"Tara, tell me, is paint what comes from a tube?"

Deborah Gavel asks, “What is paint? Does it come from a tube or could it be a piece of broken pottery?” Her art is where paint meets part of a salt-shaker with burned incense. Where paint becomes cut paper. And paint is wax. Half a teacup, a coin, a piece of a $5 bill, a Persian miniature. Deborah has always been “a painter who leans towards sculpture.” Her work is an amalgam of different elements, and the coherence into one honored impulse requires something akin to alchemy.

“Sometimes we just do things where we don’t even get into a left brain consciousness for why we are attracted or pulled to a particular form,” says Deborah, speaking of her attraction to using circles in her artwork. Definitely, she is an artist who opens herself to the possibilities of "unknowing," of becoming receptive to a larger dialogue of form and texture, nuance and expression. If Deborah's studio is the great language-less and wordless process more akin to some kind of communion with the right brain, the analytical left brain reaps the benefits later. And Deborah, and viewer, continue learning. Perhaps, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn…” (from Circles)

For Deborah, the apprenticeship is serious: she has been has been working with “circles inside squares” since graduate school. In school a professor, Mickey McConnell asked her, “Do you want your art to look more or less like mandalas?” For Deborah the question was the right question at the right time, the one that could help clarify her creative direction, the answer instantaneous: “More.” She wanted her work to be more like mandalas.

The allure of the Tibetan Mandalas and Native American Medicine Wheels—and the healing content embedded in those forms—spoke to Deborah, and even after almost sixteen years of sustained focus, the questions that arise within a simple circumference continue to surprise and offer revelations to Deborah.

“Circles are to me a way to indicate that ‘vessel’ form, the universal form of holding, receiving, offering, giving.” And the receptivity that she offers in shape is also mirrored in her process because she doesn’t start with a concept or the impulse ”to make a picture of something.” Rather, she lets go, opens, invites, explores, and lives in that wordless place that is the studio.

Emerson wrote, “The eye is the first circle.” Deborah’s eye is impeccable. In her studio I had the chance to see most of the eight pieces she will exhibit in 5G and a few other pieces. If you go to her opening next week, you'll not only be able to see the large scale, often 48"x48" mandala inspired works, but you'll also be privy to an installation that pays homage yet again to receptivity, to openness. Expect bowls. Expect water. Expect seeds. Expect offerings and and a careful arrangement that will give even further rise to the contemplative mood the work exhibited on the walls will inspire.


Rota Fortuna (Wheel of Fortune), which is the title of the exhibition, speaks directly to fate and our efforts to break with fate, to placate fate, to accept fate. The work by the same title, pictured here, is riddled with bits of broken ceramics that--in Deborah's hands--come together to recreate a circle from what otherwise would have been random scatter bits, crockery that could have remained relegated to the dumpster or landfill.

Deborah says, "Terry Tempest Williams, one of my favorite writers, wrote a beautiful book after 9/11 called Finding Beauty in a Broken World--all in reference to mosaic. Tempest Williams says, 'Mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.'"

I like eavesdropping on this dialogue!!!



Here's another close-up of a conversation I "overheard" in Deborah's studio. Even the words sound beautiful: peacock, teacup.

If you're feeling open and receptive or interested in engaging in this kind of language-less dialogue that does as much as words ever can, you'll want to check out Deborah Gavel's Rota Fortuna (Wheel of Fortune) at the 5G Gallery which is located at 1715 5th St. NW. Just north of downtown. The opening is next Friday, July 2nd, from 6-8 pm.







["Tara", referenced in this blog title, is a deity from Buddhism whom Deborah has incorporated in one work, here shown in the banner excerpt. Tara, in particular white Tara who is associated with the wish-fulfilling wheel may be a good person to pose questions about creativity. I'd like to ask, "How can a writer do as painters do and achieve 'liquid' language?" Ink has a different kind of potential fluidity worth cultivating... Deborah knows this, can see how all the arts speak to each other, and suggested I might enjoy reading James Elkin's book, What Painting Is... So I'm off and reading in preparation for both my own work and a fuller enjoyment of hers...]

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Tags: 5G Gallery, Deborah Gavel, Rota Fortuna, Wheel of Fortune, mandalas

Comment by cc on June 25, 2010 at 2:02pm
great review, Lisa! I have loved Deborah's paintings since she was in grad school and love her use of encaustic - wax. I was her student once, too, and she is a wonderful teacher. I will be glad to look up close at these paintings that incorporate mosaic. They look beautiful in the photos.
Comment by lisa gill on June 25, 2010 at 4:21pm
Oh good CC. I am pretty sure Deborah also said that JB is the person who turned her on to Elkins book!!!
Comment by Kristine Maltrud on June 25, 2010 at 5:25pm
This is a very beautiful post, Lisa. You really captured Deborah and her amazing art, as well as her creative source... I'm really looking forward to her show opening on July 2. oh, and here's a pic of you and Kevin E at 516 ARTS - it was a wonderful reading of 'The Relenting' - mezmerizing!

i hope this .jpg comes through - looks kinda odd:

Comment by Richard Read Oyama on June 25, 2010 at 8:20pm
Yes yes yes. Sorry, maybe I'm still hung over from Bloomsday. But, yes, a lovely post. . .
Comment by Deborah Gavel on June 26, 2010 at 11:47am
Lisa you and kevin did an amazing job of bringing your words to life ....thanks so very much from the heart for all you bring to our city!

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