Gail Siptak | Turning the Tables

By Devon Jackson


Floating Ladies Series oil 14 x 11 each
Floating Ladies Series oil 14 x 11 each

By her own estimation, Gail Siptak has painted about a million tables in her life. And she may well paint a million more. “Tables are really important in my work. It has to do with the center point,” says the Houston, TX-based artist. “Whenever I paint a table, it’s a debt to Paul Cézanne, to Georges Braque, and to all the other artists who’ve painted tables.”


A table, after all, is not so different from a canvas: It’s flat, it’s for putting things on, it’s an object around which people gather, and most importantly, it’s a physical surface capable of representing another plane, another perspective or reality. In fact, Siptak’s deceptively simple paintings often reflect the spatial and compositional sophistication of cubism and surrealism. Pretty heady stuff for someone who just wanted to look at bugs as a little girl.

Born in San Francisco in 1944 and raised in nearby Palo Alto, Siptak liked to ride her bike through the hills looking for insects and polliwogs. “In grade school, I wanted to be an entomologist. I was fascinated by the natural world,” remembers Siptak, who collected beetles, frogs, and other critters. “I drew, but it was more about wanting to understand these creatures than for drawing’s sake.”

She eventually outgrew her fascination with insects, and as a teenager turned her attention boys, the trampoline, and synchronized swimming. When she was 14, her mother took her to a Van Gogh exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. “It blew me away, especially the painting he’d done of his bedroom,” marvels Siptak. “It was the perspective and the color. I didn’t have any words for those things back then, but that was my first real epiphany about art. I was amazed by the license to not paint things as they appear. The paintings were so emotional. And his drawings, especially his drawings of peasants. Those stuck with me. That’s how some of my figures are. They all have a little extra weight on them, like Van Gogh’s peasants.”

By high school she’d started thinking about a career in art. Her art teacher steered her toward graphic and commercial art, however, not fine art, and Siptak became the “queen of posters.” “I’d always been spatially acute,” she recalls, “and making posters in high school, redesigning rectangles, that honed it.” By the time she enrolled at Foothill Junior College in Los Altos Hills, she was eager to learn all she could about art.

She went on to take art classes at San Jose State, then moved into the city, where she worked during the day and at night studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. “I started to paint in earnest then,” says Siptak, who liked painting parts and pieces of things. “I was interested in the relationships of objects. That has never changed.”

Shortly after getting married, she and her husband joined the Peace Corps and set out for their assigned station on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands…

Featured in August 2007

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