Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, retired Radiation Therapist and talented Artist, Gail Williams, finalist in the prestigious Salt Spring National Art Prize. Gail grew up on the shores of Lake Superior in Northwestern Ontario, where she developed a deep respect and love for the rugged landscape. Self-taught, she loves to experiment with a variety of media, including collage, and is courageous in her interpretation. Gail’s work has appeared in numerous shows and galleries and is collected internationally. Having co-led a project on narrative writing and art at the renowned Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital, Gail’s foray into therapeutic work has been published in national journals. In 2014, she presented a paper about the benefits of those creative practices at the ISRRT in Helsinki, Finland. A Toronto-based wife and mother, who worked most of her life as a radiation therapist, Gail is delighted to now be exploring her life’s passion as a full-time artist. And to that we say YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I never lost sight of the idea of being an artist even though I did not get accepted into the Ontario College of Art (OCA) after high school, but instead went for training as a radiation therapist. I took art courses while I did that training, and others while working as an RT.
You worked most of your adult life as a radiation therapist. How did you go from that to a full-time artist?
About 15 years from retirement, I seriously started planning to have the art career I dreamed about. I took courses and exhibited my work. When I retired I jumped in booking shows, got a studio and segued into painting full time.
How did growing up in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior inform your art?
I have always felt the power of the mighty Lake Superior and feel most at home among trees and water. I have, on occasion, tried to turn my back on landscape painting but it is my first love.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from the world around me. I am aware of the colors and shadows that my eye catches. I am a compulsive reader and love the sound of words and the phrases some Authors use. I am intrigued by ancient and primitive art.
As the eldest child in a large family of eight, what impact did that have on your career path?
It made me organized and aware of the use of priorities. And maybe just a little bit bossy.
You were one of 50 finalists chosen from 2,000 entries in the Salt Spring National Art Prize. Congratulations! What was it like receiving that news?
I was actually stunned that I had won a place as a finalist. The only contest I had ever entered and won was when I was nine and won first prize in our local newspaper’s Christmas coloring contest.
How has that experience changed things for you as an artist?
For me it is an affirmation that I do have something to offer, something that is valid. My art is, I think, unlike the majority of art out there.
What’s the story behind “All Dressed Up For The Party”?
The figure in the painting actually just showed up on the canvas. I responded to its appearance and kept adding to it, as it demanded. The headdress was a complete surprise. It was as if a force outside myself guided my arm. I couldn’t, not add it, even though I hesitated at first.
What’s the biggest decision you ever made?
My biggest decision was to marry a black man. At the time, 1970, in small-town Northwestern Ontario, ours was not a conventional event. Fifty years later, we are still together.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles that you’ve overcome – personally and/or professionally?
My biggest challenge as an artist is to believe I have talent. My doubts are always there below the surface.
What do we need to know “for sure” about the creative process?
I know for sure that creativity is always available. I know it doesn’t always look pretty. But I know that messing around is often the garden for amazing and wondrous things to grow.
What’s the most important life lesson your Mom taught you?
To never give up, do your best and that is all that is asked of you.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
Truly believe in yourself.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Pay attention to the things that interest you. Reflect on why they interest you. Experiment. Try different techniques and be aware that you are always learning.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
My Girl Warrior heroines are my two amazingly talented daughters. They are both very creative and have great insights. I am in awe of who they are and what they do.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Alive, healthy and energetic. To help my kids buy houses in Toronto, but that sounds
like pie in the sky to me. To teach workshops internationally, have residencies offered to me.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
My grandson, Fox cracks me up and I’m sure Theo will follow in his brother’s footsteps. And the crazy antics I can have with 5 sisters.
If a novel were written about your life, what would it be called?
A Charmed Life.
To learn more about Gail, head on over to her website at: gailwilliamsartist.com
To learn more about the Salt Spring National Art Prize at: ssartprize.ca
Follow Gail on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gailwilliamsartist/
Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/GailWilliamsArtist/
Twitter at: https://mobile.twitter.com/gwilliamsartist