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The fruit on Gina Golden’s canvas is more luscious and vibrant than the real oranges in the still life she has arranged nearby. Golden strives for this kind of mouth watering realism in her oil paintings. But that’s only one aspect of her artistic vision. In other work displayed in her home and studio, located in Indianapolis’ Fountain Square area, she’s applied her technical skills to imagery from her memory and imagination. As she puts it, “I like to mix realism and surrealism.” “I aim to give a visual definition of feelings one could never quite describe with words,” she has written in her artist statement.
Like William-Adolphe Bouguereau, a Victorian era artist she deeply admires, Golden uses the vocabulary of the human figure along with classical themes to create a sense of narrative. Her playful, contemporary take on mythological subjects is evident in the series Minor Gods, Major Distractions, including such paintings as Cupid and Psyche on the Rocks with a Twist.
Golden’s artistic interests and talents seem almost inevitable, after learning about her family background. “I wanted to do everything my grandfather did,” she recalls. He was a visual artist, as was her maternal grandmother. And it doesn’t stop there. Her father was a graphic artist who worked with printing companies where he was able to help Golden get her first jobs during high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She did deliveries, collating, and then mastered paste-up (lay out) techniques. “My family has always been really supportive.” They made sure she had extra art lessons, including classes at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.
In school, she drew constantly in her (non-art) classes, using technical pens of the same kind her father employed in his work. “I could do that while I was supposed to be paying attention.” When they caught on, “the teachers would say, ‘That’s really nice Gina, now put it away.’” Eventually these pen and ink drawings would comprise a portfolio for admission to college. Also in high school she sold her first art work and won art scholarships.
Golden studied illustration at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. However, the schools’ curricula didn’t offer her in-depth study of painting. “I wanted more focus than the colleges wanted.” Golden’s stylistic approach was also at odds with her art school programs. “I wanted to do more realistic stuff.” She then returned to Fort Wayne, where she created, showed, and sold her paintings. Her art was displayed in restaurants and coffee houses, as well as represented in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art ‘s gallery for local artists. After spending a few years in Charleston, South Carolina, she settled in Indianapolis. It put her closer to family and offered the attractions of a larger city. Golden now has work at Indy’s Art Bank, as well as at the Willow Stained Glass and Modern Art Gallery in Lafayette, Indiana. She’s received commissions and is represented in several corporate collections.
Golden had been experiencing gradual losses in her hearing since childhood and got her first hearing aid at age 14. Then one day, almost a decade ago, she became deaf. 2000 was the year she moved from Fort Wayne to Charleston. “I lost my hearing the day after I got there.” A battery of tests revealed she had some bone-like growth inside her cochlear canals. She was offered, for a hefty price tag, a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted electronic hearing aid). She declined.
At the time the technology was not good enough. “If I can’t listen to music or have a conversation with my eyes closed, it’s not worth it.” She felt “it would be like giving in.” She hasn’t ruled out an implant in the future however. “I do want to have my hearing back. It’s boring. If I didn’t know what I was missing…”
Being unable to hear has presented some not-insignificant barriers to the success of her artistic career. Networking professionally, making sales, or just phone calls are challenging. (Golden uses a captioned telephone, which includes audio but also converts the caller’s voice into a text display. The drawback, she says, is the delay in transmission.) “[Being deaf] makes meeting new people really difficult. At gallery shows people try to talk to me. Some I can understand, some not. I have to explain a lot.”
Golden is extremely adept at lip reading and has very clear speech. (She studied American Sign Language in a Vincennes University program at the Indiana School for the Deaf, “but I don’t know it very well,” she concedes.) She says reading lips is like learning another language. “I’m translating into English as we go.” Every new acquaintance has a different style of speech she must decipher, and “I can’t understand fast speech.”
“All of those things really hurt my confidence,” she relates, and she would rather avoid or postpone many of the tasks she needs to do as a professional artist. “But I do it.” On the other hand Golden is quick to minimize the difficulties of her situation. In the context of the experience of those with more severe impairments, “I think I’m blessed,” she asserts. “I have a very small problem next to other people.”
Golden promotes her art work with business cards and her own website, which has been particularly effective at selling her prints. Her blog highlights new work and describes how she is creating her paintings in progress. She has not found magazine and newspaper advertising to be effective. The most important thing, she emphasizes, is word of mouth and getting work seen, such as her mural and other paintings at the Art Bank. “Being visible has been the best advertising.” What she doesn’t like to use to market her work is her disability. “Being deaf is not a great selling point. I want people to remember my work, not that I’m a deaf artist.”
Golden is nothing if not versatile. To supplement her fine art sales she started a business called Golden Medley. Her services include illustration, decorative painting, mosaic, murals, glazing, gilding, faux finishes, and Venetian plaster. (In fact some of her wall treatments grace the home of an Indianapolis Colts player.) She also does furniture work; “a little bit of everything.”
And Golden has plans for further development of her career. She continues to look for opportunities to show her paintings, and seeks artist representation to promote sales. She is currently preparing an illustration portfolio, intending to focus more on that side of her business. She’s also researching the licensing of her art. Long-term, Golden wants to have a show in New York City, for which she will need a sizable series of paintings. “I’d like to be a notable artist and support myself solely through my art.” She will continue “to learn to paint like the Old Masters..." So some day a Gina Golden painting might hang next to the work of her idol William-Adolphe Bouguereau.