Gradwatch 2023: Kimberly Gaskin, Norwich University of the Arts

Artist Kimberly Gaskin was chosen as part of our annual Gradwatch showcase, where we celebrate the next generation of talent in the creative industries

“I’m not sure exactly where I will go with my career, but I know that I will always be making art as long as I can,” says Kimberly Gaskin, who studied fine art at Norwich University of the Arts. “I also hope to share my art with more people. I don’t make art just for myself and I want people to experience it and get enjoyment, or catharsis by allowing their inner child to just play for a while.”

In Gaskin’s first year at NUA, she began working with distorted anxious faces through paintings and drawings, which were sparked by the anxiety surrounding the pandemic. More and more though, she felt like she wanted to pull these figures out of the frame and transform them into three-dimensional beings.

All images: Kimberly Gaskin

“The best advice [I received] has been to follow the ‘what ifs’ that excite you, bring enjoyment and feel like a challenge that can profoundly change your outlook on your practice for the better,” says the artist. “If nothing comes from those what ifs, or they don’t go to plan, then that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s just paint, but often the failings are just as important teaching moments as the success stories.”

While Gaskin initially set out to just make a few dolls, she ended up creating not only more of them but also a world they could exist in. “The question became, where do you escape to when you don’t know how to be or where to go? Mental health has underpinned my work since the beginning, with art helping me to understand myself better,” she explains.

“So, I wanted to intentionally pursue this through exploring how art can enrich lives and better someone’s mental health. I decided I would say yes to the silly questions and make dolls that keep my practice enriching and sustainable in the long term for myself.”

By doing this, Gaskin says she found she found a child-like sense of wonder that paved the way for her graduate showcase installation – a rich collection of intricate, beautifully put together dolls. “In installing this work, I became a child in my bedroom setting up my play sets, painting dreamscapes in my mind, and living vicariously through little pieces of plastic,” says the artist.

“A theme that was unexpected and surfaced naturally, was a connection between these dolls and girlhood,” she continues. “What does it mean to grow up into a woman and what do you lose in the process? I started exploring femininity through textiles and techniques that I’ve learnt from the women in my life by admiring their talents in domestic arts. Embracing new forms of media and allowing the mind to explore unwritten lands has felt very freeing and gratifying in my practice.”

Gaskin chose to do a fine art degree because of the freedom it offered her, and it makes sense that exploring multiple disciplines and mixing and matching different mediums has become a big part of her practice. However, her desire for experimentation was initially impacted by the onset of the pandemic.

“Once back in the studios, feedback and community from peers became so important and useful to the development of my work, as well as my enjoyment of the subject. Other people’s creativity helps fuel your own,” she says. Through collaborating with her peers, Gaskin has also exhibited her work at other shows during university. These opportunities have helped inform her practice, while also providing the opportunity to display her work in different formats.

For example, she often decided to show framed pictorial works in the shows, rather than works in their material form. “I felt that the display of my work was something still very much in the experimental phase that I was developing towards my graduate showcase to be something more interactive, where it encourages the viewer to walk around it and view things from a multitude of perspectives,” says the artist.

Like most graduates, Gaskin’s focus now is working out what the next step is. Right now, that seems to be taking her learning further. “I want to continue to study fine art and use the opportunities that grants offer to make more work and get it out there,” she says. “Then it’s a case of how I can make a living while getting to do what I love.”