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Q&A with Award Winner Gail Vogels

Christmas 1960, oil on canvas, by Gail Vogels. (click for full size)
Christmas 1960, oil on canvas, by Gail Vogels. (click for full size)

With muted colors and soft edges, Gail Vogels has been exploring the relationship between images and memories in paintings like the one above — winner of the Carolyn Zakaski Award in this month’s all-media exhibit. If Christmas 1960 looks like a home movie, that’s because it comes from one. Vogels has been painting stills from her parents’ Super 8 movies for her “Flash: 1960s” series. We asked her to tell us more about the series and her memories in our Q&A, below.

Why oil?
Gail Vogels: I’m an oil painter because it is the most forgiving medium. Oil paint forgives your mistakes, your change of heart and you can paint over all the bad paintings you’ve done in the past.

Do you remember the scene in the photo? What does it mean to you?
I think I remember the scene but this image was taken from Super 8 home movies. It’s hard to separate a memory of an event from an image depicting that event. If an image is shown to you at a young age, I think it is imprinted on your brain and perhaps you lose track if you were actually a witness to the event or a witness in seeing the event depicted in a photo or film.

I did an entire body of work from stills of these family movies called Flash: 1960s which can be seen on my website. The girl in the image is my sister showing off her new Christmas gift, the Barbie doll. Working from these stills I began to explore the idea of painting memories. During the process of painting I discovered that memories are alive and continue to take shape.

Girls in Snow by Gail Vogels, from the "Flash: 1960s" series.
Girl in Snow by Gail Vogels, from the “Flash: 1960s” series.

What was your inspiration or motive for the 1960s memories series?
I started this series when my parents sent me a compilation of home movies. I was intrigued by the light and movement. I wanted to try to capture the ghost-like blurred movement. Plus I love the juxtaposition of the sweet little girl’s face proudly showing off her scantily clad, ridiculously proportioned Barbie doll. The original Barbie doll is iconic and I think triggers memories for both men and women.

You write in your artists statement that the soft edges seemed appropriate to this series. Why is that?
I think that memories shift. I believe we are our memories and those memories are always evolving.

How do you try to paint that? Do you have a specific technique to achieve that effect?
Yes, many layers of paint, glazes and blurring of edges with a large brush.

What is your first memory of art as a child?
My mother is an artist and she was an early influence in observing the world with an artist’s eye. I have this memory of going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I think I wore white kid gloves. The only other place I wore white gloves was at church so I knew I was on holy ground. Is this memory accurate? I need to ask my parents but I think so!

What are you working on now?
I’m new to DC and I’m working on scenes from riding the Metro.

I’m not sure yet where this work is going. I enjoy riding the Metro. I moved here from Atlanta and although I’m not a native southerner I did learn after living there for 20 years to make eye contact with people and smile sometimes! There is a sense of community on the trains; we are all in this moment together. I don’t paint or draw on the trains. I don’t want to be obvious or to distract people from their ordinary commute. I remember images pretty well and I confess to discreetly taking photos of folks on the train with my phone.

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