Love Letter to Gillian Theobald

Blotches of color, bubbles of leaves, stamped, vivid splays of 2-dimensional fern—forested layers stretch into the foreground as they're crowded into the back, the sky barely rosy beyond.
Gillian Theobald, Fictive Space 88, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 68 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

This love letter began as a chance encounter. Four years ago, I walked into studio e gallery, in Seattle, WA, and found Gillian Theobald’s solo show, When You Were There You Knew the Language. The exhibition was a collection of paintings and bas-relief collages. Theobald’s dance between abstraction and figuration rendered everyday encounters in swaths of vibrant color, depicting nature in twofold. 

Painted fields of recognizable flora and fauna appeared in fictive arrangements. They shared the same color palette as the collages produced from physical trash—detritus folded into mapped topographies, presented as alternative, barren landscapes. Though the paintings hung flat against the wall, they captured the depth and implied textures of daydreams, the faraway places that could also be your own backyard. The bas-relief collages protruded in space, exposing actual textures found in weathered papers and fiber from manipulated packaging material. Yet, layering these objects in coats of paint hid the nature of human consumption in plain sight. The conversation between these two series communicated to me a visceral materiality that spoke of blurring the real with the imagined: the mundane and the extraordinary.

That day, I impulsively purchased my first work of art from a gallery. I selected a collage Theobald titled First Class Joe (1976). It felt as if it was constructed from a language I both knew and held dear. Composed of found materials, it is simultaneously a site-specific map, a time capsule, and a square shaped poem—a window dressed with striped tissue paper as curtains. Buying this piece opened a new world of collecting and cohabitating with artwork I admire. It lives with me as a reminder of hope for beauty in the mess of things. 

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Author: Elizabeth Arzani

Elizabeth Arzani is an interdisciplinary artist and educator living and working in Portland, OR. Her work is rooted in storytelling, offering a form of communication that extends language. She has exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions at The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, Portland, OR, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA, Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, NC, and internationally at Salon du Cercle Artistique de Luxembourg, Luxembourg City and Kulturschapp, Walferdange, Luxembourg. She is currently an MFA Visual Studies candidate at Pacific Northwest College of Art and holds a BFA in Painting and Art Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.