Leslie Lovell, Savannah GA

Sybil Gibson (1908-1995) - Outsider Art

Sybil Gibson was an eccentric artist that would disappear for months at a time. She was born Sybil Aaron on February 18, 1908 in Dora, Alabama. Although her childhood was filled with prosperity, she spent most of her adult life in abject poverty.

Gibson was college educated and married Hugh Gibson. An emotional break down following the birth of her daughter and a failed marriage soon followed with Sybil fleeing and leaving her wealth and family behind. They searched for her through the years through private investigators.

In l963 on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 55, she became fascinated with making her own wrapping paper from brown grocery bags and tempera paint. She was totally seized with a compulsion to paint that lasted for three decades. She once commented, “Good art paper turns me off, while something out of a trash pile turns me on.” Sybil employed an unusual technique of washing the glue from the paper bags to flatten them while wet to form her favorite surfaces on which to paint. Her fluid brushstrokes imparted a unique style, graceful and minimal with great control of the paint.

She primarily created subtle, dreamlike paintings in pastels of haunting faces, young girls, birds and flora. For her it was a passionate escape from daily realities and responsibilities. Most paintings were of women with a mask-like effect evoking the feeling of someone hiding from the real world with a dreamlike sweetness.

Her family discovered she was having a Museum exhibition in Miami in the early 70’s but she disappeared before the show opened. Then, as in the past, the place where she had lived was hurriedly abandoned with her art strewn throughout. Her exhibition at the Miami Museum of Modern Art happened but Sybil was not in attendance.

Much of her work was destroyed by the elements but there are believed to be about 300 works in existence. Gibson died in l995. Her work is in numerous private and museum collections today including The Museum of Modern Art, Birmingham, AL, The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, AL, The Miami Museum of Modern Art, FL, The New Orleans Museum of Art, LA, The Brooklyn Museum, NY, The New York State Historical Society, NY, NY, and the American Folk Art Museum, NY, NY

In the latter years of her life, Sybil was reacquainted with her adult daughter who had been reared by her parents. Her daughter took care of her until she died in a nursing home in Florida in 1995 at the age of 86.

Artworks by Sybil Gibson (1908-1995) - Outsider Art