whose drawings I greatly admire. I went one Saturday to visit Alicia in Hove and we sat and chatted about her work, and went for a wander along the sea front.
Alicia draws in pencil and the detail of her drawings is exquisite. On first viewing, many seem to be details from nature, birds on a branch, or a beetle, but when you look closer there is something otherworldly about them. The drawings cross over into the realm of the fantastical, a bird whose head is a rose, a slug whose body is made from agate. I absolutely love this, the combining of different elements from the natural world, so nothing is quite what it seems.
Alicia is initially self-taught and she always draws in pencil, layering to create tones and using an eraser to bring out different textures. Her drawings are often a mesh of history, science, culture and civilisations. She has spent a lot of time in the Natural History Museum, studying the details of the natural world, and drawing organic matter. And she wants her drawings to help people see that our own reality is amazing and to open our minds, an underlying concept to her work is the idea that when new things are discovered they can seem almost fantastical.
What I found most exciting is that Alicia’s drawings actually started as writings, not only are they visually intriguingly fantastical, there is actually a story behind each one. Since the age of 12 she has created an entire world called Perpetuia, it is currently made up of 6 connecting worlds, and her pencil drawings have evolved from her writings about this world. She is currently pulling all this material together to form a novel, going right back to the beginning, re-reading her own writings, fitting together the pieces and creating the story as a whole. She feels the drawings make her writing more accessible to an external audience, they make it easier for people to visualise her imagined world. And she hopes her work will help people engage with their own imaginations. Everyone has their own imaginary world, and she wants to remind people about that place, reigniting their imagination and self-expression and extending their sense of childhood.
She first started writing when she was 12, first stories and poetry, creating characters from her day-dreams, putting pen to paper, and then started to add sketches to her short stories. She has always loved to write by hand, for her it is an organic and emotive experience, allowing for a stream of consciousness. She studied Fine Art at Kingston, but it wasn’t until her second year that she showed her pencil drawings of Perpetuia. At the end of that year she displayed as her final project, drawings of Gorgoria, one region of her imagined world, along with writings on the history of the lizard creatures who inhabit Gorgoria, and how they had come to be.
Last year she had her first solo exhibition ‘Small Beginnings’ at Gallery Different and in this she had to divise a way of displaying her writings and drawings together. She curated the space in a minimalistic way, every drawing was carefully framed and hung in a defined space, each a window into her world. She created a book of short stories, linking the drawings with the world of Perpetuia, but she also left gaps for the spectator, an open invitation for them to fill them in. Perpetuia is Alicia’s creation, but everyone has their own world, and the exhibition was to remind people about that place.
She does sell her drawings, but sometimes feels uncomfortable pricing her works, and says when she does sell one it feels like she is giving away a child. And she also works to commission.
Alicia also speaks incredibly beautifully, her spoken thoughts echo her writing, she conjures up images in your mind, you want to find out more about her world and way of thinking. She is softly spoken, and a thinker, incredibly self-depracating and in some ways ethereal. One thing she said that really resonated with me was ‘there is so much pleasure to be found in the world’, to me it seems that drawing and writing is her way of capturing the beauty and details in the world, and at the same time giving something back by encouraging us to take a closer look at the details in the world around us.
It was so enjoyable speaking about engaging with our imaginations, something we so often forget or even repress, and I am so excited for your novel Alicia 😊 I have included some of my most favourite of Alicia’s drawings below.