Now in his eighties, Charles Gill paints nearly every day as he has for roughly 68 years. He paints with no commitment to specific style or subject, with work ranging from representational to totally abstract. As a past instructor at an impressive variety of art institutions, including the California College of The Arts, San Francisco Art Institute and the Osaka University of the Art, he is now retired and spends his days in the studio next to his artist wife.
Finding the right formula for personal success in the arts is nothing short of a monumental struggle. Often measuring and celebrating success is the last thing we do, as our multi-tasking hats are more focused on developing a personal brand, selling work, making work, getting work “out there” and so on. This week, Gill speaks on living in Boise, making work and “tips” for aspiring artists.
How much time per week do you spend in your studio?
Just lately in the last few months, probably less than usual. Probably only twenty hours a week now, but I for years, pretty much put in about a forty hour week in the studio. Just like going to work.
Where do you find inspiration for your current work?
Oh boy, uh. Inspiration… I go for the joy of actually doing it. Making a painting. Seeing it up. When I get my tools out and set up the easel, I anticipate the pleasure of it. So, that’s an inspiration. Where I look to what I want to paint? I can look almost anywhere. I’m willing to try to make a painting of almost anything. That’s a dilemma, because I’m constantly bombarded by possibilities. For instance right here, this painting of a jacket that I habitually wear and it was hanging on that door over there, where that towel is, that’s it. Then, I haven’t done it yet, but I’m going to make a painting of the door knob that’s on that door, just the door knob. Why? I don’t know.
Inspiration is not exactly the right word, just the opportunity. I see opportunity in a thing, in a subject and then there are moments when the opportunity presents itself — right in the material itself, the paint itself. That leads to a non-objective, totally abstract work, but the driving force is pretty much the same, it’s just what I see. That I see, I can make something of it. The inspiration, the real you know thrill of it, is in the joy of actually seeing it happen and being a part of it. Being the agent through which it happens.
What is the driving force behind your work?
Well, that’s a big question. It’s what I do. You know, I’m in my eighties now and at this age you do have a lot of time to mull this over and wonder how you got this far and why you do what you do after all these years. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of verbal stimulation, I mean I wasn’t neglected, but I was over protected actually. Because of that I didn’t socialize very well. My father had been a violinist, he died when I was very young and I never knew him.
So very early on, I got the notion I wanted to play the violin. I was given a violin and lessons. I was six, I must have taken lessons for six years, from the age of six to twelve. I probably never practiced in that whole time. Maybe an hour, I don’t know. The teacher that came to my house must have just despaired.
I was always coaxed to play, to practice, but I wouldn’t do it. But I loved to draw. I was never coaxed to draw, never required to draw, never. I wasn’t discouraged, just allowed to draw you see. So, I was developing a visual language as opposed to an audible language. It was just what I was allowed to, how I was allowed to develop and a way of dealing with my reality.
This is a stretch but thinking of James Castle as someone who was certainly deprived of audible information. He developed a language thing, that’s what he did, that’s how he coped with his reality. I’m not so isolated in that sense. Back at the beginning that was my avenue for looking, seeing and making sense of what I saw. When I started teaching I had to learn how to talk. Just on the job training.
Are you represented by a Gallery?
Yes, I have a gallery here in Boise, the Stewart Gallery which handles my work and the Tayloe Piggott Gallery in Jackson Wyoming. Those are my only two galleries. It’s not a lot of action. The art market is, Eh. I couldn’t make a living on painting sales; I go out to dinner a couple of times if I sell a painting.
Do you have work in museum collections?
I have more at the Boise Art Museum then typical, because I’ve been here now for seventeen years and I’ve been wonderfully well received here. I’ve just felt really welcomed by the arts community, so I’ve had a good run. It’s not so much having them in their collection, it’s just having the opportunity to show in a serious venue. The Stewart Gallery is a very small little space, she’s moved every few years, she has moved from one space to another. Right now it’s very small but boy she puts on great shows. Just impeccably curated exhibitions and I enjoy seeing my own work handled with that kind of care and attention and just to show it to people.
Do you sell work online too or just through your galleries?
I only sell through my galleries, there’s an ethical question there in my opinion. If you sign on with a gallery their job is to promote your work and sell it. It costs them a lot to run a gallery, they’re investing a lot. So when they sell something they get their commission, it’s fifty percent typically. I don’t resent that a bit and I certainly wouldn’t turn around and sell to an individual for half price because that’s all I’m going to get anyway, that’s tacky.
Do you think there’s a thriving art community in Boise? Is it enough to keep you interested and active here or are you more studio based, doing your own thing?
Frankly, I wouldn’t call it thriving. It’s a struggling art community. The people I know, who I see regularly at art exhibitions, have good reason to interact with. Earnest and skilled, they’re all very much involved in what they do. You don’t necessarily like what they do to appreciate their commitment, you see. So there’s a lot of stuff going on here, it’s strange and weird, Freak Ally art and stuff.
So what keeps you in Boise? Why did you come back to Boise after teaching in California for so long?
Birthright. I was born over in Caldwell. My father grew up in Boise, went to Boise High. My grandfather was a sign painter here. He was listed as a decorative artist in the directory back in 1915 or ‘16. So I have these deep family roots here. We came back partly because of that, but more just the economics of it. Coming back to a more affordable place to live and a quieter town, we were pretty tired of the urban pressures of living in the Bay area. I mean, it’s a very exciting place, but excitement is overrated. It’s very expensive to live there, so we couldn’t afford it and have studio space.
Is there anything that you feel is lacking here?
I don’t have to pursue a career, career isn’t even a word I like to use. I’m an artist. It’s just what I do. So if I were more dependent on sales I would want to live in or be connected with a little more vital art market city then Boise. It’s just not enough, there’s not a critical mass. It’s here, but it’s just so small, that’s reality. The museum is a good museum, but it’s small too, it doesn’t have the resources of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for instance. So what’s happening here is good. There is a very vital art scene, but it is small and it struggles.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for other artists?
Get a good day job and keep it. I guess that’s always been my focus, even as I was teaching at California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College Of The Arts). I was teaching fine arts, I wasn’t teaching graphic design or video or those subjects where there are job opportunities. I was teaching painting, drawing and printmaking. So mine was always, get a day job.
Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.