Friday, September 27, 2013

The Spirit of Madge Gill

"Zig Zag Hat"
 My husband is a passionate learner. He has a million questions and curiosities about nearly everything and spends a great deal of time trying to quench his thirst for information and knowledge. These queries lead him everywhere from politics to philosophy, food to history and, most often, to art and artists. One of his most recent adventures led him to Madge Gill.

Madge Gill was an outsider artist who died in 1961. Like so many artists, she only had a couple of exhibitions and was regarded as nutty and absolutely weird during her lifetime. My husband just about keeled over when he discovered her work because he thinks I might be her reincarnation. I think I might be, too.

I’d like to tell you something I’ve hardly told anyone else before:

I love to draw.

Love, love, love to draw.

My drawings are primal, unsophisticated and full of strange monsters and peculiarly-shaped women. I like using inky black pens, permanent markers and maybe a few colored markers to make them. Drawing has been a great source of comfort and expression for me since I was a child, but it’s something I’ve often been ashamed of, too. Ever since the boy I liked mocked my Halloween drawing in front of the whole 3rd grade art class, eventually mangling my beloved Halloween bats to make it look like they were peeing on the jack-o-lanterns. What an asshole, right? At the time, I was also embarrassed that my dogs, cats and cannibal monster creations lacked the soft and feminine style of the other girls in class. I was incapable of drawing a daisy without giving it fangs or at least a sinister air.

Now I embrace my drawing, no matter who likes it or not.

"After the War"
 I never expected to find another person with a drawing style similar to mine. My sketches are primitive, weird and come from a place in my psyche that is unknown even to me. Drawing is the purest form of creative expression I’ve ever experienced. While I labor and sweat over my words while writing or making things out of paper, drawing takes absolutely no deliberation or planning at all. I simply start and continue until I’m finished with no hindrance of neurosis or anxiety in my execution. It’s a wonderful feeling – almost like I’m holding my head to the side so that drips and drops of my spirit pour out of my ears and onto the paper.

Madge Gill and I seem to be cut from the same bizarre piece of cloth. We draw the same types of things in extremely similar ways with similar implements. There are some differences, of course, but I think it’s safe to say our souls come from the same place in the cosmos. When I saw her drawings for the first time, I felt almost like an orphan who had finally found her birth mother. I instantly knew that we were connected on an other-worldly level and it brought me a level of comfort and reassurance I didn’t even know I needed.

"Abstract III"
 During her lifetime, Gill was a devoutly spiritual woman with a sincere interest in the supernatural. She held séances at her home, wrote horoscopes and became possessed by a being called “Myrninerest” (my inner rest) at the age of thirty-eight. She created hundreds of sketches, frequently going into drawing frenzies and trance-states to make them, and signed nearly all of her work with the Myrninerest signature. She had three sons, two of which predeceased her, and also had a still-born daughter who was born disfigured on one half of her body. I’ve read that many critics think Madge’s Myrninerest spirit was obsessed with her daughter, drawing what the spirit thought she might have looked like had she lived over and over again.

I really like the idea of trying to communicate with the dead through art. I think it might be the best way to connect with ethereal beings.

I now consider Madge Gill to be my phantom mother. I might try and say hello through a sketch soon.

To be honest, my summer wasn’t as creative as I wanted it to be. My brain felt mostly lethargic and longed for some good old fashioned inspiration. As much as I enjoy the temperatures of spring and summer, autumn has always been my favorite season. There’s something truly beautiful about autumn’s decay. It’s the beginning of life after death. I’ve always been haunted by the energies and vibes of the environment around me. I don’t believe in heaven or hell and am not religious by any means, but I believe in spirits and ghosts. I walk around and feel the different types of life bits and memories of the people who used to live in houses and become overwhelmed sometimes. These feelings have only intensified after moving to Brno because so many of the houses and buildings are incredibly old and full of history. I feel like every place we live always keeps a part of us in its heart, almost like a personal tapestry or a family tree. I can look around my flat and almost see the people who lived here before, feel the happiness they left behind before they moved onto the next adventure.

It’s true that spring brings new life full of babies, flowers and sunshine-y days, but I’ve never been inspired by that time of the year because of just that reason. Everything is new. I love autumn because we can see death occurring all around us, actually giving birth to the next stage of our existence. Lately I’ve been entertaining the idea that when we die (people, animals, what have you) our spirits find their way to the roots of trees and become housed inside the wood. Perhaps sharing the round rings, the age of the tree, with the souls. Eventually the souls work their way up to the branches of the tree, finally extending and becoming brand new leaves, living a whole life again in the span of a few seasons and dying once the weather turns cold and withering to a final crispy red, yellow and brown beauty. When the leafy spirits fall, they are given a chance to explore the world again, drifting with the wind as far as it will take them until they start to become part of the ground once more. Maybe this is the stage where the bits and pieces of leafy spirits find their way to the decaying or decayed bodies of those who have passed and reincarnation happens again, just in a different, more mobile form.

That’s what I’ve been thinking of lately, anyway.      

"Haunted Face"
 Madge Gill and this autumn season are going to help me make these next few months incredibly creative. I can just feel it in my bones.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a thought by Nathaniel Hawthorne from the intro of his book, The House of the Seven Gables:

“I sha’nt have the story ready by November,” he explained to his publisher on the 1stof October, “for I am never good at anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does on the foliage here about me-multiplying it and brightening its hues.” 

Darn tootin’, Mr. Hawthorne.

*I don't have a scanner, but I'll try to upload some of my drawings soon. All images and Madge Gill biographical info are from her official website -

1 comment:

  1. I have just curated a Madge Gill exhibition - it opened on Saturday. I will post more info.