Dianne Gall has found that elusive formula that all artists seek but most never find, namely a subject matter and style that is entirely her own and is instantly recognizable once one has been introduced to her paintings. With sublime technical mastery she portrays elegant female figures in elaborate settings imbued in an ambiguous, intense atmosphere.
Gall creates captivating compositions that look nostalgic and perhaps even a little bit romantic at first glance, yet transmit an uncomfortable and sometimes sinister undercurrent that invites viewers to imagine the underlying narrative and its meaning based on their personal emotions and experiences.
Gall’s childhood experiences are key to understanding her creative impetus. Her father was a television producer and projectionist, and Gall fondly remembers spending time in projection rooms watching movies as a child. At a young age she became aware there was no magic involved in producing movies or television. The bowels of TV stations, movie theatres, and drive-ins irrevocably dispelled the myths and the mystery. Meeting her father’s co-workers, she realized there were no big movie or television stars, they were just regular people working, going about their daily routine. Witnessing the mechanics of it all removed the fantasy aspect of the fictional presentations that continue to amaze the wider public.
Gall grew up in the Art Deco style homes of her parents and her maternal grandmother. Being an only child from a small tightknit family, Gall recalls spending countless hours listening to grown-ups talk while her eyes wandered around the room. Looking at ornamental details, decorative objects, and architectural style nourished her love for industrial design, influenced her sense of taste, and continues to draw her to aesthetically pleasing artefacts. The balance and beauty found in Art Deco design, and perhaps also its familiarity, seem to resonate most with her so it’s not surprising we frequently find it in her artwork.
These experiences explain, in part, some of her compositional choices. Yet we find interesting contradictions as well. Despite her disenchantment concerning the deceptive make-believe of the movie and television world, Gall nevertheless plays the director in her own photoshoots which provide the reference images for her paintings. Treating these photoshoots as theatre plays, she meticulously chooses her models, their garments, the props, and sets the stage to capture decorative patterns and vividly colored textures under perfect lighting conditions. She frames the shoot like a production; the crucial groundwork prior to picking up her paint brush.
These photoshoots are the basis for Gall’s enigmatic narratives, in which she carefully insinuates missing aspects of a mystery story that viewers must somehow piece together for themselves. She depicts these ambiguous scenes by placing as much importance on what she shows as on what she leaves out of the tableau. In a way, each painting becomes a movie still, a cinematic parable that’s manifestly of her own making.
Another clue to the essence of Gall’s paintings lies in her life’s trajectory. Growing up instilled with the 1960s-era feminist notions of the importance of independence and self-reliance, she temporarily halted her dreams of becoming an artist and chose to follow library studies. As an archivist she can always rely on a steady source of income to fall back on when the going gets tough. More significantly, nowadays this allows her to indulge in creating high quality realism instead of worrying about hurried productivity. Gall takes all the necessary time to complete her paintings according to very high self-imposed standards and this unmistakably shows in her body of work. These paintings demand ample time for deep thought in regards to the development of narrative and composition, close attention to details, and manifestly rely on decades of considerable painting skills.
Gall describes herself as highly resourceful, a trait which has served her well throughout life, especially since she committed to a serious career in fine art. While the artworld undeniably has its ups and downs, she matter-of-factly states she always lands on her feet — feet that are solidly planted in reality because Gall is not a naïve dreamer. However, this creative powerhouse claims her autonomous mindset has made her too strong, a trait that’s often accompanied by feelings of loneliness and a sense of disconnection.
Unsurprisingly, we find these characteristics echoed in her depiction of women. These graceful solitary protagonists are placed in lavish, meticulously rendered settings that convey a bygone era of refined taste and opulence. They articulate a sense of isolation — even when there are two figures in a painting there’s a distinctive detachment and sense of distance between them.
Even though Gall’s female figure are curvaceous and attractive, they’re clearly seen through the female gaze, and as such are never gratuitously eroticized. Dressed in charming vintage fashion, they seem to revisit a romanticized past — the so-called ‘good old times’ when women were either movie star-like goddesses or proficient homemakers who functioned solely as the engines and support systems behind the men, who were, of course, always competent breadwinners, suave charmers, or dashing heroes. Despite their aloof inaccessibility, these stylish female protagonists invariably exude a sense of strength and fearlessness in their laid-back composure, which is cleverly juxtaposed against the bold masculine lines of the Art Deco settings.
While the paintings are highly contemporary in style and character, the ornamental details and clothing distinctly convey a bygone era. The archivist in Gall loves history, as she points out its importance and how it reiterates itself in news stories and socio-political attitudes around the world. She recalls that an elderly newsman once told her that news repeats itself every five to ten years. Gall laments that so many do not seem to value the importance of history and the indispensable lessons of the past, saying, “Everything seems to have been around before — we are human and we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.”
As with every artist whose work is built on authenticity and truthfulness, we find the raison d’être for Gall’s choice of subject matter rooted in her personality and life trajectory, while her devotion to exactitude and diligence explain the superb mastery of her painting skills.
Instead of spelling out her thoughts and intentions, Gall chooses to place the viewer in the role of voyeur to figure out the enigmatic narratives of her subject matter. The figure’s gaze is typically turned away, which gives us the opportunity to stare while trying to fathom what is happening in each painting — the scenario relies as much on content and context as on what is left untold. The same can be said about the paintings’ titles which develop and mature during the painting process itself. For Gall, ideally the title does not steer the viewer into an obvious direction of thought but simply functions as a complementary fragment of the plot.
Lurking in the gestures and glances, there’s a thin line between serenity and impending doom, as if the storyline could change at any second past this painted moment frozen in time. The viewer is placed in a somewhat uneasy situation; present yet watching the scene from a distance, strongly suspecting something’s about to happen or already has, yet not knowing what it is and excluded from interaction.
This gives Gall’s cryptic work tangible ambiguity that triggers queries within the viewer’s mind. Depending on our personal perspective, lived experiences, and gender, the prompting undertones will trigger a plethora of emotional reactions. It may raise private uncertainties and anxieties, or may bring about a smile of quiet enjoyment vis-à-vis the splendor of the painting that has been captured with such meticulous care.
Gall’s paintings speak of deep introspection and awareness in regards to her struggles, triumphs, challenges, and life’s paradoxes. She cannot help but portray the sense of disconnection she feels — that so many of us feel. Despite her strength, outspokenness, and tenacity, she feels less empowered with each passing year, sorrowfully experiencing the barriers of the gradually aging woman who mourns the losses of a long-held idealism. Yet her rising strength as an artist is palpable in her paintings and her work is increasingly recognized and valued by the savvy art connoisseur and public alike. No, she is not done yet — in fact, I believe she’s about to soar ever higher. Now is the time to grab some popcorn, sit back, and watch Dianne Gall reach her artistic pinnacle.
We find a number of objects and leitmotifs in Gall’s paintings that seem to recur in changing fashion — the supporting cast of the play. Fragmented reflections in ornate mirrors, trendy table lamps, lavish flower arrangements in stylish vases, little porcelain knickknacks, and once or twice we come across a bizarre African mask that does not seem to fit in with the overall décor. Wallpapers, carpets, and fabrics are typically extravagantly patterned, but even when walls are plain, the color palette is flamboyant and unexpectedly enhanced by interesting cast shadows in melodramatically changing hues. The furniture is expertly conveyed in both design and material, we need not guess at its substance nor qualities.
She’s an unorthodox painter, intrepidly breaking the rules of the purists, just as she disregards so many other sociocultural norms. Yet she’s cognizant of the influence of great historic masterpieces on her own compositions, often becoming aware of recognizable comparisons only after having finished a piece.
In Gall’s painting If I’m not Perfect by Tomorrow we encounter a cropped scene showing a languid female figure reclining on a violet velvet couch. Despite the highly chromatic palette and the abundance of patterns and textures, Gall finds a way to create a visually serene atmosphere that seems to be bathed in bright moonlight shining in through a window. The motionless redhead on the couch rouses our curiosity — is she alive, simply resting, or waiting for someone?
In the painting entitled In That Moment All There Ever Was the scene is observed from the street, transforming the viewer into an impromptu voyeur. An ominous night sky embraces the pleasantly lit Art Deco house. From the backlit window, a solitary woman stares into the dark night — is she expecting someone, just being curious, or alarmed by a strange noise? Although too far away to observe, her demeanor seems melancholic. Two empty armchairs stand side by side on the porch, perhaps they are remembrances of pleasant summer evenings or a silent wish for company. Note the abundance of exquisite details in the architectural particulars as well as the plant life. The tension in the atmosphere is expertly echoed in a palette of complementary colors. The familiar flavor of Edward Hopper’s 1942 Nighthawks permeates this setting, a history revisited in a different environment and repeated in several of Gall’s paintings, such as It’s Happening Again, and Other Place.
Venus Leaving shows a young woman departing through a backlit doorway. She glances back over her shoulder and the viewer must decipher her facial expression in order to interpret the scene — is she melancholic, regretful, sad, fearful, or apologetic? Is she pausing in this instant, or is this the final glance of farewell? The glorious color palette of soft lavenders, pinks, and oranges expresses a dreamy and intimate atmosphere yet manages to avoid being excessively sweet. The Art Deco mirror exposes a fragmented mosaic of the reflected interior, likely an important symbolic clue within the narrative.
In Gall’s painting, entitled Lost Dreamers, two female figures share a traditionally styled space, yet they seem utterly unaware of each other’s presence — they might as well be hundreds of miles apart. Gall has cleverly conveyed a disquieting contrast within their postures, which simultaneously appear both relaxed and rigid. These feelings of disconnection and isolation amidst the presence of others may feel disturbingly familiar to many viewers. Here too we find a connection with a historic painting, namely Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1533 masterpiece The Ambassadors. The abundance of patterns, textures, and other minutiae are elegantly bathed in a Rembrandt-like chiaroscuro, the overall earth tones broken by vivacious greens.
What I Dreamed portrays a young woman tilting back, head down, feet up, in a highly unexpected pose. Her eyes are closed, her arms poised at her side — once more the viewer is presented with an unusual scene that begs to be scrutinized up close and brings up numerous questions. A soothing chiaroscuro curtails what would otherwise be a visual overabundance of exquisitely elaborate ornamentation found in the japonaiserie styled wallpaper, the Louis XVI settee, the Persian carpet, and the colorful tattoos covering the young woman’s ivory skin. With her superb sense of color Gall adds another light source in a blueish violet hue, heightening the sense of drama and giving this painting an incontrovertible contemporary mien.
These are just a few descriptions that act as an introduction to the superb body of work Gall. Each painting deserves to be seen in person, in detail — allowing ample time to savor the remarkable quality of the artistry. But there’s so much more to these paintings than beauty and skill. We can reconstruct the meaning of the subject matter when we permit the imaginary narratives to resonate within our psyche, and maybe — through Gall’s art — expose some deeply hidden parts of ourselves.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world, including Australia where the first confirmed case was identified in January 2020. In late March, Australian borders were closed to all non-residents, social distancing rules were imposed, and state governments started to close non-essential services. While artists are used to isolation, this situation has been — and still is — entirely marked by numerous changes in our daily routine. Simple actions and behaviors we took for granted are simply no longer possible or advisable.
Like many across the world, Gall too has been profoundly affected by the pandemic. The important solo exhibition she had been diligently working towards for two years, which was originally scheduled to inaugurate at the end of May, got postponed. The uncertainty of the entire situation impacted Gall intensely, affecting both her physical health and emotional wellbeing. The habitual act of painting became increasingly difficult, as her daily routines were upended and even the short journey between home and studio became problematic. Despite her creative pace slowing down to a halting crawl, Gall continued to paint albeit in slow-motion, struggling against harrowing uncertainty while not knowing whether her artwork would ever enjoy the public eye again.
As of June 2020 — at the time of this writing — the pandemic seems to be under control in Australia, and slowly, carefully, Australian life is awakening to its new normal. Gall’s solo exhibition has been tentatively rescheduled even though the festive inaugurations of yesteryear will inevitably undergo change; for the time being it is unlikely collectors and art lovers will throng together at busy openings, shoulder to shoulder, to look at art, hobnob and socialize with drinks in hand, celebrating and admiring the artist’s accomplishments.
All of us will have to roll with the punches and see what this so-called new normal will develop into. However, it certainly is happy news that Gall’s paintings will finally be unveiled for the world to see, either in situ, online, or in her latest catalogue, Lost Dreamers, for which I wrote this essay.
The recurring themes of solitude and isolation in her paintings will undoubtedly affect and move many viewers everywhere, more so than ever before. Now that we’ve all had to deal with this reality, recognizing the exquisite emotional insight and poignant depth in Gall’s extraordinary paintings will come naturally. Moreover, Gall’s role as artist has been elevated to that of visual historian of our collective subconscious, demonstrating the global interconnectedness and shared experiences between all peoples.
Dianne Gall’s Solo Exhibition will be held from November 10th through the 21st, 2020, at Nanda\Hobbs, in Chippendale, Australia.
Dianne Gall’s latest catalog is available for purchase!
Click HERE to contact Dianne about buying the Lost Dreamers Exhibition Catalog
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