Sybil Gibson

artist sybil gibson  Sybil Gibson 1908-1995

Sybil Gibson was born Sybil Aaron to Monroe and Lenora Aaron in Dora, Walker County, Alabama, 22 miles SW of Birmingham. Sybil was the second of six children. Her father was a banker, merchant, and coal mine operator. The Aarons were of old Alabama stock with money. Although Gibson's father was a prosperous Alabama coal mine operator, she spent most of her life in poverty. 

Shortly before the opening of her first art exhibition at the Miami Museum of Modern Art in May, 1971, Gibson disappeared, leaving drawings scattered about her yard. At the age of 50 and with no previous training nor interest in art, Sybil Gibson was "seized... suddenly and completely" by an urge to paint. At hand were sixteen grocery bags and powdered tempera with which he experimented. These materials remained her medium through 35 years of compulsive painting that obliterated her former life. The simple subject matter of flora and fauna are submerged in mystery. Line gives way to light where lyrical hues bleed as in the dome of a rural Alabama sky. Yet form emerges shy of abstraction, retaining the familiarity of distant memory. Evasive flowers become something immediate and urgent. The spirit-like portraits which populate Gibson's work peer as if from behind a veil. Her ethereal paintings of people and flowers place her work as one of Alabama's cherished self-taught artists.

Her career as an artist really started spontaneously in 1963. After coming across some striking gift wrapping paper in Miami department store, she said "It's a beautiful, so charming and yet so simple I could do that myself." From that point on, she told herself that she could paint such paper and proceeded to do so with a vengeance.

Shunning regular art paper, Sybil would use ordinary grocery bags, which she soaked in water to flatten, or else pieces of corrugated board, which she likewise soaked to remove the core, or even sheets of newspaper. The application of tempera paint to the paper while it was still at least partly wet imparted a somewhat impressionistic look to some paintings. The fluidity of the brushwork gave Sybil's style its distinctive character- remarkably controlled, graceful, and sparse.

Unfortunately, a number of Sybil Gibson's paintings were lost to the elements. She had a habit of disappearing from time to time and when she moved on, she simply left her paintings behind. In 1971 the Miami Museum of Modern Art gave Sybil a one-woman show. Although well received, not many of her works were sold. Gibson never saw the exhibit in Miami.

She spent various years staying at seedy hotels and continuing to paint, often leaving the creations behind. She moved back to Alabama and in 1981, entered a home for the elderly. By that time, her sight was failing,

In 1991, Gibson's daughter. Theresa Buchanan, took charge of her mother's life. She was legally blind and through her daughter's intervention her life was finally organized and her work preserved. Her daughter Theresa Buchanan, arranged for her return to Florida for a cataract operation which restored her deteriorating sight. Sybil then moved into a home for the aged in Florida, close to her daughter, where she painted until her death. 

Sybil Gibson died January 2, 1995. She was 86. 

Sybil Gibson's work is included in the collection of The Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama; the Fayette Art Museum, Fayette, Alabama, the - Marietta/Cobb Museum, Marietta, Georgia; the Montgomery of Fine Arts, Montgomery, and the Museum of American Folk Art, New York.

sybil gibson