Lola Gil’s paintings are the perfect blend of fun, confusing, exciting, and calming. There is so much going on in her work both visually and narratively that our eyes begin to dash around trying to figure out what it is that we’re looking at. Sometimes the answer presents itself, sometimes we’re left just as confused as when we began looking at the work, but perhaps that’s the wonder of it. Described by Gil as narrative escapism, her work compiles objects and scenes that are representational, surreal/whimsical, or some combination of the two. These images, characters, and objects all serve to fracture our understanding of what’s real and present the world in a different way. She toys with our perception and leaves us questioning everything, but unable to look away. Yet, while extremely exciting with all that’s going on, Gil’s work calms us with its soft, muted color palette. While a lot of times this raises even more questions, it makes the work easy on the eye and allows us to deeply analyze every bit of the work without feeling like we’re melting our minds right out of our skulls.
I’m a relatively new fan of Gil’s work, but I was hooked instantly. This new age surrealism that is narrative escapism is something that’s built for the classic and abstract painting fans alike. Gil’s talent of representing and distorting creates a body of work that has something for all levels of art fans and I was thrilled to get to hear more about this constantly developing portfolio. Gil gave some excellent insight and relatable experiences that have helped shape and develop her work. Enjoy!
1. I always like to begin by asking about background, so what got you started in art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
Initially I started painting as an outlet for depression I had as a kid. I had a fairly isolated childhood, and even when I was in a mix of people I always felt alone. We changed schools often, so I never had that sense of comradery or belonging. And even before that there were small guilts instilled in me by my mother, which told me I wasn't the child she'd expected. My siblings were perfectly well behaved, smart, and stayed in line. But I was different, wild, and curious. I wanted to go left when told to go right. Eventually it dampened me down and by the time I was 13 or so I needed an outlet to express myself. This early battle with my self value hindered me from making smart decisions. I clung to negative friendships, remained in mentally abusive relationships. And even when I left a bad marriage, I found my rebound relationship had similar harmful mental qualities. Fortunately painting aided me through all of this, and now some 30 years later I'm finally on top of the hill. Mental abuse is a long twisted road.
School didn't allure me the way I wish it had. I did take a few art classes, but I went to a community college and my teacher was seriously UNinterested!! And she hated my work. It gave me an anti school complex, so I've been determined to self learn since then. It will always be a long learning curve. I never stop learning. It's exciting. And It's weird to say my early life experiences are what guided me, but I'm at a place now where I can see that it was needed to shape me.
2. You've got a very interesting style that's a little bit illustrative, realist/representational, and surrealist. How did you begin to work in and develop this style? How has it changed or grown over the years?
I've had many transitions. When I was little my dad was an illustrator and cartoonist. I idolized him. My roots are from the sweet memories of the cartoon and toy world. I learned how to escape here in my mind and turn everything else off. My imagination emerged from this point. In my early 20's I worked at a tattoo shop under Fabian Iezzi, and he shared with me Surrealist art books. This had a massive impact on my work. I saw a visual language like no other. Grown and intelectual. It stirred in me and influenced my own way to speak harmoniously or fluidly as best I could. I hadn't walked into a museum until my early 30's. That still seems crazy to me. In 2010 I had my first travel overseas to attend a museum exhibition in Bristol England. And this is where my last transition was woken. Up until then I didn't really understand the power of art. My first moment in London was spent with Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The sheer size of Charles the first on that horse! And then I turned the corner and the detail and technicalities of Gerard David. And Van Eyck, and Vermeer, and with every new corner new discovery. I was like a grown child in a candy shop! My intuition was to take every single thought that popped into my brain with this new sense of inspiration, and throw it on the canvas, But attempt it all in oils! Up until then I used Acylics. It was often a hot mess. I've had to learn how to work with my overactive imagination and finess the paintings into a more satisfying and fulfilling narrative. All the while trying to execute my techniques and satisfy my obsessive compulsion to learn, and produce more visually intriguing imagery.
3. How does a piece begin for you? Do you start with one element and build out from there, or do you compile references and build an overall interaction from that? How much of your work is referenced from life? How much from image or just off the top of your head?
I'll say all of the above! I'm not in control consciously, most of the time. I have images which float up to the surface. Some times they are clearer than others. I'm sure they begin with exposure, little images get tucked away in my subconscious. And those exposures mix with experiences or feelings that i'm having at the time and start to fit like pairs or companions, representative of each other. I will take many of those ideas and source out imagery. Up until March, I've had a lifetime of being able to go "shopping " at my grandma's house for reference objects. Her and my grandfather were toy collectors and I had the luxury of finding some amazing and rare items which have always been my models. If I can't find what I'm looking for, I go to the ole trusty computer and google images.
4. How does working in oil benefit your work/style? What's your painting process like? Do you go from sketching straight into fine paint detail or do you build up the canvas gradually? Or somewhere in between?
Oil has opened up possibilities for me. I'm able to push and pull degrees of clarity. Have a longer period to work things out. For a while I've been working with perspective and focus becoming part of the narrative. I have greater confidence with Oils. I start almost all my ideas with a tiny thumbnail sketch. I'll work out different ideas as they come and try to see what works best together. Some paintings show themselves entirely and i'll have to quickly jot it down. Then I'll do a gathering of reference. I try to do photoshoots for most of the complicated subject matter. I mix in sprinkles of things from my head. And then I build slowly. Sometimes incredibly slowly. I always have a big rotation of paintings so that when one gets stuck, I can change my train of thought to what is calling out. It's highly productive.
5. You selectively but seemingly deliberately depict skin tone in this soft, washed out gray in some of your work, does this bear any narrative significance? Or is this a strictly visual element that's built in to fit another aspect of your work?
I started thinking of washed out tones, how they feel timely. It can tell us we're witnessing time pass. Or measuring a distance from where we started. Hopefully another way to insinuate movement.
6. Speaking more broadly on that, you work in a color palette that's pretty consistently soft and muted with a lot of raw, earthy tones. Is this something that you do to imply a certain mood? Do you only use references/imagery that fits this color palette or do you manipulate imagery to fit when you have to?
Haha! Well when I took a short 6 months of begging oil class back in college, I had a teacher who's name escapes me! I tried looking him up but to no avail.!! .. Anyhow he gave us a simple palette to mix in as many millions of combinations as we could, and that has been my palette ever since. I add a few new colors to expand and experiment every now and then. I feel like it suits me, what I'm creating, and I see it as one of the most important parts of the painting. Psychologically it should naturally put you in some type of mood. I do source out references which fit the tone of the painting. Those things naturally stand out to me and want to be painted. But it doesn't always fit the palette, so I do have to use my best sense when changing the color of something I'm physically looking at and reinterpreting on canvas.
7. Faces seem to be pretty important to your work but in your newer work you've been eliminating a lot of faces and implying them through the elements in your pieces (i.e. eyes, hair pieces with no head, etc.). How did this change in style come about? What narrative differences do these works contain compared to your other work?
Back in 2015 I started playing around with the idea of becoming our surroundings. It may have been more subtle and soft and romantic. It encompassed gratefulness through introspection. As I continue to experiment with that imagery, I'm forced to be aware that openness also exposes the dark corners. The ones I've been groomed to ignore and accept. This is where human connection comes into question for me. I'm trying to work out how I feel vs. what I see. There are layers to people, and I haven't found many who run deep enough that if I jumped into them, I could stay afloat forever. Autobiographically I was using some of the figures as symbols of what I was seeing in people who's true colors began to show. Putting it down in this manner helped to aid me during this experience, and find an ease in the transition, and even find humor in it.
8. How important is the interaction between multiple characters and elements in your work? Does this allow for a certain narrative ambiguity that allows each viewer to perceive the piece in their own way?
It does, because the small details are just as responsible to hold weight in the movement of the painting as the figurative characters. Every element has a role, my job is just to instigate an open door to get the viewer somewhere. In a weird way I see it like this.. The paintings begin by showing themselves to me, and unveiling a series of figures and objects which want to be part of a bigger story. It uses feelings and experiences through me along the way, to breathe soul and meaning and life. Which personally and thankfully I can grow from. But then it's ready for its second part of the journey. And that's to offer some kind of movement for the viewer.
9. This is something interesting that I noticed, the gaze of characters in your work seems crucial to the interactions in it. In your older work characters would sometimes gaze directly at the viewer but that's something that's almost completely faded out of your work; even characters who do stare in the direction of the viewer seem to gaze right past us or they have their vision blocked in some way. Is this something done deliberately? What does the gaze mean to you in your work?
In the past I concentrated on being in the moment. The work had an element of stillness, maybe capturing a moment. These new works focus on observations, and eventual awareness. With that comes movement and scanning of surroundings. There are more nods to concentration and thinking going on in the painting. The gaze has the important job of creating wonder for the viewer here.
10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
I currently have a show hanging now in Los Angeles with KP Projects Gallery. Due to covid-19 lockdowns it's available to view online https://bit.ly/viewing-room