Driving up to Gary Gossens’ home and studio, the mailbox is the first sign that an artist lives there. Looming over the mailbox is a wood-sculpted creature whose body is made from driftwood and its feathers from black walnut. It’s perched on a large carved pedestal made from basswood. In the front yard, whimsical sculptures made from salvaged sink faucets, metal toilet floats, copper pipes and a variety of nuts and bolts decorate the lawn. The front of the house displays a large, scenic mural.
In Gossens’ studio, there are power tools and equipment to build his creations. Gossens calls himself an “opportunist artist” because he is always thinking about what he can do with an assortment of materials to create a piece of art. “They don’t all work, but that’s the fun of it and you always learn something in the process,” explains Gossen.
Creating art with whatever is available was strongly influenced by Gossens’ high school art teacher, Judd Koehn. In Koehn’s class they dug clay for pottery, created lost wax castings in bronze, sculpture, painting, and made jewelry. “What a blessing to have a teacher that could do it all,” Gossens said.
After high school, he majored in art at UW-Stevens Point for two years. “Unfortunately, I did not do well in my electives and was drafted.” After the service, Gossens worked at Appleton Papers for 36 years and is now retired.
As an “opportunist artist” Gossens’ has a varied portfolio of unique art. All of his pieces are made from materials that had a past life such as big wood stumps, metal, and mirrors. From pieces of scrap wood and stumps, Gossens’ carved a Muskie swimming among the reeds which now supports a glass table top. Another table has a chess board painted on it with chess pieces built from discarded fishing lures. The pawns are made from old fishing bobbers.
For the past six years, Gossens has been creating paintings on glass mirrors. It began when a friend brought in mirrors from bathroom remodeling projects. The friend didn’t want to throw them out and told Gossens to create something with them. The results were vibrant paintings with abstract backgrounds and realistic images such as animals or portraits of people painted on them.
Gossens uses a multiple step process to create his mirror paintings. “I take the mirrors and lay down an epoxy that is both a hardener and resin. While the epoxy is still wet, I select my background colors and pour on the acrylic paint. The paint is manipulated by scratching it, blotting, or whatever it takes to move it around. I have no control over the process except for the colors I choose and the method used to swirl in the paint. As the epoxy dries, it pulls the colors in different directions and forms openings that reveal the mirror’s surface. This gives the painting an additional feeling of depth. After it has set, I decide what image to paint over it based on the patterns and shapes of the background.” For example, green and blue background patterns looked like lily pads floating on water. Gossens chose to paint over a realistic Blue Gill fish jumping out of the water. After the image is dry, a final coat of epoxy is poured over the surface giving it a glass-like appearance.
People often confuse his painting process with reverse glass paintings where the paint is applied to the underside of clear glass. “They look at the back and try to figure it out,” Gossens said.
To complete the painting, Gossens makes his frames, or uses the one originally on the mirror. One painting was formerly part of an antique dresser. “Someone was throwing the mirror away and I took it out of the garbage” he said. The painting now hangs on the wall in its frame that would have sat atop a dresser. Others are displayed in their gold ornate frames.
Gossens plans to continue making his mirror paintings. “I love an art challenge and now have over 500 paintings,” he said “I’m having lots of fun experimenting with different ways to create new effects on mirrors.”
Gossens’ work can be seen at The Hang Up Gallery of Art, Neenah and The Plaid Squirrel, Chilton.