We asked the visual artists from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 6 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about artists GJ Gillespie, Caitlin Gill, and Rachel Coyne. And make sure to check out their work in Vol 6: Fatal Flaw!
Caitlin Gill: How do you feel your work fits within the lens of the theme of this issue “Fatal Flaw?”
GJ Gillespie: Like folk or outsider artists, my techniques are imperfect. I like to use discarded materials such as leftover house paint or found papers for an artifactual look and feel. Embracing imperfection adds mystery and irony to the images.
CG: What medium do you use and how do you feel this specific medium informs your work?
GG: My art looks a bit different because I use messy mixed media incorporating found paper, translucent tissue, custom dyed cloth as well as spray paint, colored pencils, graphite and acrylic paint. Layers provide depth. Layers of medium might show bits of text from newspaper, grocery or magazine ads, sort of like an artifact found in an archeology dig. I try to make art that looks like it is an ancient artifact or a future antique. Ambiguity is crucial for expressing the ineffable.
CG: If you had to qualify where you are in your artistic career, where would you “place” yourself (emerging, mid-career, established, etc.) and why?
GG: Having seriously pursued art making about 8 years ago and considering my age as a retired person, I’d have to say late early or early mid career. I’ve had a lot of success getting accepted in literary and art magazines. Won awards and appeared in community shows. Recently starting to get into gallery shows. Only about 12 sales however.
CG: In three words characterize your work.
GG: Mixed-media abstract collage.
CG: Do you feel your work is vulnerable and in which ways?
GG: Most of my art is highly abstract and cryptic. I don’t even know what it means. People who don’t appreciate abstract art are not going to like it. That doesn’t bother me.
My most successful pieces usually are created after being critiqued by my wife (who inspired me to make art). I will show her a work and if she doesn’t think it is good enough or needs some changes I try to improve it. Her suggestions are the secret of my success. So I am vulnerable to her for sure.
Recently I’ve been making more realistic portraits of rock stars and iconic figures using layers of tissue so that the final layer of tissue looks like skin. The faces tend to glow from the undercoat. These portraits are immediately recognizable and appreciated by friends and family. I enjoy the process of making realistic works. It is fun. But creating a successful abstract painting is exhilarating — especially when these are accepted for publication or shows.
CG: If you had to make up a genre/movement or canon that your work would later be identified as, what would it be and what would this genre/art movement be known for?
GG: Post contemporary expressionism.
Rachel Coyne: These days, when you work on your art, are you looking more inward or outward?
Caitlin Gill: I would say I’m always looking inward in regards to my work. My work is very identity-driven and reflects on my personal experience(s) as a queer female artist and more specifically explores the implicit trauma of the female experience.
RC: Is your art turned more to the past or to the future?
CG: I would say my work focuses on my experiences in the past and present mostly. My work is a reflection on performing gender and the general discomfort I feel in my own body. This feeling of distress has heavily informed my work. Most pieces are a self-portrait that ruminates on my disassociation from my physical self and the constant projection of others and their desires or general perception of me as a female.
RC: How have the last few years changed you and your art?
CG: I stopped painting for 10 years and only recently revisited it. I have been painting for about 3 years now and I feel my work has evolved significantly. I think most notably this evolution is demonstrated in the change in my subject. I used to paint insects and have more recently transitioned to birds. I have been on a personal healing journey and as a result, see a lot of changes in myself, mainly in relation to my ego in an attempt to live without it, and my pursuit for peace.
RC: Who do you feel understands you best as an artist? Who is your audience?
CG: The work I think is most accessible to female or female-identifying individuals. I think my audience is Womxn and the LGBTQIA community but I’m hopeful that other people find it relatable outside of these communities.
RC: A now long-gone friend once told me that art is how your heart communicates to your brain. What do you think your heart is most trying to communicate?
CG: I think I’ve endured a lot and my heart is attempting to reconcile that - make sense of it, process it, justify it. This work is an attempt to connect with myself and others.
RC: Where do you look for inspiration these days?
CG: I find inspiration everywhere. I have a really close relationship with a lot of artists in Baltimore who have significantly influenced my work. I hate to give Instagram a shoutout but seriously so much good work/artists are on Instagram. I can’t help but acknowledge it’s been a useful tool.
RC: How do you handle the darker emotions in your art? Anger? Pain?
CG: The irony about my work is that it is about pain and anger. I don’t necessarily feel that those emotions translate but ultimately, that is the root of my work. I think it’s pain and anger but still performing gender. It’s all these feelings but with a bow tied around it. It’s honestly very on-brand for what I’m attempting to communicate. Mainly because women’s pain has always been normalized, and minimized - look at menstruation and childbirth as examples. Additionally, anger isn’t a “feminine” emotion, and women who express it are categorically ostracized as “crazy” or “manic”. In a lot of ways, this is exactly what my work aims to unpack.
GJ Gillespie: Where are you from and how does that affect your work?
Rachel Coyne: Geography had never felt particularly important to me. My mind often wanders pretty far afield. Wild and racing thoughts – my brain is like a ship in a storm at sea. That’s where I live.
GG: Who are your biggest artistic influences?
RC: I came back to painting with a new seriousness just in the last few years. I’m a novelist with several books in print; for most of my life that’s been my major artistic outlet. So, I think I’m always looking for the story – specifically the story with a little bit of mystery. That’s probably why I’m most drawn to the Outsider Art/Art Brut movement. One of my favorite pieces of art is street preacher James Hampton’s The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. I’m always trying to get that feeling in my art – the same feeling I get when I visit The Throne.
GG: Tell me about your favorite medium.
RC: Ooh this is easy. I’m so impatient – I need things to dry quickly. So, for me it’s always acrylic on paper.
GG: Where do you find inspiration?
RC: That color of blue that Chagall uses? You know the one. My whole body vibrates to that color. I love color when I work. Some other things I like are old fashioned tattoo flash, medieval manuscripts depicting plants and plant lore and William Blake etchings.
GG: Describe how art is important to society.
RC: The world seems so heavy now. I’ve been thinking a lot of a Langston Hughes poem called Tired. It goes like this:
I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two-
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
I think that art is the knife Hughes is speaking of. In art we find the words, the ideas, the energy that move us forward to a better world.
GG: Are you currently employed elsewhere?
RC: Yes, I have a full-time job and then all those other things. I’m finishing my sixth novel and sending it off to publishers. My husband has a public sculpture career and I write the grants and the press releases for him. I have two sons – one just graduated from college and the other starting high school. I focus on different things at different times. I’ve never minded work – I’ll keep at it as long as I can.
GG: How do you see your career growing as an artist?
RC: I see art as a way to meet interesting people, to have a community and encounter things that startle, refresh and enliven. I will continue to put my art to that purpose in my life.
GJ Gillespie is a collage artist living in a 1928 farmhouse overlooking Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island (north of Seattle). In addition to natural beauty, he is inspired by art history, especially mid century abstract expressionism. The “Northwest Mystics” who produced haunting images from this region 60 years ago are favorites. Winner of 18 awards, his art has appeared in 56 shows and numerous publications. When he is not making art, he runs his sketchbook company Leda Art Supply.
Caitlin Gill is a mixed media artist living in Baltimore, Maryland. She has a B. A in Drawing and Painting from Towson University and an MFA in Curatorial Practice and Art Criticism from the Ontario College of Art and Design. She currently works as the Program Manager and Arts Directory Coordinator for Maryland Art Place (MAP). Gill uses printmaking, sculpting, drawing, painting, collage, and fiber to create artwork that explores ideas of identity, femininity, and the divergence between human and animal. Evoking ideas of discomfort and repulsion, she encourages viewers to engage with how unnatural being human can sometimes feel.
Gill explores the notion of femininity, and its relationship to nature, western culture, and women. Human nature is nothing short of unnatural, and the concept of the feminine is even less so. Women are continuously linked to nature historically and culturally yet are refused the most natural basic animal instincts and acts (territory, aggression, fitness) as these are characterized as unfeminine, or inherently masculine. This contradiction plagues the artist and her work explores these binaries attempting to reconcile how to be simultaneously feminine and natural.
Rachel Coyne is a writer and painter from Lindstrom, MN. Her books include Whiskey Heart, The Patron Saint of Lost Comfort Lake and the YA series The Antigone Ravynn Chronicles. Follow her on Instagram @imrachelcoyne.
Learn more about poets Sarah Lilius, author of "Clean," Alex Wells Shapiro, author of "No Bins Are Coming," Patrice Boyers Claeys, author of "Asparagus," and Karen Paul Holmes, author of "Whoever Wrote, Rest Assured, A Peace Lilly is Not a Gift that will Become a Burden, Was Wrong." And make sure to check out their work in Vol. 6: Fatal Flaw!