Dark Whimsy: The Work of Gina M.
Written by Genie Davis
Artist Gina M. creates works in layers of meaning and visualization. To see her work is like unpacking a series of wonderful and startling surprises.
“What may look innocent or naïve at first glance contains deeper levels of narrative the longer people spend with it. I love watching people look at my work,” she attests. “First, they walk up and see the cute face, the detailed texture, or the funny pose. Then there’s that moment where they discover tire tracks through the center of a 6-foot ceramic bear, or the broken neck of a toy giraffe. They then read the juxtaposed title and that’s when I hear the “aw” and it all comes together.” She describes the experience she wants for her viewers as a journey, “somewhat like the one I had while making the work. I attribute my 20-years of creating trompe l’oeil, fool-the-eye faux finishes and murals in clients’ homes for my fascination with visual deception.”
Gina M. says she creates because she has an “over-active mind.” She describes her work as being “like an interior self-portrait to me. It evolves as I’m affected by my surroundings, by life events, by my emotional and psychological self-reflection.”
The artist works on multiple bodies of work at any given time, noting “Sometimes it takes years to finish something that only has three parts because I’m waiting to find just the right part. Other times, like in this political climate, I create 13 pieces in a month, with more on the way, because what I’m feeling seems so urgent.”
She sees her art as constantly evolving in scale and material choices, but describes her work as staying consistent in terms of message and tone. “New or different access to construction materials will dictate a change in my making, but one constant runs through, even when themes in my art vary from melancholy, to political, to ironic: most pieces contain some form of a toy or reference to my childhood.”
Some of the artist’s bodies of work consist of digital photography and collage, other involve painting with acrylic, oils, and encaustic wax. There are sculptural works with paper mache or ceramics, and assemblages of found objects from human discards and nature. Gina M. is also creating a new body of work which she refers to as photo embellishments, combining photography and assemblage. She’s also begun to place her works within a new narrative in larger installations, such as her upcoming Under the Big Top, which will open at H Gallery + Studios June 29th in Ventura.
Creating work that is both whimsical and dark requires both a light touch and her signature passion for layers, a passion which Gina M. says she feels a need to express in each piece. “It’s also a form of entertainment for me,” she says. “If I can make the viewer want to touch the ceramic because they don’t believe it’s not fabric, or if I can put them off-guard as they realize what drew them in is not what it’s all about, I’m satisfied.” She adds “Also most people are more complicated than they seem at first, and presenting a creepy cute object mirrors that. Spend more time with a person and you see the beauty in the flaws.”
According to Gina M., her formula for creation is all about working in three different layers or subtexts. She breaks these down as “the bait” which is whimsical, the hook which is “creepy,” and the message – evoking an emotional reaction in her viewers.
She was raised in an artistic environment, and her commitment to creating art came early. Her mother and a friend owned and operated a puppet theater in Norwalk, where the family spent many weekends developing shows, building puppets and hosting birthday parties. “Art and creativity were a way of life,” she explains. “As a shy lonely child, nurtured by puppets and their puppeteers, my connection to anthropomorphic forms began early. I was often found in the corner of the playground, twisting grass and twigs into small figures.”
She may have changed in terms of her medium and scale, but she’s creating fascinating, figurative works in a variety of formats. When Under the Big Top opens at H Gallery, it will be her largest installation project to date, a part of a group exhibition exclusively dedicated to installation art work. In the exhibition, the figurative assemblage she calls her Toy Box Kids will “stand on stage, exposing their narrative bellies, under a nine-foot striped canopy covered with lights.” According to Gina M. “The show features both ceramics and assemblage sculptures and an 8-foot faux puppet stage.” She describes it as being “a toy box of whimsy and a repository of coded narrative overstuffed with humor and metaphor, masking the gloomy overtones of melancholy. My vocabulary of iconic child-like imagery exudes the urgent warnings of the inevitability of loss and the resurrection of the metaphorical inner child.”
Other work recently on view included her ceramic and found-object sculpture “Nature Cake,” exhibited at Blue Roof Studios in the group show Let Me Eat Cake, Too!; and a 6-foot ceramic wall piece titled “My Bare Skin” at the Pasadena Society of Arts 94th juried Annual at Burbank Creative Arts Center.
She describes her installation in Ventura as a preview of sorts for her solo exhibition upcoming January 21st, 2020, Through the Toy Shop and Behind the Curtain at the Don B. Huntley Gallery at Pomona College.
Whatever the venue or medium, viewers of Gina M.’s work can be assured what they see will be filled with a panoply of human emotion; that it will be deeply involving, and that it will bring smiles as well as the revelation of darker meaning. Like life itself, being under Fernandez’ “big top” is a circus of feeling, wonder, the strange, and the sublime.