By Elizabeth Roan
There is a romantic quality to the work of InLiquid Artist Gillian Pokalo (currently showing at River’s Edge Gallery). With her monotype prints originating from her photography of contextual remnants, a reminiscence of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World comes to mind. She creates her monoprints using a combination of painting, photography, and printmaking techniques. Focused on what remains of the sociological shifts towns that once thrived in industry and production, her images of buildings, facades, landscapes, barns, and railroads capture both the beauty and memento-mori of what is soon to be forgotten.
I had the chance to interview Gillian during her busy schedule, balancing time between her studio and classroom, where she teaches.
Elizabeth: What inspired you to combine printmaking and photography?
Gillian: I started combining photographic and printmaking techniques because I wanted to be able to print my photographs onto surfaces other than photo paper, and wanted those photographs to be of the surface on which they were printed in a way that collage just wouldn’t work. It was important that my hands would be at every step in the process. I take the photographs, trying to find the few images in a photo shoot that can at once be both distinctive of its place of origin as well as be the “every” building or structure – timeless and placeless.
E: In your artist statement you say “I think of my creative process as a meditation on the transient nature of reality.” Could you describe your thoughts on what lies on the print once the plate is removed and how it reflects the nature of reality?
G: My photographs reflect on the things and places we leave behind; the structures we build to stand the test of time, and then abandon, say so much about our human condition and raise questions about who we are and what will be our legacy. Nature
ultimately reclaims the structures we build – signs of the transient nature of reality. The process of printmaking feels much like that as well – when I pull ink across a screen, the print is that which remains – it’s the evidence of the experience of pulling the print, much like the evidence of human habitation is its constructed environment. Printmaking affords me the ability to print a particular abandoned structure repeatedly and, in doing so, allows a forgotten place a chance to tell its story in multiple ways.
E: Growing up in Conshohocken, have you witnessed a full life span of a building or landscape, or does your work take on a new narrative based on a place’s remains?
G: I’ve been able to watch as Conshohocken, like much of the Philadelphia area, has changed significantly over the last 30 some years. Growing up in the years following the dismantling of the steel industry, I would explore the factory relics along the Schuylkill River and be fascinated by the places that hinted to Pennsylvania’s industrial past, because of the human stories embedded in the walls of those places. It’s fascinating to observe the fact that some buildings remain vacant while others are quickly plowed to make way for condominiums and townhomes. I’m interested in the dialogue between the sociological shifts in communities that were originally built around industries that no longer exist, and how those populations change over time. When I find a place to photograph, I research its story and use the photographs to piece together an implied narrative of that place.
E: Has teaching, in any way, inspired your fine art or vice versa? Do you ever weave in history into your teaching methods?
G: There’s a beautiful dialogue between teaching art and being a working artist. I’m lucky and grateful. I teach really wonderful, creative kids at a school that appreciates and supports the arts, and where I’m able to develop an art curriculum that meets my students where they are so that they can feel confident in their ability to visually communicate. I teach my students how to interpret and understand works of art, and as a result, I get to research and learn along with my students, while getting to know about artists from all around the world throughout history. In my classroom, we work with all kinds of materials, and on any given day I could be working with clay, creating backdrops and costumes for the school musical or school circus, photographing for the school yearbook, or really anything art related. It’s exciting and it keeps me constantly thinking, planning, and problem-solving. My studio practice is much the same, and while it can be a challenge to balance everything, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can view Gillian’s work at:
River’s Edge Gallery at Bridgeton House
1525 River Road
Upper Black Eddy, PA
Showing from January 17 – June 20, 2017
You can also see the full exhibition on our Artsy site!