Winsome. This is the term that best describes the illustrations of Rosendale-based artist Giselle Potter. While the word has taken on a pejorative sense in recent years (winsome = something lightweight, or lacking seriousness); and it's used, erroneously, in place of its mawkish cousin, "wistful" ("having or showing a feeling of vague or regretful longing"), Potter's paintings radiate empathy. Her characters are depicted in a flat, 2-D style which is half pre-Renaissance icon painting and half folk art, but their expressions convey a depth of soul that carries the etymological root of the word (from the Old English: wynsum, from wyn "joy" + some). Some joy—that's it in a nutshell.
Sharon Bates, director of the Art & Culture Program at the Albany International Airport, who curated the exhibition "Folk Modern," the current show at the airport in which Potter's work is prominently featured, is a fan. "Giselle's work doesn't offer a true sense of dimension or perspective," says Bates. "In her paintings, many of them the mouths are slightly open, and you see little tiny teeth. She's adept at capturing certain emotions in the depictions of the faces. Given her primitive style of rendering, she's really able to capture complexity."
Potter's first book, The Year I Didn't Go to School (Atheneum, 2002) a graphic bildungsroman based on her experiences traveling in Italy as a child with her parents' puppet troupe, the Mystic Paper Beast goes a long way toward explaining her marveling eye. (One notable performer in the carnival is Eva, "who could hang by her long hair and play the tuba.") Her parents were traveling puppet minstrels in the land of Fellini—who's surprised that Potter would wind up a mixed media artist with a flair for the miraculous in the mundane?
Potter got her start in commercial illustration at The New Yorker, doing spot illustrations for the Talk of the Town section. "I'd be sent to play and then have to sketch it out," says Potter. Her connections at the magazine led her into children's books, where her love of narrative is given free reign. Her most recent book, Tell Me What To Dream About (Schwartz & Wade, 2015), is inspired by her two daughters, who would ask their mom what they should envision in slumberland. In the book, the sisters discuss the dreamy possibilities—one delightful idea: eating a meal of teeny-tiny waffles with teeny-tiny animals—until the girls hit on the notion of the perfect dream. (I won't spoil it.)
"Folk Modern," a group show with Anima Katz, Mat LaFleur, Jack Metzger, John McQueen, Nancy Natale, Steve Rein, and Susanna Starr, will be on exhibit through May 8 at the Albany International Airport. Portfolio: Gisellepotter.com.