Watercolor artist Gayle Garner Roski traveled the world with her husband Edward. Roski went to the top of the 19,341-foot-tall Mount Kilimanjaro, dove 13,000 feet in a submarine to paint the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and visited several islands in the Indian Ocean.
But through all her adventures, she always found herself back home relishing in the events, places and people who make up the City of Angels.
“That’s the kind of adventurous spirit she had. She was very warm, very generous,” said Jean Stern, curator of the exhibition and longtime friend of Roski’s. “She was a beautiful woman. She just enjoyed life and related it through her paintings so that other people can enjoy life.”
Through Nov. 14, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana will be showcasing the exhibition, “The Gift of Los Angeles: Memories in Watercolor by Gayle Garner Roski,” with artwork on loan from the Roski family. Roski died Oct. 21, 2020 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare disease in the nervous system affecting the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. ALS is also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” after the Hall of Fame Yankee baseball player.
“I titled this series ‘The Gift of Los Angeles’ because creating these works of everything that the city has to offer has been a gift,” Roski said in a statement issued before her death. “It has been a gift to live the life that I have. It has been a gift to create paintings that contribute to the visual history of the city I love. And, most important, it is a gift to share these gifts from my life with you.”
Roski began working on “The Gift of Los Angeles” project in 2000, and for the past 20 years, she painted 44 watercolor paintings highlighting events and places in and around Los Angeles, such as the Los Angeles Marathon, Staples Center, Universal Studios and many other familiar locations. Roski finished her collection shortly before passing away at the age of 79.
Roski’s paintings form a bond with viewers as the paintings bring them back to their own memories, connecting with observers through the “celebration of life” and the “celebration of a moment,” she has said.
“Each of my paintings tells a story, creating a narrative that enables me to reach out and connect with others,” she said in her statement. “I firmly believe that through the sharing of stories — whether via visual forms or the written word — we see the parallels in each other’s lives and recognize that our similarities outweigh our differences.”
Each painting in the exhibit is complete with direct quotes written by Roski as she describes the memories associated with the piece and the thought process behind including it in the collection.
Roski’s paintings frequently feature individuals and attention to details that are painted so naturally, it’s as if these scenes can be witnessed on any given day while simultaneously including a spark of Roski’s imagination.
In the “Bringing The World To The Bowers” painting currently on display in the exhibit, the colors bounce off the canvas and viewers are hit with re-creations of elements that derive from past exhibitions such as Mickey Mouse and the terracotta warriors that were displayed at the Bowers Museum.
Standing in front of the museum is Bowers President Peter C. Keller and his wife Signe, along with Danny and Anne Shih; Anne is the chair of the Bowers’ Board of Governors and was responsible for developing the museum’s collection of Asian art.
“You become part of the painting,” curator Stern said. “There’s nothing irritable, nothing dangerous. There’s nothing that you are asked to decide. You don’t need an interpreter. You don’t need a professor to look over your shoulder and tell you what you’re looking at. It’s very human, it’s directly from the viewer to the painting.”
In Roski’s painting “Appreciating California Art With Jean,” she paints the Irvine Museum, where Stern served as executive director since its opening in 1993. When the Irvine Museum became the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art in 2016-17, Stern served as senior curator of California Impressionism until his retirement in 2020. In the painting, Roski also includes school children visiting on a field trip, along with individuals who were associated with the museum, as well as key members of the museum’s staff.
Along with Stern, Roski can be seen in the painting holding the letter “C” as she and the rest of those associated with the museum carry individual letters to spell out “welcome.”
Roski also focused some of her paintings on her alma mater, the University of Southern California. Her “Artistic Aspirations” piece captures the front entrance of the Gayle Garner Roski School of Art and Design.
Gayle and Edward were major donors to USC, donating a total of $51 million to the USC School of Fine Arts and the USC Eye Institute, which were renamed the USC Gayle Garner Roski School of Art and Design, and the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute, respectively.
As an extension of the exhibition, “Paint Like Gayle: A Watercolor Workshop” will be offered at the Bowers Museum’s Key Courtyard on Aug. 21 from 10 a.m. to noon. The workshop will be led by watercolor artist Jennifer Alvarado; materials will be provided, as well as sugar cookies, tea and access to Roski’s exhibit.
Tickets for the workshop can be bought online with $60 for general admission and $40 for member admission. However, to visit the exhibition during normal times, only general admission to the museum is required.
During the run of the exhibit, the Bowers Museum Gallery Store is selling “The Gift of Los Angeles: Memories in Watercolor” book, which includes 44 Roski watercolor paintings featured in the exhibition.
‘The Gift of Los Angeles: Memories in Watercolor by Gayle Garner Roski’
Where: Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Ticket Prices: Children under 12 are free
Weekdays: $13 adults & $10 seniors
Weekends: $15 adults & $12 seniors
Contact: (714) 567-3600 or bowers.org
“What really identifies Gayle’s painting is the sense of love, of family, of acceptance and of enjoyment,” Stern said. “You don’t need to prep and get ready to appreciate the painting. It’s inside of you already, and you’re looking at it. You start connecting with your youth, with your parents, with your dog. All these things, they just come out when you look at her paintings.”
Roski’s watercolor paintings have been showcased in museums and galleries from Southern California to Scotland. Her work is featured in the Community of Angels Sculptural Project and at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. “The Gift of Los Angeles: Memories in Watercolor by Gayle Garner Roski” is the final collection marking the end of an artistic icon while celebrating her life and the shared memories many Los Angeles residents treasure.
“This was not a landscape, or a beautiful seascape, or some people doing something,” Stern said. “This was completely different. This was very personal. It was very emotional. And again, nobody else paints like she does. Her work is instantly recognizable.”
Roski is survived by her husband Edward, who happens to be co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings; daughters Patricia and Katrina Roski; son Edward P. Roski III and eight grandchildren.
Kristina Garcia is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.