Wood blocks, tiny cabinets, embroidery hoops, cigar boxes, and fabric remnants are just some of the items that one might recognize as they gaze upon the colorful, playful, and abstract art of Gail Meyers. A cacophony of mixed media and assemblage pieces, Gail’s work is unique, quirky, and entirely delightful. Presently associated with the Long Island City (LIC-A) Artists, Gail worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters for 21 years as a museum educator and lecturer. Having a solid background in Art History, Gail spent many years at the forefront of arts education and arts advocacy. Gail also worked as a teaching artist with Puppetry in Practice. Gail attained a B.A. from SUNY Purchase and a Masters degree in Art History from Columbia University. She has exhibited in juried group shows at the Plaxall Gallery, the National Association of Women Artists Gallery, Flushing Town Hall, the office of the Manhattan Borough President, Local Project Gallery, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Collaborative Gallery, AHA Fine Arts Gallery, and other venues. More recently, Gail received a 2020 Su-CASA artists’ grant from Queens Council on the Arts to work with elders at Hillcrest Jewish Center.
Gail is fascinated by the process of finding objects and altering them—usually by painting, collaging, and combining them—to enable the new forms to resonate with viewers via harmony and balance. The interaction of similar and disparate shapes and forms, and in color, texture, and pattern is central t
o her work which symbolically comments on the coexistence between opposing forces, and how varied and unorthodox materials can work together in both easy and uncomfortable association. Most of Gail’s raw materials are recycled objects found on the street, in thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets and this lends her work a very eco-friendly edge.
Gail recently discussed her art via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming an artist?
Gail Meyers (GM): I have been a creative individual my entire life. As a child I was a dancer, actor, and visual artist. However, being “practical,” I decided to major in Art History in college and grad school and fell in love with museum education after participating in an internship at The Brooklyn Museum. Subsequently I was a museum educator at The Cloisters and The Metropolitan Museum of Art for 21 years, and then a parent coordinator in a NYC public middle school for 12 years. I decided to opt for early retirement just a few years ago to dedicate myself to my own art making and creative development.
MM: Why does assemblage art so appeal to you?
GM: My dad and stepmom were antiques collectors and dealers, and they got me interested in old, vintage items. I am fascinated by the “lives” these items had, who owned them, what were they used for, and what stories they tell about the past. I was also inspired to work in collage and assemblage by my favorite artists who use recycled and vintage materials in their work. For example, I love how Joseph Cornell and Betye Saar have used collage and assemblage to create gorgeous shrine-like works of art with haunting emotional and symbolic resonance. Another favorite, El Anatsui utilizes discarded bottle caps in a transformative way to create incredibly glorious tapestries. Assemblage also speaks to the environmentalist side of my nature. I was recycling years before it was “a thing” and I often rescue items from other people’s trash to use in my art, so that there is a little less headed to the landfill.
MM: What’s the most interesting object you’ve ever recycled into a piece?
GM: The most interesting or perhaps “craziest” object I ever recycled into a piece was our old fax machine. My husband took it apart, and I painted various pieces of it, including lots of plastic shards and gears, in bright colors. I put it together inside of an old wine crate that we found on the street. It’s probably not the best art I ever made, but I had fun working on it. It was created during the previous presidency, so I named it: “Alternative Fax Machine.”
MM: You worked as an Art History and Art Education advocate for years, so how did that influence your own work?
GM: I was an Art Historian and Museum Educator. I think it probably influenced my work a lot. Looking at art and talking about art for so many years, it must have seeped in! Also, working with children, creating programs, projects, and workshops for them, has imbued my art with a sense of play, I think my art appeals to kids and to those of us who are kids at heart.
MM: What are your best memoires from your years of teaching?
GM: There are so many wonderful memories that it is difficult to choose. Some of my best teaching memories are from The Cloisters. I started the Saturday Family workshop series at The Cloisters, and I loved working in the galleries with children and their parents. I also particularly enjoyed leading gallery workshops for middle school groups when they came for tours during the week. Another wonderful, more recent memory was leading collage and assemblage classes for elder adults at the Hillcrest Jewish center. I was fortunate to have received a SU-CASA grant for this residency, and I worked with that awesome community for a couple of months before the pandemic shut us down.
MM: When did you get involved with LIC and the Plaxall Gallery?
GM: After taking classes at The Art Students League for about a year I decided that I wanted to try to get some of my art into a juried “open call” exhibition at a gallery. I found the Plaxall gallery (now Culture Lab LIC) online and applied for the LIC-Artists Affordable Art exhibition. I was thrilled to have been accepted. It was so exciting to see my work on a gallery wall! I have been in a number of LIC-Artists exhibitions since then at The Plaxall Gallery, at Flushing Town Hall, at The Atlantic Gallery in Chelsea, and online. This is my third year as a LIC-Artists member. It is a wonderful, supportive organization for both emerging and established artists.
MM: You also work in puppetry, so how did that performance art become part of your wheelhouse?
GM: I worked for Puppetry in Practice for about two years after retiring from the public school system. PiP offers many other art forms in addition to puppetry. While I was there, I facilitated visual arts residencies in five schools in Brooklyn and Queens including a program on the Harlem Renaissance which focused on visual arts, poetry, and music.
MM: What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?
GM: The highlight has been getting to know so many other amazing, talented artists through classes and workshops I have taken, and exhibition openings I have attended. After studying the art of dead people for so many years, it’s wonderful and thrilling to be able to talk to living artists about their work: their intentions, methods, processes, etc. I have learned so much from my colleagues, and I am excited to see and learn more.
MM: How would you like you see your artistic career evolve in the coming years?
GM: I would like to get better at “what I do,” more proficient, and more confident. I would like to exhibit more, perhaps have solo shows, and get onto the “radar” of more galleries, curators, and collectors. But mostly I want to be able to continue making more art, and to enjoy the process.
MM: What events, projects, or other exhibitions are coming up soon and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?
GM: I have two pieces at the LIC-A Members show at Culture Lab/Plaxall Gallery until September 26, and one piece on view in the Recycle exhibition at BWAC in Red Hook, Brooklyn, until October 17. I received a City Artists Corp grant, and I will be leading a free family art workshop (called “Trendy Tree Sculptures”) at Culture Lab LIC/Plaxall Gallery on Sunday, September 26, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. I will also be leading a free family workshop for AHA Interplay at the AHA gallery in Bushwick in October. Please check my Instagram account for more information and registration.
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To learn more, visit the official website of Gail Meyers and follower her on Instagram via @gailmeyersartist