“Where would people rather be?” La artista, Gay Summer Rick asks herself as she paints during a pandemic in her studio in Malibu, California. Knife to canvas is her approach to creating her landscapes. Bringing life back to what was once a memory. Her every stroke adds a layer of carefully considered colors to evoke the joyous and dreamlike emotions that GSR’s work provides to its viewer. Her creations give a sense of calm and curiosity.
There is more than just meets the eyes when you look at Gay Summer’s work. Her work is often described as dreamlike, atmospheric due to the occasional palm trees that lurk the luminous sun flare “inside the warmth of a blood orange glow, radiating beyond the confines of the picture plane”.
We sat down to hear more of Gay Summer Rick’s inner world, inspiration and how she got to where she is.
In a few words how would you describe yourself?
Creative. Analytical. Lover of the sea – I guess a thalassophile.
How did your growing up in New York influence your career as an artist?
My family was always connected to art and the art scene, so I was immersed in art from the beginning. In our world it was totally acceptable to grow up and be an artist, so I followed the path of each of my siblings in being an artist. I’m not so sure I would have found it to be as natural a progression had I grown up in a different place.
How did your move to California impact your work? Did it change?
I have lived mostly in places where the city meets the sea. The atmosphere is different by the water, and I have always appreciated that nuance. Here in Los Angeles, light and color are different from New York and other cities by the water for that matter. When I first landed in California I lived in a neighborhood called Ocean Park on the Santa Monica-Venice Beach border. I was not far from where Richard Diebenkorn, an artist whose work I greatly admire, had once had his studio. I didn’t realize it at first, but the affect being in that area had on my choice of color was marked. Diebenkorn’s work during his time in Ocean Park had a similar color palette. Without looking at subject matter, you might be able to tell, just by the color palette, where we are.
You mentioned you worked in biotechnology before taking the leap of faith as a full-time artist. How does that experience transcend through your work today?
I loved both careers, but really felt it was time to focus just on the art. Since I am not working two “full-time jobs” now I have time to spend in my studio actually having had a good night’s sleep. Before the shift, sleep represented a tradeoff. So now, being fully rested and having more time to really think, and as much time as I want to be in the studio, allows me to explore more and continue with the evolution of my work.
Leaving a minimal carbon footprint seems to be important to you, how do you take on that initiative as an artist?
As a science geek, I pay very close attention to the environment. When I really began to notice the effects of climate change on our local weather, I knew I had to play a greater role in being a good steward of the environment. Around that time a friend and mentor handed me a palette knife, and while it was simply intended to help me loosen up in my application of paint, it had a much, much deeper impact. It gave me a tool to create my art without leaving anything behind to discard in landfill or water. Since I now use only knives to create – no brushes or toxic solvents, there is nothing to clean up. I use all of the paint, the knives get wiped clean on the canvas, and so there is no waste.
I did travel extensively when I worked in biotech, which definitely had a negative impact on the environment. Flying provided an endless source of inspiration for my work with views high above urban centers. It was truly magical. While I do still love to travel, I fly much, much less, and am very careful with my choice of flights, destination airport, time of day, and seat choices, so that I gain the greatest inspirational moments possible when I do fly. I like to say that I now fly responsibly.
Do you have a routine prior to putting the knife and paint to canvas?
Once in the studio I plan carefully and know what I want to accomplish that day. Because the early layers of paint make a huge difference in the final painting, I have to think about the end point and what it will take to get there. I consider which colors I will need to lay down before I arrive at the final image so that the right feeling, vibration, or level of calm is ultimately revealed.
What is your painting process like? Can you emphasize a little on your choices of color?
My painting process begins with a very good idea as to how I would like the painting to look, and what emotion I would like to evoke in the viewer. The paint is applied to canvas in a way that will, in the end, provide hints of the earlier layers of color and contrast that best describes how I would like the viewer to feel. So, for instance, in a painting in which I would like to describe a lot of energy and movement, I may select layers of highly contrasting color so that the viewer may feel that vibration when standing in front of the finished work.
Tell us about your favorite horizons and scenes that you find yourself recreating in some way.
My long-term love affair with cities that meet the sea inspires me to paint city streets, freeways, skylines, beaches by urban centers, and the commonplace elements you would find along the way. Colorful relics or objects such as road cones, neon signage, billboards, headlights, power lines, or trash cans are included as quiet monoliths in the landscape.
How do you hope your work is remembered?
After engaging with my paintings, whether in person or online, I hope that the viewer will remember not just the specific imagery, but how they felt spending time with the work. That’s what it’s about. How it makes you feel.