The day before I met with Raymond Gaddy, my husband told me to tell him, “If we win the lottery tonight, we are buying the big astronaut piece!” We’d need a bigger house for this 108 x 86 inch mixed media piece called “Untitled, (C. Pelagica)”, completed in 2015. I remember the birds; my husband is a sucker for astronauts and we both loved it.
To be honest, I was pretty blown away while viewing Gaddy’s exhibit at SPACE Gallery in Savannah last August. The gallery craves big pieces and Gaddy delivered.
Two walls were covered by 9 foot mixed media drawings. Mesmerized, I walked over and stared at those pieces for a good hour. The intricacy is not obvious until you get closer and see each individual drawing stroke and stitch.
The bigger pieces did not overshadow the smaller ones; they each had their own story to tell. Unconventional pairings included science fiction icons next to childhood memories. Bits and pieces of thoughts combined like patchwork samples.
Like a really good film that you think about the next day, I kept thinking about his work months after.
I wanted to examine more about my favorite art exhibit of 2015; more about the artist himself.
To my enormous delight, Raymond agreed to meet with me.
An Alabama native, Raymond Gaddy received his BFA in Painting at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, an MFA in Painting from the University of Alabama and an MA in Arts Administration at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He has maintained his career in the arts both as a Fine Artist and Instructor of Painting and Drawing at the University of North Florida.
We met for coffee in Midtown. I was a little nervous, so I had to break the ice.
SAI: From one nerd to another; what’s your favorite Science Fiction film?
Raymond Gaddy: [He chuckles.] Empire Strikes Back and the original Star Wars.
SAI: Okay, of course I agree on Empire. What superpower would you have and why?
Gaddy: Funny, I have thought about this a lot because of my commute to Jacksonville twice a week. Definitely, teleportation. It would save me a lot of time.
SAI: How does teaching inspire you?
Gaddy: The students come up with fresh ideas which motivates me and keeps me in the game. Sometimes I wish I’d thought of an idea they thought of. The students are very inspirational. My own children inspire me as well, sometimes I borrow ideas from them.
SAI: Describe a real-life situation that inspired you for Tall Tales?
Gaddy: My grandpa’s pick up truck…the one I learned how to drive. It became more than just a truck; it was our island playground. The bed would be the safe haven while sharks or something creepy surrounded us.
My mind drifted a bit while thinking of shark games my neighborhood friends and I would play. It’s now apparent that we both grew up with Jaws and Star Wars.
SAI: I remember a truck piece; and fishing hooks. Is that the truck?
Gaddy: Yes. There were two drawings with the truck. You are thinking of “Haskew”.
SAI: I love that piece. It reminded me of the lake I grew up on. Okay, what is your strongest childhood memory?
Gaddy: Well, if I were to pick one–my maternal grandpa, who was a tree farmer, wanted me to take over the business. Even though I liked growing up in rural south Alabama and respected the business, well, you know, it wasn’t my path.
Oh! And the encounter with a copperhead snake.
SAI: Snakes…that will stick. Maybe Star Wars and comic books allowed us small-town kids to dream of worlds beyond our immediate surroundings.
SAI: I loved your show for many reasons. It was very tactile and I liked the monochromatic lack of color. I thought about the subject matter rather than color, which can be distracting. What are your thoughts?
Gaddy: The lack of color is intentional and I need a break from color. I teach color theory in painting classes. I really like my pieces right now because I feel they are more sophisticated. I’m enjoying the drawing process of these new works more than ever. I’m using family influences too; like the quilt work some of my female family members do. I like sewing because it’s repetitive and not taxing, but soothing. I can do it while watching a television show.
SAI: Other than Star Wars, were you influenced by comic books or super heroes?
Gaddy: Look up Jack Kirby’s work. I wonder if you’ll see influences. I also think about Dr. Strangelove a lot. Have you seen it?
SAI: Probably 10 times! Slim Pickens riding the bomb! Maybe that will be a self-portrait one day!
I had viewed spaceship drawings by Alex Raymond and Alex Schomburg recently. Schomburg’s 1950 drawings are illustrations of spaceships accosting earthlings with laser beams or Captain America defending the world against another alien attack.
Gaddy’s work connects his memories which are both fantasy and real-life. For example, while watching a bird of prey swooping in the sky, he may have thought of the Millenium Falcon as a child…or still does. Instead of laser beams linking the two worlds, he uses sewing. The stitching gives the drawings intimacy; combining some of his memories.
SAI: Let’s chat about the local art scene in Savannah. What are your favorite places to see art?
Gaddy: I like the Jepson Center. Oh! And I like that new gallery space on Bull, someones name…?
SAI: Lee O’Neil Gallery?
Gaddy: Yes! That’s it. Nice space. Also, I really like what the Cultural Affairs department is doing too. Eileen Baker, the director, is doing a great job.
Raymond is a member and Chair of the City of Savannah Cultural Affairs Commission.
SAI: What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Gaddy: Indispensable? Music. I love listening to new music in my studio.
Gaddy: I put on my headphones and listen to mostly alternative on Pandora, groups like Band of Horses and the Luminaries. I play music for my students too.
SAI: Name two or three artists you would like to be compared to.
Gaddy: Hmmm? Maybe Caravaggio. Lucian Freud. Do you know the British artist, Jenny Saville? Look her up. I love her figurative works. I consider myself a figurative artist.
After the interview, I did look her up and saw the similarities in the line work, especially with Gaddy’s past work.
Thinking about our conversation, I realized that we grew up around the same time. We both have loving families who support our artistic endeavors. Quite possibly, we are going thru semi-parallel periods, embracing our childhoods and indulging our nerdy sci-fi addictions. Art is subjective and I like his subject matter…a lot. I feel gratitude when artists share their genuine mental keepsakes.
My childhood love of sci-fi may be slightly different than his, but I still remember my heart racing while watching the first Star Wars film. Back in 1977, it was something none of us had ever seen or thought possible. I think those memories came to the surface when I viewed Tall Tales.
I did ask many other questions, but this one gave me goosebumps.
SAI: Alright, what is your dream project?
Gaddy: [Without any hesitation] I’m doing it right now.
How refreshing it is to hear that Gaddy loves his current works. It definitely reflects in his art and is just another reason why I loved Tall Tales so much.
If you would like to see Raymond Gaddy’s work in person, Tall Tales is currently showing at the Jacksonville International Airport (concourse cases, post security) till the end of March.
On April 1, he is participating in A Flannery Feast: Art Inspired by Flannery O’Connor at Non Fiction Gallery (1522 Bull Street) as part of the First Friday Art March.
He will also have new pieces in a group exhibition called Span The Gap, opening this spring in Savannah.
(ed. note: Watson is the organizer for the Span the Gap exhibition.)