Gail Simmons on painting: our Glengarriff meal



We welcome Gail Simmons as our guest writer as she recounts memories from her participation in our Ireland Workshop. This is part II.


by Gail Simmons


Over time, let’s say, forty years, I’ve discovered that I’m an artist, hands down, there’s no other way to describe me.  I dance, I write, I paint, I play guitar, I love to observe nature.  I’m curious, but flee from deadly routines without meaning. Creativity is a practice, but makes sense to the spirit. Sprint, slow down, sprint, slow down, not run, run, run. I need time to turn around, to see where I came from.  I need fallow time like a field. Images help me do that because they’re still.


When I paint, it’s usually from a live model, man or woman.  Paintings don’t always turn out, but the subjects imbue the paintings with an enlivened energy.  The visual/physical communication is electric.


The four photographs I took in Ireland at that last meal were the reason I set forth on the journey to begin with—the people.  I paint people that we say become figures. And one image in particular spoke to me.  From the flips of Kaia’s hand in lively conversation, to Neal’s punctuated stare, to Manuela and Joanne’s elegant profiles; it all seemed to fit on a picture plane and began to percolate as a painting.


Painting is an illusion like the photograph.  It tricks us and lures us.

Back home, I had the time I needed to work on the painting. No one in the photo would move or depart.  Yet something moved me past the photographic image.  At my studio in Southeast Portland, I worked rapidly with my brush strokes standing before the easel, the painting clipped on, as if indeed there were a model.  In between mixing the salmon pink of Neal’s shirt and the flesh tones using red iron oxide and white, a touch of opera rose, yellow or cad red, I interpreted the perspective of the room in Glengarriff.  I remember the waitress passing through, delivering our meals, that the table was long and we couldn’t all talk together, but we carried the same sentiment. Enjoy!  How to place the abstract painting behind the people - black with streaks of purple, yellow ochre, white.  Joanne’s shirt, in the foreground, but not too bright, or it will dominate.  Her nose against Manuela’s black hair.  Fingers, hands, touching mouths, touching air, all compacted into the vertical rectangle of the picture plane, each definition of shape in context. 


It’s one of the few pictures of people I’ve done recently from a photograph.  It’s a reminder of how present those at the table actually were in my life and still are. 

Thank you Meg and Kaia