Gina Gilmour grew up in North Carolina and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Sarah Lawrence College before she arrived on the North Fork.
First drawn to Orient as the 1999 artist-in-residence of the William Steeple-Davis Foundation, she has more recently renovated an eight-room 1920s motel in Mattituck, transforming it into an airy, light-filled studio with six skylights. The last house at the end of a dirt road, the studio — whose former motel name remains a mystery — abuts the woods. Porches for all of the old units remain in their original state, although now with screens, running along each side of Ms. Gilmour’s home and offering a cool breeze not far from Peconic Bay.
A number of Ms. Gilmour’s works are now on view at the Suffolk County Historical Society’s new Weathervane Gallery, including oil paintings from her “Duets” series and ceramic sculptures from a series she calls “Embraces” — sculptures created in response to Sept. 11 that depict couples taking comfort in each other’s embrace. The Mattituck artist’s dramatic painting “The Tree Behind Us” and her oceanscape “Blue Tide” are also on exhibit. Ms. Gilmour’s work is inspired by her life in North Carolina and her discovery of nature and is informed by her extensive travels in southern France, Ireland, Mexico and Japan.
The show continues through July 31.
Q. When did you know that art would be your calling?
A. Well, I always made things from an early age. I made things in the woods, built forts with my friends. I was into animals and an important thing in my life was this garage behind my house. I rescued injured animals and cared for them and nursed them in the garage. Then I started making them out of clay. When the animals died, I buried them with their clay models so they wouldn’t be lonely. By the age of 13, I started making larger figures. My first sale was to a prominent civil rights leader in Charlotte [N.C.], an organization called Interpreters House. The piece was called “Compassion” and they used it as a logo. And I won a prize in a traveling show, Young Sculptors of America. So I was focusing on my artwork at an early age and I just continued; I don’t really remember making a decision about becoming an artist, I just sort of slid from a failed veterinarian to child artist.
Q. How did you find your style?
A. I don’t think about style at all. I guess I just keep going to the next thing. Sculpture is trial and error. Painting teaches you about finding what you need next. A sense of place inevitably comes into your work. I would assume that my work is as it is in the same way that I am who I am — it evolves from inner necessity and all that you are exposed to and are passionate about. I lived in France camping by a waterfall and out of that there became a big series of waterfall paintings. In general, things start with little drawings, musings and ideas that come out like dreams, which I might develop into a painting or sculpture.
Q. How does your heritage inform your art?
A. I think childhood experiences shape our sensibilities and the motifs that appear in one’s work. This is certainly true for me. I grew up in North Carolina and I was lucky to have a mother who was always exclaiming and pointing out plants and birds and teaching us the names of all the things she loved.
Q. How has having a new studio affected your work?
A. It is very nice in a very peaceful way. Before this, I had a small rented outbuilding in Cutchogue. It is really nice to have everything in one large space. In some ways it is good and bad: The work I had in storage is now in the studio space. I lost a whole wall because the larger paintings — nine feet by nine feet — are stored here.
Q. How did you decide what your studio would look and feel like? What requirements did you have for it?
A. This was an eight-room motel with porches on both sides. It was daunting. I just walked in with a sledgehammer and started knocking down walls. I had to hire an engineer to put a steel beam in to support the roof so I could have an open space — 50 feet by 25 feet. I put in a large window I found by the side of the road and I put in skylights, too. You can’t have too much light.
Q. How has living on the North Fork informed or transformed your approach to your art?
A. It was very fortunate for me to discover the North Fork at the time that I did — when I was needing to get out of New York City and wanting to get back to nature, to be near water and light. New vistas, colors and feelings came into my work, and a spaciousness that comes from living with a wide horizon.
Q. What inspires you and who are your role models?
A. I have many people and friends whom I admire, many artists whose work I love and activists whose efforts I applaud — too many to name. I am drawn to things that are very simple and things that resonate with multiple meaning.
Click to see more of Gilmour’s work