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Life and Work with Gail Burr

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gail Burr.

Gail, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My childhood home, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, was a place where I felt safe to make mistakes and explore my artistic expression. I was exposed to countless forms of art through many classes at school, from needlepoint and collage to ceramics and wood shop. During my high school years, the art room was my refuge. I spent hours in a tiny attic classroom with a brush in hand while my friends played Wiffle ball in the courtyard outside. It was around the same age that I ventured on a 30-day wilderness survival course where I learned to catch my dinner with a fly and rod as well as navigate through the wild using a topographical map. In the Wind River mountains of Wyoming, I found a meaningful connection with the natural world that would carry through into most of my artwork. In school, I struggled with learning differences and found that fishing and painting created a profound meditative feeling for me, giving me confidence and direction. My love of art followed me to college where I took the maximum number of art classes one could take at my small liberal arts college. One particular class, Uli Drawing, a traditional Nigerian form of art created mostly by woman, uses fluid lines and spontaneity and has had a lasting influence on my art.

During college, I traveled to Montana to attend the Rocky Mountain School of Photography to pursue art through film. Although teaching to young children became my profession after college, I remained very active in photography and displayed my art at a solo show in Boston. Nevertheless, I continued to return to my large wooden easel and paintbrush as my main form of expression. Around this time, I met my future husband on a roof deck in Boston where we immediately bonded over our love of fishing and the outdoors. His family is Austrian and has owned a stretch of land and river on the edge of the Alps since the 1800s. When we go there, our favorite place is a turquoise pool of mountain stream water, called the “Paradestrecke” in German, where the fish “parade themselves” in front of you. This place is where my art and my love of fishing converge, and where the heart of many of my paintings is born.

Currently, painting has taken on a new meaning, as I am now a mother of two young children. My kitchen table is proudly stained with pink paint, and our home is decked with our artwork. My two children, Paige and Holden, paint with me regularly and even add their own brush strokes to my larger paintings. In between their naps and diaper changes, I am lucky to find time to paint alone in my studio. I have created a studio which feels very sacred to me. Huge windows look out over the tall trees and backyard of our home. I use the same easel I painted with in high school, sit on my mother’s antique vanity stool, dig my bare feet into an animal skin rug gifted to my daughter when first born, and make my own beautiful mess. I am quickly transported back to that little attic art room and the Austrian mountain stream and feel a strong sense of peace.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Due to learning differences not diagnosed until college, I struggled through school. I pushed hard to get my Master’s degree in Education while working full-time as a teacher. This left me little time for my creative outlets. As a mother, I often feel conflicted when I choose to go to my studio, knowing that my children want me or the house needs attention. Once I step into that sacred space, however, I feel a rush of energy that carries over into other areas of my life. I’m still discovering how to balance these different roles, and I have learned so much from the women around me. I encourage emerging artists and mothers to surround themselves with people who can help. I have recently become involved with the Umbrella Regional Arts Center here in Concord, where I have developed a strong network of female artists that openly exchange ideas and resources. I also encourage artists to set up a space that has meaning to them, through objects that bring back memories and uplifting music, where they can go to feel at peace. My husband and I find it easy to get lost in the routine of raising young children, so we try to do the activities that we love… with them. Paige and Holden join us at the stream to fish and love coming to paint in my studio. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Please tell us about your business.
My photographs are a jumping off point for many of my paintings. They don’t have to be perfectly composed photographs, but they give me ideas for subject matter, composition, and color. In the past, I have enjoyed painting portraits of family, mainly the children in my life fixed in moments of pure joy…on a swing, eating a cupcake, or admiring the shiny gold buttons of a blazer. Influenced by the Uli style of drawing, I enjoy painting the rippling lines found on a topographic map. I choose places of meaning for me, find the right map, and use colorful lines to replicate the topography without revealing the location. Currently, my art is influenced by all aspects of fishing and I will wander around local fishing shops, gathering inspiration for my next painting. I especially enjoy looking at the lures, covered with brightly colored feathers and other ornaments. I am drawn to the tables of flies and the polarity between the sharp hooks and delicate feathers. Through acrylic and watercolor paint, I enlarge one fly on canvas or paper to examine its qualities closer and magnify the clash between the pointed barb and soft down. A painting that stands out as my favorite is of my husband fishing at the Paradestrecke in Austria, a series of fish-filled pools in a mountain stream. The water is playful and my brushstrokes unplanned, while the memory of that moment, in that place, is timeless.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
I feel so proud to be a woman today. There is not a better time to teach our girls about the millions of people, who I consider leaders, who have walked in the worldwide rallies in support of woman’s rights. The color PINK has become such a powerful color in this global women’s movement. I am inspired to use it in my future paintings.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Bellini Portraits

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1 Comment

  1. Nina

    July 30, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    This is such a good story. Gail’s creativity is unbounded and everything she puts her hand to is is done with joy and grace. It’s reflected in her painting and in her two little children who seem to be happily following in her footsteps. To have her in our midst is a gift.

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