Birds have often been recognized as symbols of freedom or the future.
Long Beach artist Gail Werner includes birds in her work for a number of reasons. As a Native-American who is affiliated with three tribes– the Cupeño, Luiseño and Diegeño– she finds that birds represent a journey.
Werner says that many of the tribes have “bird songs.” These are songs that are performed with a gourd rattle by the men and boys of a tribe. In the songs, the birds’ seasonal migrations symbolize their ancestors’ journey to southern California. These songs include descriptions of places, animals, mountains, deserts and stars.
Werner’s mediums include oil paints, gouaches, monotype prints and encaustics. Landscapes and artifacts also connect with her Native-American heritage and are often displayed in her works.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of Werner’s favorite places to hike. “It’s about two and a half hours away,” she noted. “Actually, that had been land that was used back in time as places to hunt and gather food for the native people.”
While hiking, Werner tries to find rock pictographs. “They are sometimes painted or etched out of stone,” she said. “No one really knows what they mean because they are so old. Sometimes I use those designs.”
Other designs that Werner includes are inspired by basketry. “They have a lot of designs that are flowers– geometric designs,” she said. “My great-grandmother, she was a noted basketmaker.”
Werner’s use of colors is also inspired by landscapes. She often uses deep reds with pastel greens and yellows that she sees in soil and plant life. “I do a lot of hiking out, mostly in the desert areas,” she said. “I take a lot of photographs that I use later and bring them back to the studio. It’s not always direct; it’s more a memory of those colors.”
Werner grew up in the Bay area of northern California and later moved to Southern California, where she studied for her Masters of Fine Arts at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
According to Werner, when she attended CSULB in the 1980s, painters were “making a comeback.”
“[The art was] very large and painterly,” she added. “So, I was influenced a lot by that time period.”
Werner found a liking for art at an early age. She remembers actively watching an instructional-art program.
Over time, Werner found interest in several artists such as French impressionist painter Claude Monet and Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.
When Werner attended San Diego State University for her bachelor’s of fine arts, she was fortunate to then travel to Europe, where she discovered the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner, a British romantic landscape painter and printmaker.
Werner used to teach special education in the Long Beach Unified School District. Today, she works full-time in her studio. “Right now feels like my second chance because life gets in the way,” she said. “I was teaching for a long time, and it’s harder to get things done…This is really what I want.”