Real life spurs GumTree whimsy

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – The dogs in a piece of art don’t have to be based on real dogs.
Sticking to an accurate representation would strip away some of Nicole Gladden’s fun.
“I paint strictly from my imagination. I don’t look at dogs or trees or bluebirds. I might look at a clay sculpture of a bluebird and be inspired by it,” the 43-year-old Oxford resident said. “It was learning to get away from the reality of the image that freed me as an artist.”
That’s not to say the dogs in the 41st annual GumTree Festival poster aren’t based in reality. Gladden went to the blank canvas after she and her family had made an important decision.
At one time, Gladden almost could qualify as a gypsy, having lived in Massachusetts, Illinois, Utah, Montana, Virginia and Pennsylvania, among other states.
The past seven years were spent in Oxford. That’s the longest Gladden has lived anywhere. About six months ago, Gladden and her husband, a physicist at the University of Mississippi, decided to stay.
“The scene in the painting is part of the balance that we’ve found here,” Gladden said.
In the image, a white dog with another white dog on its head is riding a unicycle, so the idea of balance is well covered. Gladden also felt compelled to put the word “Mississippi” next to the dogs.
“It’s so important to be in a state that values art,” she said. “I’ve had this desire for a long time to get in touch with the artist within. That happened here because of the support I got for my original art.”
In addition to the theme of balance and a celebration of Mississippi, the poster suggests a carnival-like setting, or maybe festival-like setting is a better description.
Gladden had a booth at last year’s GumTree Festival, and took third prize for mixed media. She’ll return to Tupelo this weekend with more dogs, as well as paintings of birds,
trees and children.
Her labor-intensive process involves different textures and layers of paint. It might look as though she’s incorporated a bingo card or a newspaper clipping into a piece, but that’s an illusion. She creates those elements with archival quality paper.
“My work takes me a long time to do, the way I work, the layering, the drawing, the process. I haven’t figured out a way to streamline that,” she said. “The images that are the focus are lost until the last hour or two or three, then they come to life.”
When revealed, her whimsical subjects aren’t reproductions of actual children, trees or dogs, but Gladden’s work is very much concerned with reality.
“I’m filtering life that happens around me. I’m filtering life as it happens to my family. What comes out on the canvas is a product of that,” she said. “It’s a little bit of my soul, of my spirit, on these canvases.”

Arts Downtown
WHAT: 41st annual GumTree Festival

WHEN: Saturday and Sunday (GumBall on Friday)

WHERE: Downtown Tupelo Info and schedule:
(662) 844-2787,

EXTRA: Posters featuring Nicole Gladden’s image are available now for $35. Adult Tshirts
are $20, and shirts for children are $15

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