Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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On Mixed States, work from the pandemic

“The Quiet Speaks for Itself” by Nina Gaby, photo Ben DeFlorio

The exhibit, “Mixed States,” a joint show with my sister Sari Gaby, opens this September, originally scheduled for a year ago, cancelled along with an artist residency in Johnson, Vermont and a writers’ retreat in Costa Rica. How might it have been different had I done the work at the residency, surrounded by other artists, working faster, thinking deeper? I can say that the memoir I planned to complete while with other writers in Costa Rica has stagnated. Not so with the collage work.

I have described “Mixed States” in the promo copy as mood, geography, the arrangement of matter, how we fluctuate and view the world over time. In our case, it is much more but maybe that is a topic for another time.

Over the pandemic, for many nature has become a refuge. I found myself writing more about my place in the natural world, but in my visual work I succumbed to the sheer pleasure of arranging objects in congenial ways within the confines of a wooden frame. I even began to write about it (“Bricolage, the “flash-trash” of writing words and pasting pieces”  upcoming in Brevity literary blog on 8-23) as I was working, one hand on the keyboard, the other clutching the XL tube of E-6000 glue.

“Keepsake” by Nina Gaby, photo Ben DeFlorio

To what extent did the isolating slowness of the pandemic allow me to just make pretty things? Collaging vintage floral wrapping paper with tiny bundle books and antique curtain swags? With no one to talk to, no intellectual expectations, I was happy just doing “pretty.” I was thrilled with the quiet porcelain tiles and the slip-trailed experiments that came out of a firing once it was safe to rent the kiln in the communal studio in town. I was grateful for the flow. Grateful for the 2021 deadline. 

“Pansy Book”
“Tulip Book”

Also grateful for the vague “book arts” framework for another show that opens soon. I make mixed media pieces that only suggest the book, often to the confused reaction of the other artists in the guild that sponsors an annual show, yet every year I persist. Paper thin porcelain pages poured from slip or rolled with an old wooded pastry rolling pin I have had for almost fifty years, since college, where I guess I was making pretty things as well. Maybe that’s who I am, intellectualism aside. The bigger questions of how does it look? How does it feel to look at it? 

“5. Something That You Feel Will Find It’s Own Form (Kerouac) Photo Ben DeFlorio On view at the Vermont Books Arts Guild annual exhibit at the NEK Artisans Guild, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Opens 8-14.

“The truth of a thing is the feel of it, not the think of it.” ~ Stanley Kubrick

Over this year and a half, we have burrowed inward, some of us in emotional suspension. We had a brief respite and now we are looking into the dark again. All I know is that when I walk into my studio, what I see makes me happy, and for that I am grateful to the gallery and hope that my work brings a moment of contentment to others.

“Mixed States”

Nina Gaby/Sari Gaby

Little Theater Café Gallery

September 2-29

Reception and artist talk Sunday September 26, 2-4

“Tall Trees-Mendon” by Sari Gaby