I’m following an instruction that I was given. The narrative is too long to relate. “Pull up a rope ladder and leave my thumbprint on a vaulted ceiling.” Now, in every painting, this is the task. It opens with a broad upward stroke that connects my heart and brush, and brings the paint up as high as it can be pulled. Where the feathery stroke ends becomes an arena with counterpoints filled with down rushes, traversing undulations of crisp sponged edges, that on a non-porous synthetic paper, reverts to its original white surface – a surface beset with unexpected and risky challenges. I’m excited by the new discoveries when I use graphite and acrylic ink on this synthetic paper and what emerges. Combined, they have their own gorgeous and unpredictable nature that informs and shapes the direction of my work.

This smooth surface can completely wipe away the ink in an instant and erase all history. Then I have to begin again without a ghost or trace of the original foundation. On its way to becoming something, the painting is always poised on an edge of failure. These works often take days to resolve. Sometimes just a small passage is all that remains after an entire day. Other times the entire painting will be lost. A small misstep may result in an enormous shift in direction. I constantly watch these paintings collapse with a shock of loss, yet trust I will find my way back. The process is often indeterminate and its’ conclusion, more like a surrender.

This is where I find the painting’s definitive beauty.


The ordinary yet delicate nature of my materials underscore the unsettling images and important ideas they describe. Flour, ash, graphite and chalk mix into fragile dusty surfaces that depict people walking, cycling, standing on thin ice, and leaving their trace. There are birds flying upwards, mountains, sky, and smoke. Though disparate in subject matter, all of the images have at their foundation two significant threads: the ambiguity of personal identity and physical location, and the way in which memory and history are forged from everyday moments. These images occur on earth, in air, and on water.

The work has suddenly become entwined with present tragic events. The work is a further investigation that shows the elements we leave behind when subject to the fate of place, catastrophe, displacement, fleeting presence, as well as stating the initial moment when things begin to move or take flight: a crashing wave, the initial moment when a gust of wind blows the fresh snow off a mountain top, the footsteps one leaves behind in snow.

Some of the works reveal clues: an old bicycle, a dated hemline, to place and location, and the physical fragility of the work, (one brush against the paper and the image vanishes). This reminds how quickly the lessons of history can be forgotten…have been forgotten.

I want my drawings to reverberate with an evanescence and collective foreboding. The fugitive nature of the powdery media gives poignancy and immediacy to images that intentionally dissolve into oblique memories.


I photograph the distant flatlands from my house day and night in every season and climate, from one particular vantage point.
I digitally transform my photographs to obscure fact: day might be changed to night, night into day. The tonal values are fiction. I often work with imperceptible images that have lost legibility, but gain richness in meaning and content. Shapes in the landscape shift and disappear in the night, in the fog, in the rain, and in the smoke from past wildfires. I observe the daily change of climate from my distant shelter.
The altered source photos are then redeveloped into paintings on opaque Mylar made with an ink of graphite and mineral spirit, then sanded with steel wool to achieve a mirror-like patina. From my “place on the hills,” what unfolds is a fresh revelation and reinvention of this single view.
Antokal, my surname, is the former name of a suburb outside of Vilnius in Lithuania (now Antakalnis), which means “The Place on Hills”. The view from Antakalnis overlooks the city of Vilnius and the Neris River. It bears more than a striking resemblance to the view from my home in the hills that overlook the San Francisco bay.

2012 BLOSSOM 2013-2014 EXO

I draw from ordinary objects to interpret or reinvent them. I’m always intrigued when something small and unexpected presents itself because in my experience, the most authentic work germinates from a simple notion or impulse, which then can transform into something more extraordinary, ineffable or abstract. I discover a world of complexity in one pictorial idea. In the process of working with repetition of form and multiple variations, the meaning of the object begins to emerge. As this happens I am engrossed in the generative relationship between the circumstance of the single image drawn on the picture plane, and the shift of meaning with the subsequent assembly of many. The essence of the form is realized in this process.

2014-2015: FARNESE

Farnese was a fortuitous meeting between artist and location. The Villa Farnese is a massive renaissance and mannerist mansion in the Roman Campagna that I visited twice during the summer of 2014. Amid the opulence and painted splendor of the villa, are the undocumented, insignificant rooms where surfaces of the walls and frescoed architectonic motives are barely visible, and reveal vague images in a painted tangle of nicks, cracks and scratches. These abraded walls presented a wealth of visual ideas that grew into a sequence of small drawings. I developed a process using an opaque white synthetic paper on which the graphite has been painted, rubbed, dissolved, erased, and ultimately burnished into a surface that resembles polished mirror.


Interview with Timothy Buckwalter (KQED)

Timothy Buckwalter: In the last decade your drawings have changed — the orbs, spheres and glassware you were drawing the ’90s were very precise, the images very specific. Not that you’re a photorealist, but your intention seemed to be a kind of elegant appraisal of certain objects. More recently your drawings (pastel on paper) have become hazier and more ambiguous… and you seem to be using photos as a source now, instead of the actual object.

Gale Antokal: Actually, the objects from the ’90s were all photo based. I took hundreds of photos in different light sources, and in those days, pre-Photoshop, I would have the 35mm rolls developed, and each time, alter the color temperature and contrast. I needed the photography to give the drawing a foundation on which to reestablish an elusive power — an intensified subject matter in the foreground, a heightened realism, yet there was actually a subtle, complex layer of secrets in the relationships and qualities of the forms being described in pastel.

The photos I use are now considered for their degradation and inability to be read. I enhance them making the image even more low contrast. There is a vagueness of vision and clarity. It describes a “failure of sight” on many levels. It also speaks of how the past is obscured.

TB: Well, certainly by removing the figure the audience must form a new relationship with your drawings, since figures are generally the keys that people use to open the door of a painting or drawing (your new pieces feature only clouds or trees).

But I wonder after so many years of creating figurative work are your new pieces the beginning of a journey into the abstract?

GA: Yes, As it began, objects started to translate into thoughts and depictions of lost, or abandoned or unclaimed possessions. Then, I looked at the nature of weight and gravity. I started thinking about what we leave behind to prove we have existed at all. The carvings left by ice skates or sleds, or footprints in the snow.

I am thinking more about what is left when everything is taken away. These places have a primordial quality, even though the photo sources are very mundane and the locations are very personal. There is more absence of life whether it is birds (the flying ash), or figures (the walking dust).

I also like thinking about the fact that usually a sense of “place” is perceived when there are two descriptors. An “above” and a “below” and the relation between the two. Usually the consequent edge is a horizon.


Albert Camus powerful insight, that “The work is nothing else than the long journeying through the labyrinth of art, to find again the two or three simple great images upon which the heart first opened“ has long been my affirmation.

One drawing, in this series of work, “Out of the Blue”, is an appropriation of the first photographic image I remember. This photograph, one of approaching apocalypse (a tornado) left me in awe. This image, Out of the Blue 5, is a premise on which my work is often based, and bears an air of foreboding, uncertainty.

This image resonates in my early Nightswimming series (1986 and 1989), the drawings of cooking pots (1990-92), and even the backlit barns of The Messengers (2007).

Many of the drawings in “Out of the Blue” depict small human figures not spared by natural and unnatural disasters. In contrast, Departure 3, Bird on Cage, and Gandhi, pose a moment of calm.

Another early memory of mine was of milk streaming from a broken bottle, cascading down a flight of stairs. In contrast, Cold Tears (2010) freezes this moment in time.


The ordinary yet delicate nature of Gale Antokal’s materials underscores the haunting images and important ideas they describe. Flour, ash, graphite and chalk unite into fragile surfaces that depict people walking, birds flying, mountains, milk pouring down stairs, children sledding, smoke and footprints. Though disparate in subject matter, all of the images have at their foundation two significant threads: the ambiguity of personal identity and physical location; and the way in which memory and history are forged from everyday moments. (Laura Richard)


The Messengers, like much of her previous work, is a gracious presentation, at once poetic and ghostly, of everyday subjects. While this presentation amounts to a fairly dramatic, if also hushed, formal innovation, it is always clear that form is not an end in itself, but rather Antokal’s means of gently coaxing mysterious and affecting essences from “ordinary” images that matter to her. Among other things, her works remind us of, and give back, what was lost in the photographs that served as their inspirations-what is always lost when we see with a merely physical eye. (Craig Buckwald)