Self-portraits are a recurrent theme in my work. This motif allows me the luxury of working from life without the worry of mounting model bills and the ease of working whenever and however long I feel without scheduling conflicts. After all, I am always available to model. Self-portraits also afford the possibilities not only of mirroring my own physical characteristics and psychology but, if the painting is truly successful, also a glimpse of the interior landscape of the viewers own psyche.
Themes of mortality are often evident in my work. Not unlike a vanitas, my paintings are often evocative of lifes companionship with death. Formal concerns such as black borders; painterly, abstracted backgrounds; and a muted tonal palette reinforce this theme. Framing devices that are often seen in my work function on this level as well, but also play with conditions of illusion, creating a sense that the viewer is looking into a mirror. It is a mirror that does not reflect the viewers gaze; in fact, the face looking back may not even be looking at him/her. Ultimately, this repulsion of the viewer encourages a looking inward, sparking a resonance that often results in an uncomfortable recognition of a familiar emotion or feeling.
Recent self-portraits have taken the theme of various saints as catalysts for symbolic imagery evident in many of the works. Borrowing from the lore of celebrated saints allows me to explore the near spiritual path every artist must tread in order to pursue their artistic convictions. Though no one would argue that the lives of artists are as arduous and tortured as those that the saints endured, the question of faith for artists in the face of adversity and self-doubt is a torment that perhaps the saints would have appreciated.
Gaela Erwin, 2001
Gaela Erwin has lived and worked primarily in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. She received her BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 1973 and her MA from the University of Louisville in 1983. In the summer of 1988, she studied with Robert Beauchamp through the Studio Art School of the Aegean in Samos, Greece. In 1989, Gaela studied with Jack Beal at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL. Currently she has a studio in Louisville and teaches at the Allen R. Hite Institute at the University of Louisville.
Gaela has received numerous awards, fellowships, and artists residencies, including grant awards from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Al Smith Fellowship, and the Artists Fellowship Inc. Her residency fellowships have included Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Oberfalzer Kunstlerhaus in Schwandorf, Germany.
Exhibited regionally and nationally, her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA and at the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington. Gaelas work is also on display in various corporate collections as well as private collections in the U.S., Canada, and Germany.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanoogas Cress Gallery of Art was the site of Painting by Gaela Erwin, an exhibit of 22 recent paintings. Her work, painted from direct observation, can be described as classical realism. And her subject matter, though diverseranging from self-portraits and the nude to dolls and dead birdscan be described as forms of portraiture. Gaela examines her subjects with an acute psychological focus that is contemporary and, at times, startling. Dr. Christine Havice, in her essay to Gaelas forthcoming catalogue, explains that this body of work forces us to live in our eye in its unsparing sparseness of subject, [but] it also provides masterful, often intensely sensual, handling of formal elements and richly layered, yet measured, evocation of tradition. Gaela Erwin paints for us the ambivalence of the late 20th-century gaze.
Gaela Erwin, Paintings, a catalogue surveying the work in the exhibition, with eight color plates, was published in October 2001. Copies of the catalogue are available by request for $10 (U.S.). Requests may be sent via e-mail to GerwinArt@aol.com.