Art as Theatre with Deborah Gourlay

We are thrilled to be welcoming Deborah Gourlay back to the gallery after several years. Deborah has made a series of stunning theatre and opera paintings that will be on display this summer, based on her experience at Glyndebourne.


Having the amazing opportunity to be artist-in residence at Glyndebourne gave Deborah unrivalled access to the productions –  seeing the sets and props come together and attending rehearsals and dress rehearsals.  Set designs and costumes provided rich inspiration and she has produced collections of works based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Saul, Rosenkavalier, and Barber of Seville. Some of her most memorable impressions include the opening scene from Saul, where an enormous banquet table spanned the width of the stage, overflowing with fruit, flowers and a wild boar, the whole cast amongst it all. To Deborah it was reminiscent of a Caravaggio painting. In another scene the stage was tilted and covered with black shavings amongst which were hundreds of lit church candles.





She was able to meet with designer Joanna Parker and share her drawings and mood boards for the Barber of Seville. These visually rich scenes play with shifting light, revelation and obscurity, intense colour, texture, and sound. Deborah evokes these feelings in her pieces. Ghostly figures drift in space, while energetic brushstrokes and paint thrown freely convey a fleeting moment that appears with intensity and disappears swiftly after.


Figure painting is a new avenue, after spending many years painting haunting, architectural spaces. The wonderful costumes of whimsical fairy creatures, extraordinary wigs, or abounding hoop skirts in Rococo dresses have all inspired these works set against the luminous, moody sets and lighting. Included in the show are works depicting the fabulous costumes of Rosenkavalier, The Cunning little Vixen and Cendrillo.


Deborah has many artistic influences including her mother who was a bold and colourful painter herself. Other inspirations include, Pierre Bonnard, David Hockney’s opera work and in particular his Rake Progress etching series. She is inspired by David Milne’s unconventional use of watercolours: his economic use of line and colour sense. She also admires Liza Wright’s oil paintings and her charcoal drawings of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Also  Adrian Berg and Peter Doig’s bold use of colour and line. Over the years she has also worked with photography, making her own small theatre sets and two artists that have been hugely inspiring in this are Beatrice Helg and Christina Iglesias. They work with the idea of illusion and a theatrical space using glass, metal, and cloth to create atmospheric photography.




Rosenkavallier III, oil on paper                  Rosenkavallier IV, oil on board



Her artistic practice is fluid and intuitive. She owns a large, old printing press and usually begins her process with some type of printing, which she says is ‘a perfect form of limbering up that allows a greater element of play and avoids me being too prescriptive. ‘I love the opportunity to respond in an instinctive way to happy accidents’. Spontaneous, bold, and exploratory works have become typical of Deborah’s style. She often paints standing up with a brush attached to a long stick which allows her greater freedom, and juxtaposes thick, intense oil with diluted, watery colours applied with a rag or her hands.


Her first love was watercolour, working in layers, building colour and shape. This layering continues in her prints. She builds the piece in multiple printed layers, overlaying drawing or monoprints on tissue or watercolour paper. They bring architectural elements into play with figurative elements, contrasting pattern and shape, fluid colours and transitory lines. ‘I tend to think and work in layers which is why I am absolutely fascinated by the stage with the shifting sets, the changing light revealing and obscuring, from ghostly presences and absences to the intensity of colour and pattern.’


The bird series began when she was drawing, perched in the rafters of a derelict building, and saw a crow flying around. These pieces also show her process of layering, mixing painting and printing in her free and gestural style, flitting between representation and abstraction.


Above all what shines through is her delight in the theatre and the illusion it conjures. Bright, bold, and evocative, these pieces are sure to entrance. Come and see her work in our Summer Exhibition from 3rd May to 15 June 2024.

Paper Dancers, oil on board
Creatures of the Night II, oil on board
Oberon and Attendant Elf, mixed media with etching
Madame de la Haltiere, mixed media with etching
Chaffinch, mixed media with etching