Gayle Curry's interest in art started when she was a child — she used crayons to decorate the walls of her mom's home. Eventually, her mother bought materials so Curry could more constructively express her artistic tendencies.
She has since exhibited at several metro galleries, worked as an artist-in-residence at downtown Oklahoma City's Skirvin Hilton Hotel and even opened her own art school in the Paseo Arts District.
"I have to do art; there's not really a choice about it," Curry said. "I don't really do art for financial gain or the recognition; I do it because it feeds my soul."
Curry focuses on encaustic painting, a type of art that uses heated wax colored with pigment and then shapes it into various designs. Though she has explored several other mediums, she became fascinated with it about 10 years ago when she saw an encaustic painting in Sedona, Arizona.
"I just fell in love with it," Curry said. "I had never seen a painting with that kind of vibrancy."
A couple of Curry's friends visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, to take a class in the painting style. After they returned, she asked them to demonstrate. She then started reading books about it and eventually took a class in Santa Fe herself.
Curry often finds herself explaining what encaustic painting is because the ancient art form isn't well-known. Dating back to the early Greeks and Egyptians, it's making a comeback and is the most popular of the workshops Curry teaches. Though it's ideal for both realistic and abstract painting, Curry said she mainly focuses on an abstract interpretation and explores primarily themes of nature and spirituality.
"I let the painting lead me," Curry said. "I used to always try to direct my paintings, but with the wax, I find it kind of has a life of its own."
One of her favorite works is called "Color the Way" and was one of her first large installations. The piece is based on the Tao Te Ching, an ancient text ascribed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Curry completed a painting for each of the text's 81 verses, using multiple interpretations of the text to guide her.
"I read them all and kind of started trying to live my life in that direction," she said.
As much as she enjoyed creating the installation, she also enjoyed the preparation that went into it.
"I loved that because it was a process of learning about this philosophy and creating and building it and then expressing it in my art," she said.
One of her most recent creations is for Science Museum Oklahoma's yearlong smART Space gallery exhibition Sole Expression: The Art of the Shoe. For her contribution, "Walking in Their Shoes," Curry covered thrift-store shoes with layers of the melted wax she uses for encaustic painting.
Sole Expression opened in February and includes 25 local and global shoe designers examining how footwear has historically been interpreted as art and how local artists explore their own relationships with everything from sequined slippers to black-and-white checkered slip-on sneakers.
Curry's vivid platform wedge sandals, stiletto heels and pumps take on a Frankenstein's monster-like haute couture quality as they're displayed together on transparent acrylic stands.
Oklahoma-tied artists Curry, Hugh Meade, Marilyn Artus, Julie Yang, Erica Bonavida, Sean Vali, Nathan Lee, Kim Camp, Alyson Atchison, Kjelshus Collins, Douglas Shaw Elder, Klair Larason, Nick Bayer and Lisa Sorrell and Paige Sorrell are featured. Others come from across the U.S. and Hungary, Turkey, Netherlands, Israel and England.
"Guests will get to explore modern artistic interpretations of the shoe, the enchanted shoes featured in fairytales and folklore, a materials touch wall, as well as an installation that explores people's relationships with footwear that was created from donated shoes," SMO smART Space director Scott Henderson said in a media statement.
Since becoming involved in the local arts scene in 2003, Curry said awareness of local art has grown, along with the interest in creating and exhibiting art.
"It's just very incredible; there's a lot more shows," Curry said.
Curry was artist-in-residence at the Skirvin in 2015 and 2016. There, she demonstrated encaustic painting and showed visitors how create their own works. Since September, she has also worked as a graphic designer for the Oklahoma State Department of Health and said her day job and art career complement each other, particularly since a full-time art career is something of a roller coaster in regard to income.
"It's good to have a job that pays your bills and where you can pursue your art," Curry said. "Plus, graphic design relates to art because it's the same principles — the same principles of design, same principles of color; all those rules apply."
Curry also exhibits at Kasum Contemporary Art, formerly Paseo Originals Art Gallery. When new owner Tony Morton took over the gallery, renaming it Kasum and moving it to the Plaza District, he asked Curry to exhibit.
In 2013, Curry started the Paseo School of Art, 3110 N. Walker Ave., Suite A, partly because she needed her own space in which to work.
She had been working in her garage, but it wasn't the cleanest environment, and because she was creating large pieces, she needed more room. She founded her own studio in the Paseo and decided to start teaching there, too.
She offers workshops in everything from photography to silk painting for students age 12 to 80.
"I really loved teaching; I found that I had a great passion for that," Curry said.
For budding creatives, Curry recommended being passionate about their work and getting involved with the local art community. Volunteering can help build connections with other local artists, including potential mentors. She said the importance of patience and persistence is one of the biggest lessons she has learned as an artist and one of her top suggestions to others.
"That would be my best advice; to really push yourself," Curry said.