The Missoulan
September 13, 1996
Art Museum of Missoula
Missoula, MT

Gail Grinnell’s art does imitate her life

Gail Grinnell’s studios, house and life are physically and emotionally connected and blessed with a constant flow of energy. Friends, relatives and family pets are regular companions, and her four children have inspired and participated in her work. 

That's why the art of collage - pieces of this and that, gathered together into a cohesive piece of art - is so perfect for how she lives and who she is.

Everything and anything that comes into my studio ends up in my work, says Grinnell, who lives and works in Seattle and whose one-woman exhibit, Gail Grinnell: Remainder, will be on display for the next six weeks at the Art Museum of Missoula.

Grinnell was trained as a painter, "but it really didn’t fit into my life," she said. Too many chemicals and smells for a studio-near-house setting with kids underfoot. Too hard to adapt to her need for frequent interruptions for scraped knees, meal preparation and youngsters play.

So she turned to creating art from the papers and fabrics of her life, from pieces of old clothes to clippings from magazines to pages of old books to doilies and wrapping paper. This work can be started and stopped, resumed, reworked, allowed to dry, manipulated again and again.

A box of dress patterns, saved by her mother for these past three to four decades, was a recent inspiration. The patters brought back mother-daughter memories of poring through pattern sketches, then hunting the sale tables where remainder bolts offered the best discounts.

"They were so hopeful," recalls Grinnell, "You could go into a remainder sale and see piles and piles of fabric, all different colors and patterns. You always hoped to find just the perfect piece." Her mother, now in her 80s, would return home to her straight-stitch 1950s Singer and carefully cut, pin and sew the new dress or outfit.

"She’d rip out seams that weren’t right, shorten things, lengthen things," recalls Grinnell. "She was so patient."

Grinnell worked the patterns into her work. The art hangs from hand-braided clothes lines, much like laundry in the wind and sun. 

Arranged on the wall are more pieces of her art, some very large and others small, formally framed and crowded, resembling the art museums of Europe where paintings span from floor to ceiling.

Grinnell’s collages are embellished with stamped designs from her collection of handmade stamps. She carves them into soft plates and they are part of the exhibit.

Collage-making is a physical process involving large vats of water, glues, lots of clipping, spreading and hanging, movement that women do every day with their laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking and shopping. “These are movements that my grandmother did and my mother did,” Grinnell said.

But household duties are relentless and quickly undone. “I wanted something left from that motion, a physical and tangible relic of movement in women’s lives,” said the artist.

— Mea Andrews