It’s Day Five and I’m super excited to introduce my very first Art Brut/Outsider Artist…
too many ideas. Let’s learn about this intriguing woman and see some examples of her artwork before I get too overwhelmed with my own piece. 🙂
Madge Gill was born in 1882 and died in 1961. One of the best biographies (written by Robert Cardinal) is from a website dedicated to her life and art. madgegill.com Below are only excerpts from the biography.
Madge Gill was an outstanding exponent of mediumistic art and remains one of the foremost British Outsider artists. Madge spent her early childhood sequestered from the world, brought up by her mother and Carrie, her aunt, under the strict eye of her grandfather. There came a time when the family decided it could no longer cope with this embarrassing child, and, even though her mother was still alive, the nine-year-old was committed to Dr Barnardo’s orphanage at Barkingside. Five years later, she was transported by ship to Canada with hundreds of other juveniles, beneficiaries of a large-scale child-labour scheme devised by the orphanage to offer youngsters a fresh start in the New World. The teenaged Madge became a domestic servant and babysitter on a series of Ontario farms. For a while she lived with her aunt Kate, who introduced her to Spiritualism and mediumistic practices. In 1907, Madge married Tom Gill, Kate’s son and thus her cousin. The marriage turned out badly, and relations became unpleasant. Within six years, Madge gave birth to three sons, Laurie, Reggie and Bob; the second boy died in the influenza pandemic of 1918. A year later, Madge gave birth for the last time, but her longed-for daughter was stillborn, her body perfect but for a disfigurement down one side. (There is no record of any name being given to this child.) Madge herself came close to death, and a subsequent lengthy illness resulted in the loss of her left eye, which was replaced with a glass one.
It was some weeks after her return to health, on 3 March 1920, that Madge Gill was first ‘possessed’ by Myrninerest, her spirit-guide. Madge was now thirty-eight, and her contact with this phantom figure would be maintained without interruption throughout the rest of her life. In his 1926 text Myrninerest the Spheres, her son Laurie bears witness to his mother’s first experience of delirious trance-states, which she found overwhelming and frightening. He evokes a whole gamut of creative modes at that time: drawing, writing, knitting, crochet-work, weaving, piano-playing. All this took place under the auspices of Myrninerest, whose signature appeared regularly on the drawings. In 1922, Madge underwent treatment at a clinic for women’s diseases at Hove, on the south coast. While there, she confided a packet of drawings to a woman doctor, who brought them to the notice of the Society for Psychical Research in London. A document in its archives records the expert opinion of a Research Officer, who judged the drawings to be “more of an inspirational than of an automatic kind”.
From the 1930s on, Madge Gill enjoyed a reputation as a medium in her Upton Park neighbourhood. She is said to have organized séances at her home, drawing up horoscopes and offering spontaneous prophecies. It is not known for how long she conducted séances, though it seems likely that they lapsed after a few years. What continued unabated was her artistic production. While she still made heavily decorated cushions, quilts and dresses, her principal medium became ink-drawing, executed on postcards, sheets of paper or card, and long rolls of untreated calico cloth. Gill’s frenetic improvizations have an almost hallucinatory quality, each surface being filled with checkerboard patterns that suggest giddy, quasi-architectural spaces. Afloat upon these swirling proliferations are the pale faces of discarnate and nameless women, sketched perfunctorily, albeit with an apparent concern for beauty, and with startled expressions. It is tempting to interpret them in relation to Gill’s biography: is she referring to her lost daughter, her beloved aunts, or to some feminine ideal? Are these in a sense self-portraits, or rather: attempts to stabilize her own fragile being, as it were through fleeting snapshots? Another reading equates the faces with Myrninerest, envisaged as the artist’s otherworldly alter ego, immune to the traumas of actual life.
She refused to sell any of her artwork because she said they all belonged to Myrninerest.
Here’s an introduction Robert Cardinal wrote about outsider art in an exhibition’s catalogue where her art was featured. I found it in another blog. The Fine Line Project.
“Creative inspiration can travel down unsuspected paths and sometimes visits individuals who know nothing of art history and who have little idea of the world of high art frequented by intellectuals, critics , connoisseurs, teachers and cultured enthusiasts. Such individuals need no training and are often satisfied with a minimum of acclaim, for their commitment to personal expression thrives independently of the interest or approval of others. Outsider artists, as they have come to be called, enjoy their idiosyncratic approach to creation and operate with sublime self-assurance, ignoring the beaten track of the art class and the public gallery. Madge Gill was one such exponent of self-justifying and unmonitored art-making, and today long after her death, her reputation as an outstanding example of creative individualism continues to grow. This long overdue retrospective honours her as a rare exemplar of self-reliant artistry.”
WOW, right? I am so thrilled that I am doing this project because I found out about the amazing woman that is Madge Gill. The scariest part of researching Madge was how much I related to her artistic style and the fact that if I had been born during her time, maybe I would have thought I was crazy too. I’ve included my own drawing I found in an old sketchbook to “illustrate” my point.
And now, here is my piece I did in honor of her. I have been staring at dozens of her pieces all last night and just fell in love with her art. I have to say it wasn’t too much of a challenge because of the similarity to my doodling style.
And FINALLY…the finished piece!
Thanks for joining and sharing with me on this insane and wonderful journey. Going to prepare for tomorrow now…it’s a pretty famous artist so I’m freaking out a little.