Gail Rothschild was born in New York City and raised in Connecticut, graduating from Yale University with a BA (cum laude) in 1981. Shown at museums internationally, her work has been exhibited at MoMA, PS1, DeCordova Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the University of New South Wales. Her work is held in numerous corporate and public collections, including PIMCO, the Mead Art Museum, the University of Memphis, as well as various private collections in locales from New York and London to Dubai. Rothschild has also completed commissions for myriad public sculpture, set, and landscape design projects.
The year 2000 heralded a return to Rothschild's first passion—painting. Her capacious Portrait of Ancient Linen series marries this return to painting with an artistic sensibility of impermanence cultivated in the site-specific installations of her early career. During that period Rothschild necessarily destroyed nearly everything she produced as she couldn't afford to transport or store most components of her sculptural installations. Considering her role in the construction and destruction of her own work, Rothschild began exploring pertinent themes in the ancient world, finding great relevance in the story of Penelope, Odysseus' cunning wife in Homer's Odyssey. Penelope spends the duration of her husband's absence weaving during the day and destroying her artistic labors at night in order to deter unwanted suitors. This image of Penelope as an artist, weaving and then unraveling her work daily, resonated profoundly with Rothschild.
By utilizing archaic textiles as the subjects of her Portrait of Ancient Linen series, Rothschild alludes to her affinity with Penelope's struggle. Rothschild charts the craftsmanship and skill associated with the making of each woven artifact, while simultaneously noting the un-making of each surviving fabric piece in the face of time. Her concisely rendered paintings illustrate this defabrication of textiles, capitalizing on an inescapable paradox – what is interwoven will ultimately unravel, and that which grows will inevitably decay. Employing her technical prowess, Rothschild harnesses painting methods rooted in the tradition of the Old Masters. She realizes her source material, actual pieces of linen discovered on archeological digs, as worthy subjects in their own rights, articulating the simultaneous strength and fragility of linen cloth.
The artist's sharp realization of textile fragments focuses on the spinning of fiber, the knitting of thread, and the seemingly vocational skill inherent in each piece. With palpable deference, Rothschild creates haunting, evocative recapitulations that exist on the cusp of Nature and Culture, eliciting challenges and questions about the artistry inherent in traditionally female "crafts," the notion of artistic expression itself, and the social, economic, and historical hierarchies woven into our collective consciousness.