Art is a necessary component of all great rooms. It sets a tone for the space, and can go a long way towards directing its palette. It's also intensely personal, so as a designer it's handy to have a large roster to consult. That's why I was so excited when one of my clients introduced me to Michelle Gibbs, an abstract painter based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is vibrant, evocative, and beautifully tactile. We spoke recently to discuss her process, inspirations, and thoughts on framing paintings like hers, which are done in acrylics and oils.
How did you come to your career?
My formal educational background is in anesthesia, but my first love is art. I've been painting most of my life, and really fell in love with it in high school. I took a few classes in college as well, but most of what I learned is self taught. I began painting again as an adult as a way to de-stress from my other career as a nurse anesthetist. I did it for the pure joy it brought me, and I never expected it to turn into anything more than a hobby. But then I donated paintings to local charities in New Orleans, and got some visibility through that. I got some more when one of my paintings (titled Exposed, ironically!) was chosen as a regional semi-finalist for a national competition. Before too long, people were commissioning me to do paintings, and my work was selling faster than I could make it.
How are you inspired?
I get my inspiration from so many things. Most recently I was inspired by photos a friend of mine sent me of Black Pool, one of the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park. The colors were some of the most beautiful combinations I have ever seen. I have gotten inspiration from rocks, trees, flowers, cracked concrete, the ocean, weathered boards, rusted metal: you name it! I even did a painting after being inspired by an aerial image of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A big thing to me are combinations of colors and textures and how they play off one another. I like depth. I like looking at something and noticing something different about it each time I see it. That is why I use so many layers of paint and texture in my work.
People often ask me why I paint one layer of color only to cover it up with another color, then another, and so on. To me, it’s about building character, depth, complexity, and emotion in the painting. And as I go back and uncover the layers, the painting takes on a life of it’s own: one that I cannot duplicate. Seeing that is what inspires me, too.
How do you decide what size to make something?
When I first started painting, I gravitated to smaller pieces because, let's face it: an empty canvas can be intimidating. As I got comfortable with using the different techniques and mediums, I graduated to larger pieces. Now I love to paint on all different sized canvases. I like to use larger canvases for what they call “impact pieces,” but really enjoy working on smaller ones too, where fine detail and subtlety is easier to appreciate because it doesn’t get lost.
How do you come up with the titles?
Naming a painting is important to me because not only does it give it an identity, it establishes an initial connection between the artist and viewer. Naming the painting sets the stage, then lets people draw inferences from their own inventory of personal experiences. I’ve had people tell me a painting made them cry, or made them feel peaceful, or made them feel happy. It’s amazing when one painting can bring up such a broad range of emotions.
I like to say that my paintings name themselves. I don’t start a painting with a preconceived name in mind. I let the painting evolve, and as that happens, a name does too. It’s part of the process for me.
Have you ever been commissioned? How does that process work?
I have been commissioned by collectors who want a painting done in a specific size or with certain colors. Before I start, I try to visit or see photographs of the home or business where the painting will hang to get a feel for the space and for what the collectors have in mind. I prefer to have the artistic freedom to get the painting developed, then will bring them in to see it and to get feedback. It is an honor to be asked to create a painting for someone’s home or office, and I enjoy working with people who have an appreciation for art.
What kind of projects are you working on now?
Recently I was commissioned to paint four 60” x 72” paintings for the sky lobby of a beautiful luxury apartment building in downtown New Orleans. I am almost finished the second one and am very excited about the way they are turning out.
I also am continuing to build my inventory to show in the next few months. I am usually working on two or three paintings at once, because as texture is drying and layers are developing on one, I like to be able to pick up another. I never want to be without a work in progress.
What role does art play in your own home? How do you feel it can add to a space?
My home is full of original art. Some I bought in galleries, some on the street, and some after falling in love with it online. Without art, my house would not be my home. The art in my home gives life to the walls, and never ceases to take me back to how I felt when I first laid eyes on it. It’s more than just a visual thing, too. There is something very intimate about art, very special on many levels.
Because art is such a personal choice, it imparts so much about the person whose space it lives in. You can tell a lot about someone based on the art they choose for their home. In this way, it adds a stamp of individuality to a space, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. Art can also serve to complement a room’s decor, or be the focal point that directs it.
What are your thoughts on framing paintings? Do you ever weigh in on how you think your pieces should be framed?
I personally prefer paintings unframed as long as the edges are finished and gallery wrapped. There is just something so clean about that, and it allows the art speak for itself. Framing, like art, is a matter of personal taste, and I would not give unsolicited advice about what to do with my paintings after they are sold. If framing is a necessity, I think that a simple frame without glass works best. I have seen some beautiful texture and color detail get lost behind glass.
How do people go about procuring your work?
My paintings can be seen and purchased on my website at michellegibbsgallery.com. I can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.