Gwen Peine To'omalatai grew up on a farm in Southwest Missouri, the Ozarks. Moving to Utah to go to college and then remaining in the West, in Utah, Idaho and California, Gwen has fallen in love with the desert, the mountains, the lakes and rivers, and the incredible skies. Yet Gwen longs for her home of plentiful foliage and a place rich in light, colors and warmth. This longing becomes her journey to return to home, a place of her youth, a place of eternity, a place of peace.
Gwen is traveling along a path to the light which encompasses everything and stills the soul in a world of instant gratification. The light within each picture plane subtly underscores a primary focus of To'omalatai's art, which is to present the viewer with an image that is a threshold or gateway to another place--a place with the potential for self-discovery and individual interpretation.
The beauty she reveals and recreates is a common thread woven throughout the fabric of her art. Her desire in her work is to help others connect with the light that fills all things and to help find a path to this peaceful, loving place we all long for called home.
The luminous quality of Toomalatai's paintings is accomplished by a series of meticulous steps. She uses birch plywood, rather than canvas as her base because the rigidity of the boards suits her technique of adding and removing layers of paint. Initially, each board is covered with an oil base that is applied by knife. This provides the texture to Toomalatai's work. The shine derives from her use of layers of paint and a glaze medium that she makes herself. The purity to the hues in Toomalatai's images is the result of the artist not mixing most of the colors together. She applies a layer of paint mixed with glaze to the wood, and then wipes back or sands down that layer, before applying the next layer of paint and glaze. Keeping the colors pure means that each layer remains rich and clear. Light travels through each layer, hits the white base, and then reflects and refracts back through the image to the viewer. The evolution of this technique was spurred by Toomalatai's study and appreciation of 17th century northern European painters, most notably Rembrandt and Jan van Eyck. Rembrandt's manipulation of light and shadow, and the glowing quality to van Eyck's paintings, prompted Toomalatai to explore pure pigments and different surfaces to paint on. After considerable experimentation, she arrived at the methods she employs in her art to this day.