Friday, November 14, 2008

Gloria Garrett: Makeup, Make Art

In art, we favor detachment, distance. An artist should be aware of the irony of her art, even when the art is not meant to be ironic. In fact, the more earnest the art, the more irony in the artist we expect. Oh, we like her to say, I'm only trying. Shouting out from the wilderness. Likely my art will never matter.

Art for Gloria Garrett matters. It has force. It changed her life and it can change others'. Three years ago, after a personal tragedy, she asked, "Lord, give me something to bring the beauty back!" She was given art.

Gloria calls herself the Mother of Makeup Art. She paints with makeup, although that word might not be the best to describe what she does. She uses the brush that comes with the eyeliner—smearing, stabbing, finessing—she draws with five shades of lipstick as if they were pastels, she selects the right shades of eyebrow pencil, and then, when she really gets going, in come the fingers and fingernails, the heels of her hands. Fifteen minutes later and she is as brightly painted as her subject, layers of color across the paper and over her hands.

"I want to paint happy!" says Gloria. "A woman told my husband that by looking at my art, she can tell I'm a happy person." There's a child-like intensity to Gloria, her laughter and exclamations, and to her work. First glance you see a funny picture of a bunny, sitting on a rock, surrounded by flowers. It has bunny ears and bunny whiskers and a bandana tied around its neck. It's a kid's drawing, you think, cute and vibrant, a precocious child. But there's a process too, a series of subtle decisions. You look again and see the working of color, the blending, the movement of paint. Pigment has been layered in to produce translucency and depth, each flower is given attention, some move with light, some dissolve into ground.

Gloria talks a lot about movement in her work. She uses Wite-Out to give an energy to her subjects, accenting the borders of her forms to impart vigor. "It lightens things up," she says, "puts the feeling and the movement in."

She's also sure of the goal of her art: to move the people who see it. Gloria is a folk artist, paints everyday subjects, scenes that help people see the joy in life. She works with the elderly and is happy to take requests for the topics of her paintings, scenes of blackboards and children for a woman who was a school teacher in her younger years. Gloria then gives much of her art away, the originals or the print photographs taken by her husband. In return, she lobbies for donations—extra canvases, a sheaf of paper, unwanted tubes of lipstick. "I'll use anything," she says. "Whatever people give me. Give me something and I'll find a way to use it!"

Gloria is what she does. That she has been painting three short years, that she wasn't trained in the university, does not stop her from identifying herself as an artist. And her confidence is meant as an invitation to others. "My grandchildren say, 'Grandma, if you can do it, we can do it.' And I say, 'Go ahead!'"

As I watch Gloria paint "A Rabbit Story," she works intently, fast, nearly furiously. She rummages through her box of makeup to find the proper colors to suit her mood. She wants to get the picture down, put the feelings in her head to paper. She lets me know, though, that she'll come back, later, spend whatever time is needed to get things right. "Patience," she says. "Three years ago, I got some patience. And patience brings you peace." Three years ago, Gloria realized there was work to do, art to be made. And she was sure of it, she made the decision: Yes, it matters.


Blogger Linda Campbell   Franklin said...

Gloria is glorious. I will start scouting for old makeup. Thanks, Joe. She is a revlonic, maximum factoricious, westmoremoremore, coldhotgate, triquadquintfari, woodberryific, tangeewhiz treasure!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Joy Logan said...

Hmmm make up art?! Does the art make us up or do we make up our art?

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Monica Sullivan said...

Cool art! Would love to buy the bunny pic will look great in my daughter's room.

7:09 PM  

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