BOWERS MUSEUM

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Gayle Garner Roski (1941-2020) believed that the greatest gift of all was to live and paint in Los Angeles, a city whose vastly different neighborhoods were unified by the sense of wonder she experienced when exploring them. She blended the pure joy the city inspired into her watercolors and they, in turn, have delighted and comforted viewers for three decades.

Her journey as an artist began in the 1990s after her children had grown up and left home. New to being an empty nester, Gayle felt that she was disappearing into obsolescence. To renew her lease on life she returned to the pursuit that had once led her to enroll as a fine art student at the University of Southern California—that program has since been renamed the USC Gayle Garner Roski School of Art and Design in her honor. She converted one of her children’s rooms into a studio and began painting. When she first picked up her brush again, she was inspired by ribbons, symbols of gifts and gift-giving, and the city that she had loved since birth. Over the next two decades Gayle painted forty-four large watercolor vignettes of her experiences growing up and living in the City of Angels. She titled the series “Los Angeles Millennium 2000 – 2020.” Peopled by friends, family, and fellow Angelenos, the jubilant scenes tell intimate and relatable stories of the places that Gayle cherished most deeply.

As Gayle was completing her series, she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the rare neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Her death in October of 2020 is an immeasurable loss to those who knew and loved her but is softened by the wonderful legacy that she leaves behind in her paintings. We are fortunate that we can learn about her process and read the stories behind these artworks in Gayle’s own words. Retrace her travels through Los Angeles and enjoy her final and greatest gift: the enchanting city she loved so much, seen through her eyes.

The Gift of Los Angeles: Memories in Watercolor by Gayle Garner Roski is organized by the Bowers Museum and curated by Jean Stern. Artworks are on loan from the Roski Family. A very special thank you to Beverly Chang, without whom this exhibition would not have been possible.

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I am a happy painter. All of my work, from the very beginning, has always been about celebration. Celebration of life. Celebration of a person. Celebration of a moment.

Each of my paintings tells a story, creating a narrative that enables me to reach out and connect with others. I firmly believe that through the sharing of stories – whether via visual forms or the written word – we see the parallels in each other’s lives and recognize that our similarities outweigh our differences.

Before I start a new work, I consider the story I want to tell. I give myself a few days to dream about the story – and I literally dream about it. During hours of restful slumber, I experience a myriad of ideas flowing into my mind.

With these inspiring thoughts, I develop the framework for a painting. Because I don’t want my creativity to be limited by the sizes of stock watercolor paper (which I personally find to be too small), I order my favorite hot-press paper on rolls, allowing me to customize the size – and sometimes the shape – to best suit my vision for my next artistic endeavor.

I begin each new painting by developing my center of interest in the foreground. Then I work my way to the background, continually adding to the composition to provide vignettes and other intriguing elements that I hope will make the viewer smile.

My works that celebrate life and its special moments are also a celebration of color. I never grey my colors, instead opting to embrace the captivating intensity of pure hues. In fact, I stopped mixing my colors long ago. While often working “wet on wet,” I allow colors to merge and blend on paper, letting the painting reveal itself to me. This is part of the magic of watercolor – and why it has been my medium of choice for decades.

GGR Signature

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Gayle’s studio was always the first stop when friends or family visited her home. For most artists, the desk at which they create is the sole focal point of their workspace. However, this polka-dotted couch emphasizes that the room was not just a workshop, but the hearth of her Toluca Lake home.

Her studio was lined with her favorite artifacts from around the world and her paintings of the same. This re-creation evidences her interest in Chinese calligraphy brushes, the basketry and textiles of the Indigenous cultures of the Americas, and the hand-painted pendants of India’s Rajasthan state.

my process

Gayle held that travel not only broadened the mind but also created a fresh eye for a painter. Travels to just about every continent in the world allowed her to paint the faces, foods, landscapes, buildings, and even the artifacts of cultures around the world. During these trips Gayle and her husband, Edward Roski Jr., collected many cultural artworks that are now on display at the Bowers Museum.

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my process

I had the pleasure of knowing Gayle Garner Roski for many years. I joined the California Art Club in 1992 and not long after that, I met Gayle at their Annual Gold Medal Exhibition. I was fascinated by her. I knew she traveled all over the world and experienced both magnificent elegance and simple subsistence. She climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and dived off New Guinea. A few years ago, I asked her: “What did you do this summer?” She responded, “I went to the Titanic.”

From the first, Gayle’s paintings have entranced me. They immediately drew my attention because they were so well done and so unlike any other work in the show. I feel comfortable and happy viewing her paintings. They present a gentle, child-like image of people in a genuinely affectionate manner. The world she created is peaceful, inviting, and uncomplicated.

The medium she used is watercolor which Gayle called “a medium of magic.” Seeing watercolors took me back to my childhood and my earliest memories of using that medium. Because it is a wet process, it will not stay precisely where you put it. You never know exactly how it will come out. Moreover, it cannot be reworked. If you do, it will mar the image and the whole world will know you blundered.

I invite you to tour this enchanting exhibition and experience the delightful images that will take you to the great places and events that are the social fabric of Los Angeles. As I viewed these paintings, I too was taken back to my childhood in Los Angeles and being in these places for the first time.

Jean Stern
Director Emeritus
The Irvine Museum

my process

This series, created for a 2016 exhibition marking the 80th anniversary of the historic racetrack, captures the pageantry of thoroughbred racing. Nestled near the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Anita Park is considered by many to be the most beautiful racetrack in the world and host to some of the most prominent racing events.

my process

To complement works of her native Los Angeles, Gayle often painted along the California coastline, capturing quintessential images of the lifestyle and natural beauty of Southern California. These images of Santa Monica and Malibu represent a special series—The Healing Journey of Pacific Coast Highway—which addresses the healing forces of nature.

Malibu

Santa Monica

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2018.6.1

Hot Fudge Sundae Angel
Acrylic on Fiberglass
80 x 51 x 32 inches
Created for the Community of Angels Sculptural Project in Los Angeles.
Gayle’s angel was sponsored by Ernst & Young

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Gayle Garner Roski’s first solo exhibition featured a series of ribbon paintings. Ribbons are one of those little things in life that have been a continual source of joy for the artist, as they symbolize the generosity of giving and hope for new beginnings, as the final touch for gifts wrapped for many of life’s most memorable events is a ribbon tied with love.

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Gayle was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as she finalized the paintings in this exhibition. The Roski family is extremely grateful for the support and advice they received from Augie’s Quest to Cure ALS (augiesquest.org) in helping find exceptional doctors for Gayle’s care. Please consider donating to help Augie’s Quest succeed in its ultimate goal of halting, reversing and curing this devastating disease, so others do not have to endure the pain that Gayle did.

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I titled this The Gift of Los Angeles because creating these works of everything that the city has to offer has been a gift. It has been a gift to live the life that I have. It has been a gift to create paintings that contribute to the visual history of the city I love. And, most important, it is a gift to share these gifts from my life with you.

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The Bowers Museum could not be more honored than to exhibit The Gift of Los Angeles: Memories in Watercolor by Gayle Garner Roski. Gayle and her husband Ed have been life-long supporters of the arts and friends to many of us at the Bowers. If her painting of the Bowers Museum is any indication of the way she felt about us, we would hope that exhibiting here would feel to her like being home.

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