Sarah Gamble’s Gothic at Pageant
Roberta talks with artist Sarah Gamble about her solo exhibit at Pageant Soloveev. Gamble paints in a style she calls direct but Roberta finds naive, childlike and endearing.

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Tempera on paper, drawing by Sarah Gamble from her show at Pageant Gallery.
Tempera on paper, drawing by Sarah Gamble from her show at Pageant Gallery.

Sarah Gamble paints a particular type of girl-goth. I’ve been intrigued with Gamble’s work for some time partly because I don’t really “get” it but I want to. (You can see her work now in a solo show at Pageant Gallery through April 8). The work is goth in the sense of Gothic (cathedrals, dark mountains, the woods — things that are overwhelmingly big, beautiful and scary). But also goth in the sense of dark night of the soul where weird devils and fanciful emanations prowl. This is territory Joy Feasley disports herself in with her paintings of crystalline webs of entwinement that are ambiguously beautiful — and dangerous. The sky is usually dark in Gamble’s or Feasley’s works, and if you’re quiet you can “hear” the whoosh of movement as some small breath of wind pushes through the thick atmosphere bringing with it an owl or spirit or wood sprite.

Sarah Gamble, installation, group of paintings, Pageant Gallery
Sarah Gamble, installation, group of paintings, Pageant Gallery

Lots of guys make goth-inspired art. But it’s usually dripping with blood and daggers and machismo. See Juxtapoz magazine for more. But when women sashay into this realm it’s less about creating a threatening atmosphere than about creating the moment that anticipates the threat. The calm before the storm.

I met Gamble, 32, at Pageant last weekend so that we could chat about her work in her show titled All Alone in the Electro Magnetic Sphere.

The artist has two large drawing installations, one comprised of 50 drawings, all the same size, the other with 32 drawings. The drawings are tempera on paper and some of them have graphite or pastel or marker or other materials on them as well. There’s a group of medium-sized oil paintings in the show as well but I was focused on the drawings, groupled together chock-a-block as if flocking for protection from some unseen force. The drawings remind me of children’s drawings. The ambiance is naive and yet, when I mentioned that, Gamble was disappointed to hear it, something she’s apparently heard it before. “I’m not naive,” she said. “I want to be direct.”

Indeed, this is a Penn MFA and she’s not naive. The artist says she works on maybe 40 drawings at the same time, laying them on the floor, on the table, on the walls of her studio. She uses the drawings to work out ideas for the paintings. Many motifs that appear in the paintings are there in the drawings as well.

Oil painting with motif worked out in one of her drawings. I thought of Mardi Gras beads caught in the trees along St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans when I saw this.
Oil painting with motif worked out in one of her drawings. I thought of Mardi Gras beads caught in the trees along St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans when I saw this.

Why are the drawings grouped so tightly together? “They are one big idea…one big thing,” she said. She grouped them together with themes of color (she didn’t want too much black too close together so spaced out the black-dominated works). So the group of drawings is a kind of stream of consciousness, a cloud or thought-bubble almost. I buy that. Although as with any group of individuals massed together some individuals stand out. I found myself stepping up close to focus on one or another drawing that intrigued me and found their quirks and personalities charming. The acid yellow flying saucer, the pale yellow ghost creature with a mint green trail, the many works that include rainbow-like dots that seem like sprays of words, thoughts, spit, energy–whatever. These small playful drawings had lots of charms.

Sarah Gamble, small drawing, Pageant Soloveev
Sarah Gamble, small drawing, Pageant Soloveev

I mentioned that I thought there was a lot of anxiety in the works (the overwhelming greyness of the atmosphere, the sense of foreboding, the idea of unseen waves in the air. The artist agreed. I asked the artist if she is worried about the health effects of those electromagnetic waves referred to in the title of her show. Some people fear that rays emitted by cell towers, electric power stations, microwaves, satellite dishes, radio and tv transmitters and the like are bad for you.

But no, the North Carolina native, Corcoran Art program BFA and Penn MFA (2004) is more fascinated than worried. She said she likes the idea that you can speak via cell phone and your voice (or the bits and bytes of your voice) goes up to a satellite and gets beamed down elsewhere and her show is an attempt to get at that amazing mechanical-outer-spacey-inner spacey convergence. “I think it’s kind of beautiful the way things travel through space and dissipate in the air,” she said. “While my work is dark I want it to be beautiful,” she said, agreeing with my comment about the gothic sensibility.

Does she make comics? There is a definite cartoon edge to what she paints and how she paints it. She told me she used to do comics as a child. And, “Even now if something horrible happens (or something funny) I’ll do a comic strip” as a way to digest it.

Does she listen to music when she works? Yes, all the time — classical and other things. “I like Bach, and the Romanatic stuff they play on the Princeton radio station in the morning. I like adult R&B and adult soft rock”. Her boyfriend Jamey Robinson of the Need New Body band (now disbanded) who has a solo project “Buffalo Stance” is a big music influence.

Sarah Gamble, small painting of grass-roofed hut, Pageant Gallery
Sarah Gamble, small painting of grass-roofed hut, Pageant Gallery

The painting I particularly like is a small work showing a grass-roofed hut in a landscape that looks like a coastal island. The work is dark and smoky and the hut’s roof has an almost preposterous jauntiness and anthropomorphism. What I picked up from it was a sense of the person alone in the world, the world encroaching. The apocalypse might be upon this little house for all I know. The tall grass is lovely, the house’s grass roof is lovely and I felt protective and a little worried for what was looming in the dark sky. That said, there’s enough cartoon ambiance in the painting for me to not sweat the downside too much.

Gamble said she finished that painting the day of the show and ran in with it still wet. She was covered with green paint by the time she got the work hung on the wall.

Gamble has a day job as a secretary for a real estate firm. At night she paints away in her studio above Rocket Cat in Fishtown. She paints with artificial light and said she’s fine with that and sometimes she’s pleasantly surprised at how the works change when they’re shown in natural light as they are in Pageant’s beautiful and well lit space.

The artist modeling her t-shirt embroidery project for boyfriend Jamey Robinson’s Buffalo Stance music project.
The artist modeling her t-shirt embroidery project for boyfriend Jamey Robinson’s Buffalo Stance music project.

The artist modeling her t-shirt embroidery project for boyfriend Jamey Robinson’s Buffalo Stance music project.

Does she live with her works on her walls? NO! It would drive her crazy because she’d be criticizing them all the time and wanting to make changes. She has other artist’s works in her house and feels happy with them. “I don’t want to change them.”

I asked what she’s working on now and she said she’s taking a break from painting. Then she showed me her embroidered t-shirt. Her new non-painting project is making t-shirts for her boyfriend’s music project. “It doesn’t hurt my brain to do this,” she said of the embroidery. I asked if painting hurt her brain and she said painting is exhausting.

Gamble may stay in Philadelphia for a while. She likes it here. But I picked up a sense of wanderlust, and a desire to try to waters elsewhere. When you’re out of school a few years, and you’re in your early 30s and you’re a woman, the clock is ticking. So many decisions and so little time.

For more photos see my flickr set.

Tags

pageant gallery, sarah gamble

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