Artist of The Week: Gail Greene, Painting Stories

Once upon a time there was a young girl, Gail Greene – the daughter of a painter. In her youth, she would sit with her father for hours, watching him paint. As Gail’s father painted, a story unfolded on his canvases. Shapes and colors would come to life as recognizable objects. To Gail, this was magic. She called the paintings, “fairytales.”

Calling painting a “fairytale” is remarkable. In a painting, ordinary materials become discernable entities, just as in fairytales, inanimate objects become enchanted beings. Paintings are analyzed in three grounds: foreground, mid-ground, background. And analogously, stories are divided into three parts: beginning, middle, and end.

         This relationship between paintings and stories is not merely parallel, it is interdependent and concurrent. In artwork, most clearly in “narrative” painting, the viewer must translate the visual into a tellable story (e.g. “a man walks towards a barn”). In storytelling, listeners rely on seeing the story in abstract, even instinctive, ways. It is not coincidental that the beginning, middle, and end of a story are collectively referred to as the story’s “arc” and storyline. To comprehend a story, we must turn it to shape; we must borrow from visual art.

For a reader, shape is a comfort. From the arc’s beginning to its end, the reader or viewer can expect a change or transformation. For instance, in any story beginning with “a young girl” and the phrase “once upon a time,” the reader can expect a great one. In this story, the young girl, Gail Green, captivated by her father’s painting, completes the arc and goes on to become a talented artist herself.

Gail developed her style and discovered her artistic values by studying artwork in galleries and museums. She says,

“Visiting galleries and museums as an adult, the paintings that called to me were pastoral scenes that expressed an air of moodiness and mystery — paintings that left room for my imagination, they weren’t cluttered with fine details.”

In her studies, she was drawn to paintings that allowed her to participate in its story. The mystery and omitted details leave gaps in the narrative – or arc – that the imagination rushes in to fill. Foreground, mid-ground, background, the eye takes a trip through the canvas.  

In her artwork today, Gail creates her own mysterious stories. She paints landscapes in a style she calls “Tonal Luminous Impressionism.” This style is not an omniscient narrator; it limits access to the specifics of the scene. Gail uses fog, mist, and clouds to ensure the details either gradually unfold, or are deliberately excluded. The viewer’s desire to understand the natural world drives the plot of these paintings. Nature is the narrative.

“Nature provides an endless bounty of possibilities—truly a treasure trove of inspiration…Whether it’s a sunrise or sunset, landscape or seascape, the sky sets the overall tone in each piece. Cloud shapes, patterns, and their effortless movement capture my attention and often are the focal point of my work,” says the artist.

        This notion of “effortless movement” hints at a larger impulse at work: motion. Motion is a transformative process and inherently a story. In her paintings, Gail captures natural motion through impressionism and natural symbols of journey (e.g. pathways, rivers). Just as a traveler treading along a path moves through nature, the viewer moves through the composition. The real transformation is in the viewer.

“My goal is to take nature’s simplified subjects and produce paintings that evoke a sense of emotion rather than reality,” says Gail.

With natural symbols of movement, Gail invites viewers on an emotional journey. The transformations in nature reflect the transformation of the viewer. Whether the viewer walks away more mindful, joyful, solemn, or enlightened, the painting the viewer becomes the protagonist of his or her own arc. The viewer enters Gail’s painting with one mind, and leaves it with another.

See Gail Greene's full portfolio on UGallery.