Gail Winbury’s multidisciplinary art exhibition The Girl Who Drew Memories at the Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum on the campus of the Southern Vermont Art Center in Manchester, Vermont, addresses the intersection of art and psychology, specifically “vulnerability and creativity”. Winbury proposed to include poetry as a component of the exhibition and curator Alison Crites brought together Winbury’s paintings and collages, with poetry by living poets. The exhibition altogether raises the question “how do we tell the stories of our early childhood when at times there may be no words, or we dare not utter the words aloud?”
Gail, what can you tell us about this body of work?
Emotions and memories are cyclical and nuanced, not linear. They touch us at different developmental and experiential moments. We process and recall in various ways. Employing multiple sensory experiences helps facilitate understanding the work. The oil paintings in the Hunter Gallery of the Wilson Museum are from late 2018-early 2020. These larger than life-size paintings replicate the parent/child relationship. Intimidating by their sheer size, they represent universal emotions of childhood fear, rage, bliss, love, joy, and powerlessness. While the paintings are autobiographical, no one needs to know my narrative. I intend the viewer to recognize her own vulnerability and find her own memories. I also want the viewer to understand the amazing resilience and ability we all have to sublimate childhood pain, sorrow, and angst and turn them into art.
Japanese Fairy Tales (translated by Lofcadio Hearn) was was given to me by my mother and was one of my favorite books as a child. One of the stories in that book, The Boy Who Drew Cats, is about a rebellious boy who always drew huge cats on Shoji screens. These enormous drawn cats kept the boy safe and he became a well known artist. Art provided protection. One painting in the exhibition is titled, My Favorite Fairy Tale, and the exhibition’s title are influenced by The Boy Who Drew Cats.
In the other gallery at the museum, I exhibit collages, which I think of as play. Collage is a relief from the long, arduous, and sometimes painful process of completing an oil painting. The collages are composed primarily of my own discarded work, thus making a new whole from the detritus of my art practice. Unlike the conscious autobiographical nature of the paintings, the collages have no conscious intent. While always considering the formal elements of art, they are spontaneous, in the moment, intuitive and playful.
Your work fills both galleries of the Wilson Museum. Can you guide us through the show?
When entering the museum there are two paintings introducing the exhibition and a large triptych collage. Up the stairs the viewer first sees high at the top of the stairs a large painting WHAT/Is/This/Time? The Hunter Gallery on the left contains 10 paintings with wall text of poems. There is a small alcove in the gallery with a card catalog containing objects hidden in drawers as well as a prompt to ask the audience to write on a card what is their favorite childhood story and to place it in a drawer. The drawers are full of small cats, a Sigmund Freud doll, and other evocative objects. That alcove also has a copy of the book Japanese Fairy Tales, a reading chair, and the painting My Favorite Fairy Tale.
Opposite, in the Lucinoni Gallery, there are many large and small collages organized in categories—family, imaginary landscapes, non-representational, play and travel. There is an area with an exhibition of tiny collages on postcards. Nearby is a maker’s station where people can create collages of their own.
Can you tell us more about the collaboration with writers and poets?
Like mist on a lake, memory floats through consciousness. Art captures that wisp of ghostly breath before it disappears. Poetry, similar to painting, can seize that sense-memory of childhood in elemental ways. When proposing this exhibition, I knew poems would enrich the viewer’s experience of the art. I initially imagined poems by Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost. However, the curator had the brilliant idea of finding living poets, inviting each of them to select one painting to which they compose a poem. We decided that they would not meet or speak with me before composing their poems. It was a leap of faith on all our parts. Through osmosis, magic, or some other transfer, the power and emotion in the paintings would shift into the souls of the poets.
On first reading of the poems, I was impressed. On second reading, I wept at the beauty and poignancy, and at my amazing fortuity of having gifted sensitive writers respond to my work. My hunch was right, poetry deepens the experience of the work. The alchemy happened.
Photo courtesy of Dave Barnum unless otherwise indicated.
The Girl Who Drew Memories: Gail Winbury at Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum on the campus of the Southern Vermont Art Center, Manchester, Vermont, 12/3/22 – 2/25/2023; Curated by Alison Crites
Gail Winbury has shown in the United States, Europe, and Mexico. Having multiple solo exhibitions, and many two-person, her art was seen in The Jersey City Museum, The Monmouth Museum, St. Peter’s University, St. Elizabeth University, NJ, William James College, Massachusetts, OTA Contemporary, NM, ARCO San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, among many more. Her work is in collections throughout the States, Italy, Germany, Athens and London. Public collections of her art include (The) Copelouzos Museum, Athens, (the) Canary Wharf Group, London and Atlantic Health Group, NJ. Publications include a book on Bach Cello Solos, Rejoinder Journal, Rutgers University, Painters Talking Paint and more. She is represented by Carter Burden Gallery, NYC. She has a studio in Manufacturers Village East Orange, NJ. Winbury received a grant for an artist residency in Israel and participated in numerous other residencies. She studied for 15 years with Dorothy Yung and at the School of Visual Arts. Winbury has a Psy.D. from Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.