“I have a love affair with oil paint, the feel, the smell, the texture it forms. Oil painting is in itself, a sensual experience. My painting is gestural, and by nature I am an easel painter, I need a specific space, which is preferably square, on a stretched and primed canvas, apart from a favoured choice, it is also a discipline…I associate with the South African landscape, the scope, the light, the colour, the paintings are not a narrative but a visual and I hope an emotional experience.” – Gail Behrmann.

Title: White Square 21

Year: 2017 – 2018

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 40 x 40 cm

Title: White Square 24

Year: 2019

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 52.3 x 52.3 cm

Although poetry and music have always been primarily engaged in the making of a painting, the current paintings are derived from the Tang poets interpreted by Witter Bynner and Kiang Kang-Hu. While the paint engages the surface, the paintings themselves are considered before they begin, although there is no specific narrative or composition, there has to be structure. I have to have a beginning and an end, once I find a particular like in a poem, the painting will take shape in my head and I start at the top of the canvas and finish at the bottom, what happens with the marks and textures within the space is something I think about before applying, it can take years to finish a painting and I work on at least six at a time. I recall Abstract Expressionist, Barnett Newman, once said: “Any art worthy of its name, should address life, man, nature, death and tragedy. If this is true, the Tang poets definitely provide that for me.”

Gail' Behrmann's inspiration comes from THE JADE MOUNTAIN, A CHINESE ANTHOLOGY, Being Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Dynasty 618-906. Translated by Witter Bynner from the Texts of Kiang Kang-Hu

They say that wildgeese, flying southward,
Here turn back, this very month….
Shall my own southward journey
Ever be retraced, I wonder?
…The river is pausing at ebb-tide,
And the woods are thick with clinging mist —
But tomorrow morning, over the mountain,
Dawn will be white with the plum-trees of home.

Song Zhiwen

Title: White Square 22

Year: 2018

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 50 x 50 cm

Title: Green Square 4

Year: 2019

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 40 x 40 cm


Small paintings are more of a challenge, the larger canvas is fully immersive, my whole body is involved. The smaller paintings are derivative of the large paintings and I title them not from poems, but numerically.

Take a listen to the podcast as Gail discusses her artistic practice including the love of painting, the inspiration from Tang poetry and the process behind her artist books. She also touches on her career as an archivist and researcher, her previous collaboration with David Krut Projects and of course the upcoming exhibition entitled TOMORROW.


In 2020, Ame Bell and Britt Lawton from the David Krut Gallery team visited Gail Behrmann in her studio at the Bag Factory Artist Studios in Newtown, Johannesburg.