The life of Mono artist, Gail Prussky

June 10, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Peter Richardson

Loganberry Hill lies just off Hwy. 89 about 12 minutes form Shelburne, Ontario. It is home to numerous birds, at times a porcupine, red squirrels, chipmunks, a very large and ambitious Great Dane, a man called Alan, sometimes referred to as Dwayne and a diminutive blonde pixie named Gail Prussky.

Gail and Alan have been married for 42 years and Logan, the Great Dane, is the child who won’t leave home. In fact, he follows Gail around like a four-footed appendage she has suddenly acquired.

They make an odd yet inseparable pair! Gail is an artist, a writer, a mother and completely done with COVID-19. She is also, frequently, in Facebook jail. As you might have guessed she can be opinionated. Nevertheless, she is a gem, hidden away in the Mono hills, an artist of renown and author of two books, Broken Balloons and her latest, The Secret Life of Doris Melnick. The latter, turns out to be the name of a real person, living in California, who Gail had never heard of until she reached out to ask if Gail was the writer of her biography!

A quick book delivery followed and I am pleased to report that Doris Melnick approves of Gail’s writings and her art. The art you see is somewhat complicated, either it is loved or it is hated and there is no middle ground.

So what is the story of Gail Prussky? She was born, in Toronto, in another age. She attended university, where she graduated with a fine arts degree and then promptly became an addiction therapist.

Ten years following, she became Gail Prussky the artist. Along the way, she married, not Alan, but another artist, they divorced. Along comes 1979 and Alan, 42 years later, they are still happily together, But enough history, what about the art? Gail professes to have always drawn since she was a little girl. It was mostly horses back then and they still show up today. She says she has no plans when she paints or draws, she just starts and the results flow forth onto the medium.

To this day, she carries her sketch books with her, everywhere. The doctors waiting room, the grocery store parking lot, Alan shops, Gail waits in the car, the dentist wherever she ventures so go the books. Lately, she has not painted but she still draws. She credits being cooped up at home for the lack of painting, but the drawing continues.

Does she paint from her drawings, no, each is its’ own form of expression, as are her sculptures, another favourite art form. Folk art is as old as mankind and yet it appears in every generation, every age and it always seems familiar to the eye. Gail’s creatures are no different and yet beautifully unique!

Her paintings are alive with strange creatures and people. You could call them quirky, but you would do them an injustice. Describing art is always difficult, especially if you are simultaneously putting on aires, but we are not and so let us say that her creations are unique, bizarre, twisted, unfathomable, but always unique!

They also occasionally come with captions. Captions which always materialize after the painting is complete. She paints on canvas, wood, fabrics and paper, and always in the same amazing style.

“The “Arrogant Earwig” is one example. a work on paper, it pictures an earwig’s body with a man’s head. The head is too big for the body and carries a mournful expression, as if to ask, why me? And then there is Bogart, a painting of Gail’s first Great Dane and as lifelike as any Rembrandt, though not as baroque.

Gail’s folk art is fun. Alan cuts out her sketched shapes and then Gail works her magic. She often scours curio and antique shops to find little pieces to place on them. A tyre with a compass inside of it, for a foot, or a row of old rusty nails along a spine. They are painted and decorated as she sees them transform and become something they were not before. Many of them are animals, but unlike any you may have encountered, yet somehow familiar, neither old friend or new enemy.

Going back to the beginnings, Gail was a volunteer at the Donwood Institute, a treatment centre for substance abuse in Toronto. She liked the work so much, that she went to George Brown College to become an addiction therapist and was hired on by the Donwood Institute. Working there for the next ten years, may have unknowingly, planted the seeds of her strange and twisted art career. True or not, Gail left after ten years and is today, the artist of Loganberry Hill. When she moved up to Dufferin, she joined the Orangeville Art Group and was in one of their group shows. Surrounded by landscapes and pretty pictures, Gail quickly realized that these were not her people. She eventually did find places she fit in, Alton being one, but even today she is sometimes on the outside to the art community. This fact, is why she has been so pleased whenever she is accepted in juried shows. She has been judged by her peers and found worthy, a recognition that resonates with her.

Amongst her many and notable friends, Gail used to live with the late Carolyn Cronenberg ne Zeifman, wife of Director David Cronenberg. She was actually asked to leave the apartment, so that David could move in. However, the two remained close friends and when Cronenberg’s daughter, Caitlin, got married, Gail was invited to the wedding. She was seated with a gentleman who regaled her with stories about the racetrack and his exploits as a young man. When she got up to go home, she asked for his email address to send him some of her drawings, he turned out to be, author, poet, painter and man of letters, Barry Callaghan, son of Morley Callaghan. He was also Editor-in-Chief of Exile Quarterly.

It was a fortuitous meeting, because Barry loved her drawings and wanted to do a book with Gail. Thus was born Broken Balloons. However, Barry almost immediately wanted, to do a sequel and so The Secret Life of Doris Melnick came into being. Gail has also been published frequently in the magazine, Exile Quarterly.

Gail has been painting full time for about 15 years and whenever the world starts getting her down, to quote a famous song lyric, she takes her dog and heads to the woods on her property. That, she says, is her happy place.

No matter how bad her day has been, she finds relaxation in the forest behind her house. Right now, she longs for COVID-19 to be a thing of the past and for life to resume to some form of normalcy. She misses the gallery shows and her friends and the day-to-day life of before the pandemic.

She said she misses the casino in Elora, playing the slots and all the little things that were taken for granted before COVID. Gail has a daughter, who lives in Toronto and who often visited before COVID. Seeing her again will be a sign that things are returning to normal.

Meanwhile, she sketches and draws and walks with her dog, who is truly a boundless source of energy, and lives her life. Soon enough, she will pick up her brushes and paint again and life will evolve into a new normal.

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