An artist with a message: Gayle Wells Mandle
Gayle Wells Mandle has been an artist all her life.
Originally from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the South Dartmouth resident grew up watching her mother paint watercolors. But they weren’t just pretty pictures.
“She did a lot of local themed work, in terms of coal mining disasters and things like that,” Mandle noted thoughtfully. “So that was a huge influence on me when I started to paint…[I chose] subject matter that struck me as important.”
“For me, I cannot sit down and do a pretty landscape or still life. It holds no interest for me whatsoever,” she said. “But there are people who do that, and do it beautifully.”
“I just can’t,” she added with a laugh. “I feel like I have to get up on my soapbox.”
The painter has always mixed art with a mission.
Mandle’s paintings and collages make use of mixed media like handwritten stories, photographs, or found objects to add depth and texture to her pieces, which are all based on socio-political themes like inequality or environmental destruction.
In 2018, she and her husband Roger delved even further into this world by co-founding DATMA, an organization devoted to Design, Art, and Technology in Massachusetts’ South Coast region.
Last summer the organization brought a mylar installation, Patrick Shearn’s “Silver Current,” to Custom House Square in New Bedford, and plans to do even more in 2020.
After a decades-long career in interior design, she decided to go back to school, completing a masters in painting and printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design.
“I feel that my interior design was like doing a three-dimensional painting, that they were all the same issues,” she said. “When you’re working on a space, you are dealing with scale, color, contrast, texture. All the things that you would work with interior design would also go into a painting...It works back and forth.”
Her interior design work helped with her thesis, an installation replicating the fort underneath the back porch of her childhood house.
But in her professional work, Mandle focuses on collage and mixed media paintings.
“While studying painting, I was cutting open the empty oil tubes of paint and gluing them on my canvas,” she laughed. “It was sort of a waste not, want not thing!”
Mandle said that her art draws from the various places she’s lived and the socio-political issues she found there, such as homelessness in Washington or economic disparity and the Arab Spring uprisings in Doha, Qatar.
Lately her work has focused on environmental issues like flooding, pollution, and wildfires.
“But I do it in a very abstract way,” she explained. “There’s a story behind each painting. It’s not so didactic and preachy.”
While Mandle and her husband were living in Providence in the 1990s, they bought a dilapidated farmhouse on Barney’s Joy Road and spent twenty years fixing it up.
Last year the couple sold the house to move to a smaller place in Padanaram.
Mandle loves living in Dartmouth.
“I adore it,” she said. “It’s not only a beautiful place landscape-wise, and architecturally, but there are so many interesting people here.”
She noted that her art has “intensified” through the years, and now often incorporates her own photographs.
“I like the juxtaposition of the realness of the photograph with the imaginary abstraction of the paint and the textures,” she explained. “They’re photographs of peeling facades of buildings, doorways...It’s more the crumbling architecture that appeals to my aesthetic.”
But for Mandle, it’s never just been art for art’s sake.
“Creating something out of nothing gives me great joy,” she said.