Gailnamoured (gaylˈnæmərd), adjective | A feeling of deep, creative reverence – coupled with a ‘well hello there’ seduction – that sweeps the beholder off their feet while gazing at Gail Potocki’s visually decadent, midnight dreary imaginings.
This is an inhibition-free zone…plus, we’re all friends, right? We should be able to talk freely about the vampiric degree of come hitherness that Gail Potocki’s dark-sexy painterly theatrics stirs within the beholder. Not in the literal Louis de Pointe du Lac sense, but rather in the ambiance, which could admittedly give Louis’ scarlet pillow lips a run for their money.
For the next few minutes, please visually imbibe the astounding array of wild-wicked-weird images that are illustrating this interview. Let go…drift…become a part of the artsy terroir. Annnnnd there. It just happened. You’re officially gailnamoured.
In a sense, I reinvent the wheel with each new painting. My efforts must “sing” to me on some level. If my narrative is overstated or heavy-handed, off to the burn pile it goes!
Gail Potocki’s apocalyptically gothic realm swirls with a captivating aesthetic that is visceral, lush, and perhaps a bit more cerebral than the average art enthusiast is accustomed to experiencing. Offering our supple necks to the poetically conceived phantasm that exists below the surface of her canvases is a reflexive action as well as an act of pure desire.
As nightmarish as Gail Potocki’s symbolic-laden narratives are, they beckon, softly…darkly…alluringly. Each sumptuous, multi-layered painting in her extensive portfolio draws us ever deeper into the transfixing abyss of our next need-to-have-it fix. Our art appreciation expectations are forever elevated now, but that’s okay. As long as we live out the rest of our days amid this realm, our reality will only bite when we invite Gail’s atmospheric specter to take a nibble.
Prior to officially launching your painting career, you experienced your fair share of unfulfilling jobs. Do you think that your delayed artistic gratification ended up being a silver lining?
Yes, I do think so. I had no idea who I was when I was in my 20s and 30s. I doubt I would have known what to do with a white canvas staring me in the face. At the time that I was starting down my artistic path, I also experienced major upheaval in my life. The most distressing event was my mother’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I was very close to her. Bearing witness to her slow and emotionally painful demise took its toll on me, both emotionally and physically. I had no way to help her and felt incredibly alone, as if I was just observing my life and the world around me and not really a participant in it. That emotional slap in the face forced me to use the precious and brief time I have on this planet to get my priorities straight.
Despite my dark aesthetic and contemplations about the state of our environment, I really am fun to hang out with! :) I don’t walk around, solemnly dressed in mourning attire, always on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
If you launched your career as a 20-year-old, do you think that your portfolio would still possess a similar aesthetical DNA?
Mostly yes, because I’ve always had a bit of a Wednesday Addams aesthetic. I am sure it would be a much clumsier version, though, because I didn’t know shit when I was 20.
You’ve created a mighty body of work in just two decades. Does having more life experience go hand in hand with producing more substantive art?
While time-wise, I’m really punctual, in the overall scheme of life, I have always been late. I am clearer in my intentions, though, and more confident now than I was earlier in life. Screw the age thing. I don’t want to define myself by how many times I’ve ridden the earth around the sun.
Even at the very beginning of your painting career, it seems like your aesthetic was fairly defined. Still, were there a few early paintings that you threw into the meat grinder?
I made some good Italian sausage out of those early pieces. The trajectory of my aesthetic has remained pretty much the same since childhood. However, I think as I’ve matured – both as an artist as well as a human – my aesthetic has become more refined.
It’s scary to think about how easily I could have missed my calling. Even though I came to this career a bit later than what is typical, I feel extremely fortunate to be creating art.
Being called a drama queen typically isn’t well received. Looking at your portfolio, however, is a theatrical experience. Is your aptitude for dramatic storytelling the result of a great passion for theater, literature, or just a very fertile imagination?
I definitely have a fondness for being mentally transported to other worlds. The more lush, sensual, and extravagant the scene, the better! The layered elements that I incorporate have a specific meaning or symbolism, even if it is personal to me. I am far more interested in creating a subtle yet powerful statement about the way I see the world with my work than in making decorative paintings.
Does conveying an underlying symbolic message come easy to you? How do you ensure that you always land on so many intriguing, non-repetitive concepts?
Oh geez, no, it does not come easy to me at all! In a sense, I reinvent the wheel with each new painting. I often have painfully long stretches of non-productivity where I am not actually engaged in the art-making process. My efforts must “sing” to me on some level. If my narrative is overstated or heavy-handed, off to the burn pile it goes!
Why are your painterly worlds always teetering on the edge of hell in a handbasket?
Life itself teeters there in fragility and transience. As terrifying as the edge of an abyss can be, in some strange way, I feel comfortable balancing there. Exploring unsettling beauty as well as the contrast (and union) of beauty and horror is something I am drawn to. When I hover in that emotionally ambivalent realm, I feel more vulnerable and somewhat confused by it. Ultimately, that forces me to pay acute attention to what I am feeling and why.
I do like the women in my paintings to have strength. Even when I portray my muses as being emotionally vulnerable, I don’t want them to appear physically fragile. Sometimes their poses lead the viewer further into the piece; to reveal it to them.
Your portfolio doesn’t candy-coat what is happening outside our windows. Do you feel as though our environment is doomed?
Comments about the environment as well as humans’ use and abuse of it seem to weave their way into the majority of my work. It is getting harder for me to be optimistic when it comes to the topic of climate change. It is one of the biggest threats to global life, yet people continue to bicker about its legitimacy, or if it’s actually even a problem. I feel a responsibility to acknowledge this looming concern and coax the viewer into doing the same.
Would depicting a hopeful scene with a rainbow arching across the sky feel disingenuous to your aesthetic?
I am trying to do that more so I don’t get buried in the bleakness. Sugary paintings kind of make my teeth hurt, though.
Ladies feature prominently in your work, as do a plethora of birds and insects. Is the female-centric aspect of your storytelling a conscious choice, or an accidental one?
I project myself and my feelings through my female figures. By intentionally luring the viewer with the aesthetic beauty of the female figure, the less beautiful layers of my narrative can then unfold.
I use bees and birds quite often. Sometimes my birds are messengers or soul symbols. At other times, they are signs of environmental destruction. When I depict them as trapped or struggling, they are metaphors of the human psyche.
I like different pieces for various reasons, but I am pretty proud of The Repositioning of Artifice. People often find it weird or unsettling, but it is the most reflective of “me”. It is one of the few pieces that I can’t explain very well with words, other than to say that it is sinister by suggestion.
What is the longest amount of time that you’ve worked on one piece? Are creative blocks typically to blame for paintings that take a good long while to manifest?
Contrary to what many people think, size doesn’t matter. :) Sometimes I struggle with the smaller, seemingly simpler paintings, flogging them to death for weeks trying to make them bend to my will. Then, I may move on to a painting three times the size that behaves and falls into place in a week or two. I tend to get stuck on the parts I think are going to be easy and breeze through the parts that I think are going to be problematic.
The dynamic subject matter and execution of your paintings is striking enough. You take them to the next level, however, by artfully adorning them with custom frames. Do you build those beauties, as well?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do! Toward the end of my art training, I needed to frame a big piece for a show but I couldn’t afford it. One of my instructors suggested that I try making one. I ended up using symbolic elements from my paintings on my frames, which made them seem more thematically congruous.
Contrary to what many people think, size doesn’t matter. :) Sometimes I struggle with the smaller, seemingly simpler paintings, flogging them to death for weeks trying to make them bend to my will. Then, I may move on to a painting three times the size that behaves and falls into place in a week or two.
What is the crown jewel in your portfolio? Why do you feel that it most accurately represents who you are as a creative?
I like different pieces for various reasons, but I am pretty proud of The Repositioning of Artifice. People often find it weird or unsettling, but it is the most reflective of “me”. It is one of the few pieces that I can’t explain very well with words, other than to say that it is sinister by suggestion. I didn’t plan it with preliminary drawings – it kind of manifested on the canvas. It seems to summon the things I felt as a child.
Does depicting the doom-gloom-weird side of life actually make you happy, or is it simply just more creatively satisfying? Why?
When I was younger, traumatic life experiences – coupled with innate personality characteristics – contributed to my darker perspective. However, I do think those tend to feel more intense and complex. Of course, I love joy and happiness. Artistically, though, I don’t find it as interesting to play with. I feel that way with other art forms, as well. I would prefer to watch a Darren Aronovsky movie – even if it means I’ll end up traumatized for a week – rather than a romantic comedy.
There are several faces that repeatedly appear in your body of work. Do you work with live models or are your muses based on reference imagery gleaned from the internet?
I work with live models that I photograph myself, many of whom are women I know personally. It is rare for me to hire professional models or photograph strangers. I do tend to use the same models for multiple paintings, especially if I can effortlessly project my emotions, ideas, and narratives through their images.
No two hand gesticulations in your portfolio seem to be similar. Do you choreograph your muses’ hand ballets or give them directorial cues?
Yes, the gestures are ultimately quite important to my work. I don’t usually choreograph them unless I need something particular. I do give my models a general idea but encourage them to express their own body language. If I can’t find what I need from the reference photos I’ve taken of my models, then I may look at some Old Master paintings or even my own hands.
I definitely have a fondness for being mentally transported to other worlds. The more lush, sensual, and extravagant the scene, the better!
Your muses also pose in dramatic fashion, with outstretched arms and wrists extended in an almost marionette-like position. Do you use their body language to convey the notion that they are possessed by the force (or fury) of mother nature?
I do like the women in my paintings to have strength. Even when I portray my muses as being emotionally vulnerable, I don’t want them to appear physically fragile. Sometimes their poses lead the viewer further into the piece; to reveal it to them. I believe that my lifelong love of Art Nouveau influences my work. I gravitate towards lyrical, strong linear designs that undulate and flow and keep the viewer’s eye engaged and moving.
Painting pursuits aside, you’ve also created many wearable art pieces crafted with repurposed leather. What makes that form of artistic expression so fulfilling?
I like creating something new and hopefully beautiful out of something that might have otherwise been discarded. It’s almost as though I’m doing my civic duty to help save the world from bad 80s fashion, one step at a time :)
I approach my leatherwork in a similar way as my painting – by jumping in and seeing how it naturally evolves, which is creatively liberating. But, working with leather enables me to exercise a different part of my brain, especially during creative blocks.
I hand stitch the pieces, which is super time-consuming but also kind of meditative. I have recently begun to incorporate a bit of my painting into my leatherwork, too, and am eager to explore it in far greater depth in the near future.
Screw the age thing. I don’t want to define myself by how many times I’ve ridden the earth around the sun.
Gail Potocki is a bad @$$ painter who slays all day. What does your brain do with a compliment like that?
I don’t ever think of myself that way, but I am very flattered. It’s scary to think about how easily I could have missed my calling. Even though I came to this career a bit later than what is typical, I feel extremely fortunate to be creating art.
What unexpected factoid about you might change the beholder’s perception of your body of work?
I never ever sketch. For my bigger pieces, I create a same size preliminary drawing, but I don’t own a sketchbook and I don’t do thumbnails or small studies of the pieces beforehand. I prefer to jump in and freefall with every painting.
Based solely on the dark vibe of your portfolio, what mistaken conclusion might the beholder make about you?
Despite my dark aesthetic and contemplations about the state of our environment, I really am fun to hang out with! :) I don’t walk around, solemnly dressed in mourning attire, always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Rather than endlessly spin in a black hole of despair, I am quite passionate about lots of things. I find joy in life and see beauty everywhere. Yes, even in decay. Sometimes especially in decay.