The London-based 3D artist, photographer and filmmaker hopes her audience will experience a form of escapism from looking at her works, "as much as it's escapism for me when I create these worlds".
Dreams can be hard to make sense of, often leaving the sleeper feeling bemused and curious in the morning. But it's precisely this sense of confusion that Gabrielle Salonga seeks to uncover throughout her surrealistic 3D artworks – that of which is inspired by her own dreams, as well as various other elements from her day-to-day.
Based in London, Gabrielle employs a mix of candy-like colours, water and the illusion of infinite space throughout her work. As such, her dream-like creations evoke a sense of peacefulness and tranquillity, both for herself and for the viewer. But there have been times when her audience has felt a sense of uneasiness from her pieces, especially in the context of an infinite ocean and deep pool, which have been deemed as "oddly terrifying". Below, Gabrielle tells us about her process and the reactions she hopes to receive from her work.
How did you first get into digital art, and did you have a creative upbringing?
My first love and what kicked me into a creative path was photography, which I've been doing since I was 13. I was shooting a lot during my walks when we were in lockdown, but what was once a form of therapy began to become a frustration. Many of the ideas in my head were becoming impossible to shoot in the real world; the real world felt terribly depressing to photograph anyway. Learning 3D seemed like the most natural solution to that problem.
I always had a solid interest in it, so I began saving up for a new laptop that wouldn't set my room on fire every time I used a program. Around this time, I also sold my first NFT, which helped immensely and opened up so many doors.
I wouldn't say I had a creative upbringing. Growing up in Hong Kong, art was never seen as a sustainable career, but I have incredible friends who have done nothing but encourage and support me throughout everything. I do think the creative scene in Asia has definitely changed since I was a kid. There are so many emerging artists, photographers and content creators now proving everyone wrong; I'm excited to see where that leads. I hope I can contribute to that too.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In so many things. Sometimes it will be something as simple as listening to a song and picturing the music video for it. When I'm walking, I'll see a space or a bit of architecture that immediately forms an idea for a piece, so I'll quickly snap a photo of it on my phone (I have hundreds of images that are out of context in my library because of this). I'll also remember dreams I've had, and I'll recreate them. The internet has also shaped a lot of my work – I browse the Vaporwave Aesthetics, Liminal Space and Kenopsia subreddits a lot, which has led me to create pieces based on childhood memories of the places I grew up in.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
Right now, it's just me and my laptop! The two main programs I used are Cinema 4D to create the elements in the scene from scratch, then Photoshop to adjust the colours to achieve a dream-like quality I'm happy with.
What themes do you tend to address in your work and why?
I love exploring surrealism, and I enjoy using candy colours, bodies of water and infinite spaces throughout my work. These elements can be interpreted in such wildly different ways in art and literature, and I didn't realise how distinct the reactions were going to be with my art. For some, it evokes peacefulness and, to others, dread. Either way, I'm happy the work connects to strangers who come across it online.
Talk us through your recent piece, Enter The Dream – what's it about?
This one is special because it's a piece I held off making for a long time. This was based on a vivid dream that's stuck with me for years, where I lived for what felt like decades in what I'd describe as a 'modern afterlife', only to wake up as a teenager again. It truly felt like time had stood still, and it's still one of the most bizarre moments I've ever experienced. I finally decided to attempt creating it in 3D this year. As someone who is forever critical of their own work, I was proud of how close I was able to recreate what I remember. I hope to continue expanding on this world as I continue my 3D art journey, picking up new techniques to create representations of the dream as accurately as I can.
Can you tell us about a couple of other pieces?
Onward: Although this is plainer than other scenes, it carries a lot of significance to me because it was the 100th piece of my ‘100 Days of Art' series. I have an affinity for this one because it has elements I use throughout a lot of my work: water, pink tiles and clouds with a dream-like aesthetic to bring it all together. I felt like I was losing my creative edge, so I undertook the challenge of creating 100 new pieces before the end of the year. It wasn't easy, especially since I finished a job and went freelance again during a pandemic. But I learned a lot from it, and, as cheesy as it sounds, it helped me understand my value as a creative. I highly recommend doing this challenge if you feel like you're in a rut.
Infinity: When I first began creating digital art, I mainly set out to create work that felt restful. Making these worlds is meditative for me, so I was quite surprised to see such an interesting response when I posted this online. I was reading many comments from people who found the infinite ocean and deep pool oddly terrifying – which was completely unintentional on my part. It was the first time I realised how you truly have no control over how your work is perceived. I found that quite freeing. Instead of running away from that, I let it shape my future pieces, and I started to include more subtle and "sinister" elements in my scenes.
Is there a particular message or meaning you're trying to convey in your work?
I always want viewers to picture themselves in these scenes; are you going up the stairs or down them? Diving into the water or staying dry? Entering or exiting this room? All the different answers open up so much discussion, and I enjoy reading what people imagine.
There's no specific message I'm trying to convey; I focus much more on feeling. Whether you feel a sense of calm or nervousness when you look at the work, I hope it's a form of escapism for you as much as it's escapism for me when I create these worlds.
What's next, any upcoming projects in the pipeline?
I'm currently creating some album artwork for musicians I'm quite excited to be working with, but I can't say much more than that! In the next year or so, I would love to see some pieces in a gallery somewhere in London. Or organise an exhibition involving artists with similar styles myself!
I'm also working on a bunch of new NFTs to drop at the end of October. The 3D and NFT communities have been so welcoming to me, and I'm so grateful to be a part of both during such a fantastic time. I hope to continue learning, creating and supporting other fellow creatives in this space.