Barbara Gilhooly’s work is seductive in its multilayered colours, its bright patterns and flowers, its hints of mid-century style. And she amazes with her variety of mediums and breadth of skill – painting, printmaking, wire and wood sculpture, just to name a few …
Rich with layers and lines and beautiful, beautiful, delicious colour, her work is reminiscent of Stig Lindberg and Lucienne Day amongst others. There are several motifs that Barbara returns to again and again – circles, botanical elements, and buildings.”Circles have been with me the longest – over 20 years. I identify with the obvious references of the shape; centered, wholeness, sphere, etc. However, the attraction for me is the playful quality a circle or sphere evokes. I appreciate the fact that a circle/sphere is both an organic and a geometric shape, and I’m interested in contrasting and blending the industrial and the natural world.”
“My compositions are intuitive and evolve from the act of doing, not planning. It’s not to say I have no thought about what I am creating. It is a more trusting place of being ready to plunge into the work without fear. It isn’t always pleasant, and sometimes many days of work get painted over. But, I find comfort in knowing the work underneath is still necessary and vital to the finished piece. The hidden layers are revealed through sanding or scrubbing. It’s related to so much of our lives – what we don’t see or notice still matters.
We all have layers that aren’t visible and I find discovering the depth of these layers the most interesting in people and paintings.
After winning a scholarship to Univ. of North Dakota (and being the only one in her family to go to college), she then went on to receive her MFA in printmaking and sculpture at Colorado State University.
“I was in kindergarten when I realized I could draw well beyond my classmates. I never thought of any other profession.” But Barbara says that making a career in art requires more than ability. “It’s my priority, profession and passion. Early in my career I chose to focus on making a schedule that puts my studio time on top of the list.”
“I’m disciplined when I’m in the studio. I learned that just because my studio is in my home I don’t do house tasks during studio work time. Being an artist is being a business person as well, and I also use half of my time on marketing and business tasks.”
One of her favourite pieces was a work titled 100 Six Inch Paintings. “I wanted a large impactful piece, but was concerned about how difficult shipping such a large work would be, so I decided to create 100 small paintings that would cover the largest wall in the gallery. I painted these on birch panels and carved into the surfaces; each one is unique and complex.”
“It was important for me to make each 6 inch panel a standalone piece and not dependent on hanging with the others. I learned so much in working on so many pieces at once. I learned how to finish a work and become much more disciplined. I would critique the nearly finished work at the end of each day, then use post it notes to jot down what each work requires to be finished and stick the note right on the painting. During the two months that I painted these 100 paintings, I would then come to the studio in the morning and take each painting with the post it notes and finish them one by one. Then move to the next batch. I painted flat on a table and would work on as many as 10 to 12 at one time.”
The finished paintings were then hung in four grids of 25 paintings in each grid. Barbara said they were a big hit, discovering in the process that having a more affordable size for collectors worked well with the other larger works in the show.
“I’m often asked how do I make so much good work. I’m prolific because I have been in the studio making things full time for over twenty years. It’s like any profession that requires skill – it involves practice, practice, practice. I compare it to being a chef.
“There’s a point in a chef’s career when you are trained and have the years of experience to create dishes without rules or recipes because you know ingredients and how to use them. It’s very much what I do with my work.
I know the ingredients, which are the elements of art. And the recipes in art are the basic principles. I don’t have to think about those formal aspects anymore, I work intuitively. (I cook that way too!) You have to work, make mistakes and put the time in the studio. Much of the work I paint on a panel is painted over. But, it’s still not a wasted day because when I sand through, the layers will reveal some of that history. I paint over panels a lot! It’s editing and being honest with what isn’t working. Another tip that works well for me is to make decisions about work in progress at the end of the day. I use post it notes to jot down my next steps for each work, and the next morning I know exactly what to work on for each piece.”
“The other half of your work is running your business. It’s a reality and a necessity for success. Find a source to guide your way through the business side. There are many resources online – I’ve worked with Alyson B. Stanfield the Art Biz Coach, and others. Set aside time to learn and devote to marketing your work. There is no one way to be successful – my partner and I like to say ‘Let me do it my own wrong way’!
You can find more of Barbara’s brightness at www.barbaragilhooly.com.