Gail Gelburd, PhD
AFA: Your work as a scholar, curator, and artist has brought you to many lands. How has your travel, study, curation, and exposure to so many cultures impacted your art?
Gail Gelburd: My interests, (whether as a scholar, curator or artist), have always been to explore the intersection of socio-political issues, aesthetics and spirituality. The poor, oppressed, and our environment is often ignored, but Art can bring to the foreground some of those profound issues in ways that touch the human spirit both conceptually and spiritually. It can visualize that tenuous balance of preservation, solitude and contemplation amidst the insanity of our cyber technological engines racing through the 21st century.
AFA: As an art historian, do you have a specialization or cultural period which fascinates you the most?
Gail Gelburd: I have travelled extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Cuba. In each place I look at the sacred spiritual and personal shrines that is unique to that culture. I also study the contemporary art being created in that society to review what aspects of their primal culture are finding their way into contemporary 21st century art. What are the lessons learned and visualized that transcend time and space into today’s images?
AFA: In terms of material, your work straddles the border between installation and permanent art. Using a tough material like vinyl to print your digital works and paint on but using a curtain and a scroll format for presentation. Is there a particular reason for this collusion?
Gail Gelburd: I have always been most fascinated by East and Southeast Asian cultures. I have travelled extensively to India, China, Tibet and Japan. Buddhism, Taoism, Zen and Shinto have each resonated in particular with me … they see in nature an example of how to live in harmony with a consumer technological world of inequalities. Their traditions also recognize the unbridled power of nature and point towards ways to find a balance in today’s world. They see nature as their most sacred shrines and yet within these societies the clash between nature and man-made institutions can still be just as catastrophic. How does this get reconciled? Can it be that if we embrace it, study it, think about it, critically, conceptually and creatively address it … can we discover a balance? Art can point to that and help people to find that balance within themselves.
AFA: Why do most of your works contain nature or nature in conjunction with engineered infrastructure?
Gail Gelburd: My own art similarly seeks to straddle and unveil the conflict or balance between the excitement and energy of the 21st century with the profound and sublime lessons of our environment. The materials and techniques I use, be they vinyl, wood, metal, digital photography, and encaustic paint, all come together as boxes, scrolls, and installations. I want the viewer to be a participant and feel as if they have walked into my space. The shrines are emulating the sacred forms of the Far East. Thangkas and personal shrine installations were meant to be didactic, mesmerizing and self absorbing through sights, sounds and smells. My scrolls seek to capture lost or secret rivers, forgotten people, or ancestors. Sometimes the installations include sounds and smells as well as the visual imagery. Printed on metal, fabric, wood or vinyl, even the most durable materials are transformed into one that appears soft and flowing, more ephemeral than permanent. They beg us to look carefully at implanted imagery, misplaced forms, or transformed imagery. They appear stead fast and strong but roll up, come apart, and return to being nothing, I especially like to use shades of black and white, eliminating the bling of todays world while maintaining the power of its legacy through the boldness of strong contrasting colors and images.
AFA: What wisdom would you share with other artists who may not have any background or study into the history of art?
Gail Gelburd: The 21st century is an exciting era of technological advances and the art should be a reflection of and part of that journey. In a world where we are bombarded daily with visual stimuli, art should stand out, have something to say and contribute to the 21st century discourse. It should reflect it but be a head of it. Art is certainly built upon all that came before, and the artist stands on the shoulders of all the others. It is critical for the artist to understand where images, ideas, forms and shapes have been and where they can go. No great work of art suddenly appears, but builds upon centuries of contemplation and discourse. My art could not have evolved without being bombarded by the art of centuries so that I can see what has been done and learn what now needs to be done.
AFA:What role should technology play in the art of today and tomorrow?
Gail Gelburd: In this Post-Modern era, which freely combines the new and the old of every style, medium, and composition, the artist has a unique opportunity to be retro and unique, innovative, adventurous, and experimental. Only then can the artist find their own voice and a vision worth sharing.