Curious by nature, Gail Wegodsky often includes in her highly realistic, photo-informed oil paintings unexpected situations that tease the viewer's inquisitive interest; such as figures at a distant window, a woman holding an ambiguous letter, or subtle reflections in a soap bubble that cause the viewer to wonder, “what's the story here?” Her recent paintings of books and libraries are influenced by openness to learning and the delight of reading. Wisdom within books and periodicals scratches her itch to understand how the world works. In this age when truth seems so elastic, it can be stretched to include any belief, no matter how implausible, libraries are quiet, protective, calm, sane sanctuaries guarding humanity’s shared wisdom and logic — and the visual abundance of zillions of multicolored books gives the painter’s eyes a thrill. Wegodsky's patience to employ a meticulous painting technique and close observation further enhances her work.
Wegodsky was born in Charlotte, NC in 1955. She received a BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore (1979) and an MFA from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia (1982). Over her career, she has won New American Paintings Open Studios Competition, been awarded an Individual Artist’s Grant by the Georgia Council for the Arts, and been honored as one of Artist’s Magazine’s Artists of the month with a Competition Spotlight Article. She won Art Renewal Center’s Chairman’s Choice Award in the 2023 Salon! Wegodsky’s work is in the permanent collections of The LaGrange Art Museum, The Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, IN; Temple U. School of Law, and the Law Offices of King and Spalding. She has presented solo exhibitions at the LaGrange Art Museum, GA, Oglethorpe University Museum, Atlanta, and the Greenville County Museum of Art, SC.
Gail Wegodsky lives and works in Atlanta.
Your paintings often evoke a sense of mystery with unexpected situations and subtle details. What draws you to embed these stories within your artwork, and how do you hope viewers will respond?
Just my personality, I guess; I like to gently tease people. This morning my husband said, “D. is a pain in my ass!” and he then continued, “but he’s burned his britches with me.” So, of course, I had to tease, “you have the pain in your ass, but it’s his britches that are burning!” After he got my silly joke, I had to inform him that the phrase is actually "burning bridges," not britches. I guess he could have exclaimed, “D. is a pain over my river!” I don’t hope how viewers will respond any more than I speculate whether people will like me or not if I am my silly teasing self. I am just compelled, like Casanova, my dog friend, is compelled to lick. I am glad my work evokes a sense of mystery — I really enjoy trying to solve a mystery. Licking is not my thing.
You express a deep appreciation for libraries as repositories of human wisdom and logic. How do you feel this connection to knowledge and reading has shaped your artistic approach, especially in today's rapidly changing digital age?
I heard an interview with James Hatch on NPR’s All Things Considered. He had had a career in the Navy — including more than 20 years as a SEAL — before heading to Yale University as a 52-year-old freshman who is a humanities major. He was involved in 150 missions across Iraq, Bosnia, Africa, and Afghanistan, so he’s seen a lot of unedited human behavior. His observation that "literature has been the 'connective tissue' between humans for thousands of years” seems to point to your question about why I appreciate libraries. Humanity is that through-line. Whether it's Captain Ahab or Achilles in the Iliad, humans and their choices (good or bad) are more common than we realize. "You're not all that original, you know," Hatch surmised. I have heard it said before that human nature has remained basically the same for thousands of years — it is the world around us that is evolving. The digital age may be bringing us rapid change, but I can still learn a lot about humans and their character frailties and strengths from reading ancient Biblical stories. Books illuminate our human nature and can inform our choices as we are faced with new dilemmas of our age.
Your meticulous painting technique seems to be rooted in a profound respect for nature and the world's intricate details. Can you share an instance where close observation led to a breakthrough or unique perspective in one of your paintings?
I don’t know if my perspective is unique. I am thankful for the wonder that warms me as I witness the miraculous visual world. For instance, when a water bug was pushing itself across the surface of the creek and the sun was just right to clearly cast his violet-colored shadow on the sandy gold creek bottom as he paddled along. Or when I talk to my dog friend Dixie as she sits on the ground covered in pine needles, and her tail windshields back and forth to create a lovely pine-angel triangle in the red dirt behind her. I don’t know if other people take note of those delightful visuals that I feel connect me to G-d. I am grateful to notice them. I think I have trained myself to see through 40 years of close examination as I paint. Years ago I showed a still-life painting, and the viewer asked if the spoon’s reflected image had actually been upside down in the pitcher’s water. Of course, it had, I had been staring at it for hours to paint it just right.
Historical paintings and their depictions of the natural world, like Monet's Frog Pond and Konrad Witz's Christ and his disciples, seem to resonate deeply with you. How do these classic works inspire and inform your contemporary practice?
It’s not that the pieces are historical; it’s that they are shockingly well observed. When Witz saw things refracted beneath the water that looked a lot shorter and wigglier, he was responding to the wonder of the visual world. Many people are so caught up in making a living they rarely take time to notice evidence of G-d, of beauty around them — only during organized time to feel -- on the Sabbath. I see beautifully observed current paintings all the time; go on Instagram, there’s a lady that posts as @Art.Infinitus that finds obscure painters that present stunningly beautiful and clearly observed works of more recently made art. It’s not that these paintings are old, it is that they are visually truthful and lovingly observed, no matter in what century they were made.
Your statement suggests a holistic approach to mental well-being, where art, books, and therapy converge. How do you view art's role, especially representational painting, in promoting mental health and fostering connections in today's society?
For some people religion is mentally healthy, for some exercise is healing, meditation for others, for some people therapy promotes mental health. I recall John Lennon’s song, “Whatever gets you through the Night, is Alright, is Alright.” Molding a life where I can take all the time I feel like to appreciate and to create images of the visual world around me for others to enjoy gets me through the night. But hey, that’s just me.