Gil Riley on Painting, Boobs, and Artistic Drive.

Gil Riley is an MFA painting candidate at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the Fall of 2011 she was featured in a group show, “My Ghost at Home,” which was titled after one of her paintings at SAIC’s Parallax Gallery. The show featured work by Riley and two of her MFA candidate peers, Josh Dihle and Brian Rush. Riley’s figures have an intense pathos. Her paintings begin as paint drips or pours that she then organizes into lyrically emotive characters, combining elements of chance and deliberate mark making. During a studio visit Riley discusses painting, boobs and the artistic drive.

Gil Riley, Head Rest Good Samaritan, 2011.
Gil Riley, Head Rest Good Samaritan, 2011.

GR: I don’t know if my greatest fear is failure but it certainly is on the list, failure and being wrong and losing. Not losing in a competitive way but…

MW: Not attaining something?

GR: Yeah, I would really like to want what I have. So, if I don’t want what I already have then I feel kind of lost, there’s an absence. The way that I cope with that is by solving problems. I don’t know if I like thinking about it in terms of winning and losing, but what I realized recently is that the way I counter this fear of failure is that I play games. So, in painting this means that I cause a big chaotic mess and then spend the rest of the time cleaning it up.

MW: I think that one of the reasons anyone is still interested in art is because no one can really figure out what the value of it is.

GR: Totally. One idea is that the reason that gold is valuable is that it is beautiful and it is rare and that art is the same way. We make beautiful or charmingly non- beautiful work that is hand made and has real human touch and experience and that is rare. Or more rare than almost anything like mops and pencils. I am seeing a split now, and maybe in hyper-drive, between the availability of information and the availability of experience, that we are separating out those two things. We look to art for experience. Not just our own experience but to experience another persons experience. Having a conversation is awesome. I only want to have conversations. I get to do that with painting. I get to talk to you or I can look at work from three years ago and talk to myself and say, “You a dumb bitch, shape up.”

MW: How did you get involved with the “My Ghost at Home” show at SAIC’s Parallax Gallery?

GR: [Josh Dihle, Brian Rush and I] shared a similar aesthetic and similar working schedule and, I think, similar desires in painting and we like each other.

We wanted to show work that we don’t see. Like there is an underrepresentation in the work that we saw last year. We wanted a little bit of a different voice.

Josh did all the work. I went away for the summer and Josh did everything and didn’t even want help. Didn’t need it. Didn’t want it and that’s good for me. I hope everything is like this from now on. This was a good set up.

MW: You need a manager.

GR: Yeah, or a girlfriend that does it better than me.

MW: There’s a good woman behind every good artist right?

GR: There are so many problems with that phrase.

MW: Yeah, it’s a little problematic.

GR: Slightly, it’s not like a 40-year issue or anything.

MW: Are the figures that come out of this process typically women?

GR: Yeah, the unacknowledged secret I guess, or the secret hidden in plain sight is that I think of them all as women, every figure as a woman. That’s controversial because then I have a complicated gender relationship, which is maybe the case.

MW: Is it a conscious complication?

GR: No, I just really like boobs and I want to put them on everybody.

MW: That’s a good reason.

GR: Yeah, I just really like women.

MW: So then do you think of your work as being in any way political?

GR: No, but I do understand that an apolitical stance is a political stance. I am not trying to be political and I don’t have a gender politics. I just don’t care. I don’t see difference and that’s just it. I am not for direct action or even voting some times. I have a certain, maybe generational apathy. Maybe it’s because my mom doesn’t believe in voting or something, but extreme bouts of nationalism make me weep — so I have an ambivalent relationship to politics. I mean I watch Rachel Maddow every day because I love her.

MW: Yeah, she is pretty amazing.

GR: I want to marry her. So, in terms of gender politics, it is a non-issue and I don’t think of these paintings as political because I think of them as personal and I don’t think that my personal life is political. But, that is actually a political statement. There have been huge books written about that.

MW: So if your paintings aren’t in any way political what is your motivation for painting them?

GR: Let’s go back to fear. Basically, I’m painting myself. Every painting is a self-portrait. I want to see myself reflected in all of culture, I search out culture that reflects me, that’s why we have different channels, why we have a gay channel. There weren’t enough queers on TV so we needed to make a queer channel. Queer as Folk is an awesome show, it doesn’t matter who is watching it, they can totally relate. …But I am never satiated. When you make a painting it is the best high in the whole world only want that over and over again. Right? Like those rats that keep pushing the button over and over again until they die.





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