Artspan sits down with eclectic artist Gail Devine
Your work is so varied in subject and medium--as you yourself say, you “jump all over the place”--but it all has the sort of strange perfect honesty I associate with outsider art. I see Bill Traylor’s “exciting events” in some of your pictures of people. What artists have inspired you? Which painters, musicians, filmmakers, do you admire?
Firstly, thank you for referencing my work with that of Bill Traylor. But he is great, I’m not!
Artists that have inspired me: Ed Kienholz (love his tableaus of man’s inhumanity to man).
Picasso, for his genius, guts and daring. Matisse, Vuillard, Ignacio Iturria, an Uruguayan artist, that during my art school days, I was thinking in a similar vein so I went to Uruguay for a visit in 1997 and have ended up living there for many periods since.
Giotto, Rembrandt, Goya, Diebenkorn, Frankenthaler, Cezanne for shifting the space, so many Turner, Rauschenberg …
Musicians: Jimmy Smith, Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Bach, Keith Jarrett, Van Morrison, Booker T & the MG’s, Mozart, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Dhafer Youssef, Jorge Drexler, Ray Charles, Seakan Gagri, Chayanne, Santana - anything that won’t send me sad at a given moment.
Filmmakers: Antonioni, Scorsese, Fellini, Sergio Leone, Busby Berkley, Sidney Pollack (Out of Africa) Joseph Losey, Quentin Tarantino -wicked!) the Coppola’s.
I see you worked as a writer, and many of your pictures seem to tell mysterious stories. Do you still write? If so, what kinds of things? What do you like to read?
I worked in advertising as a copywriter in Melbourne and Sydney, then in Perth in my own business. Peggie’s life in ‘ Madmen’ was my life in the 70’s. A great business back in the days when all you could become was a secretary, a school teacher, a nurse or get married and have babies. I wanted to go to art school when I left school but my mother wouldn’t let me as she thought as an artist I would get pregnant. One day after many years in advertising I just woke up and decided I would study art. My late husband Les Mason, who was from Los Angeles, was the wings beneath my feet. He would always be waiting to see what I had done when I got home from art school. I studied full time for six years, ran my consultancy and had a part time job. Hectic but a great period in my life - we lived and breathed art.
I still write, meanderings, observations of what I see on public transport and all around me. Fictionalised truth of what I experience and imagine. I never use my smart phone when out and about. I like to watch people, birds, animals, flowers, life. My stories are a bit macabre, but cheerful too. I like to read everything from finance, to travel, to magic realism, to fiction, biographies. I am currently reading about being an astronaut but afraid I won’t make it in this life. Outer space fascinates me.
It seems as though you’ve traveled a lot. Was this for work, pleasure, or art? Where have you visited or lived? Which places have you enjoyed most, or least?
My life is air tickets to places no place like home. This is for my headspace, my work - art and of course pleasure. Europe, the US, the Far East, Indonesia, India (love Indonesia, India and Mexico – three of the most creative countries so far). All over South America, the Amazon, Manaus, Salvador Bahia many times starting in 1997.We lived in Montevideo for a period together and then I have gone back since on my own. Montevideo is a city of magnificent buildings, terrific artists and a shy sense of humour. I love living where everything around me is foreign.
My husband and I never had fancy houses we kept our money for travel and to buy art books and go to galleries to fill up our heads with new thoughts. We always stayed at one or two star places – always on the edge. Once in Chicago in the 70’s I asked a policeman if I could hold his gun. He let me. Don’t suppose he would now. The world certainly has changed but people are still marvellous all over. I love to meet strangers and will talk to anyone. Out of this come some of my thoughts.
Everyone gets a question from the Proust questionnaire, and here is yours, “What is your present state of mind?”
The Artist Gail Devine - "Seeking Validity"
Up and down like a lavatory seat. This is a constant. Restless.
I had questions about a few specific works, and was hoping you could share the story behind them. I love Nina Simone, I think she’s my all-time favourite musician, so I was curious about Nina Simone Dress. What is a “scumbling?” What is the continual question?
‘Nina Simone Dress’ relates to a period of being madly in love and this dress went with it. It was dusky pink crepe and Nina Simone was singing ‘Suzanne’ a lot and I was drinking martinis a lot.
The man I wore the dress for, I married, the best thing that ever happened to me. I miss him. He was very kind and totally unusual.
‘Scumbling’ comes about with sort of ‘slabbing’ paint thickly, trying not to be organised. I read William Wharton’s book “Scumbler’ in the 80’s about an artist living in Paris – and he ‘scumbled’.
‘Continual Question’ is about or eludes to why are we here, what are we supposed to do, how good a person can I be? Still don’t have the answer. All I know is that sometimes I cringe at what I say and do without thinking and feel embarrassed and so I try to ‘work my way out of it’ on paper or canvas. But then on other days I think ‘who gives a’?