Influenced by the elegance of Anthony Van Dyck and the mysterious melancholy of the late 19th century Belgian and French Symbolists, Gail Potocki evokes a true hybrid of nostalgia and innovation. As one of the artists participating in the 'Femme Fatale' show opening February 25th, we had a chat with this unique artist. Here Gail talks about the inspiration behind her painting for the show and why being a 'late bloomer' has its advantages.
‘Encouragement for a Heart Growing Fonder’ is a beautiful contemporary painting rendered in the vein of the 19th century Symbolist masters. Tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind this work.
I depicted the “Femme Fatale” as her most villainous self; a seductress who finds satisfaction once her evil or immoral acts result in the destruction of the men who fall under her spell. She proudly displays the trophy skull of her latest conquest adding the “xoxo” on it as her final death kiss farewell.
You’ve described yourself as a ‘late bloomer’ when it came to pursuing a career as an artist. Were you painting solely for yourself up until then? What was the defining moment that encouraged you to pursue art more seriously?
Well, when I say 'late bloomer' I really mean it---I painted my first painting when I was just shy of (I'm not sure I sure say it) 40 years old! Prior to that time, my life was on a completely different path that did not include making art or even a creative career. I experienced a set of personal tragedies at that time, including the death of my mother to whom I was very close. Those type of life experiences teach valuable lessons and I really learned how precious time is and that I needed to spend as much of mine doing what I feel passionate about. That is when I decided to seriously put my creative energy into making paintings.
I often wish I had started painting at a younger age, particularly because I have chosen realism as my language and it takes forever to really master it, but I have so much more to say now about life and the world as I see it than I had back then.
Bees (as well as flies) are a reoccurring theme within the majority of your artwork. What is the symbolism behind these insects in your paintings?
Insects acutely represent life and death. Actually, though we don't usually think of them this way, they are to a great extent what keeps all life, including our own, thriving on the planet. I think of bees as primarily a life force---as animated symbols of the sun, they renew the planet through pollination. I use them in my paintings to symbolize this as well as emotional ideas of renewal and hope.
Flies, although they occupy a necessary place in the scheme of life, I associate with the darker aspects of death, decay and disease---again both literally and emotionally.
If you could hang only one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
That is such a difficult question because I love so many! I guess I would probably have to pick one of the paintings by the 19th century Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff because his work inspired me to become an artist. I think it would be “Caresses of the Sphinx”---the sense of quiet mystery with a touch of the surreal in this work is mesmerizing.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t necessarily know.
Ohhh....I am sure I could pull something really weird out of my closet, but I will just give you this one instead: I use to have a pet duck named Skippy.
If I were to spend the day with Gail what could I expect?
Let's see, if I wasn't working in my studio, it would either be digging in the garden or picking blueberries by my studio in Michigan, thrift or antique store shopping in Chicago, visiting a friend, playing with the dog and cats, looking at art books or going to an art museum, eating good food, then eating more good food.....