Rebel With a Cause

Artist Misty Gamble challenges convention with her newest work

Misty Gamble—artist, teacher, provocateur and former music promoter—is all about shaking things up; her work isn’t just social commentary, it’s about challenging all kinds of conventions. She was born to rebel.

After eight years in Kansas City, Gamble, an assistant professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, has mounted a retrospective exhibition of selected works from 2006 to 2016 called Decade at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, running through April 1st.

“It’s all very big, epic work,” Gamble says. “It can feel like an installation. A stage. You definitely feel me in the room. You’ll know where I came from.”

Misty Gamble came from the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California from a family steeped “in the magical realm of the performing arts,” she says.

Her father, in particular, was the master of many crafts. Jim Gamble was, for over a half-century, one of the pre-eminent puppeteers in the United States, building his extensive collection of puppets, sewing the costumes, writing the shows and performing all over the country, both for children and a somewhat naughtier cabaret version for adults called Puppets After Dark.

Kansas City Spaces: You’ve said that your interest in the potential theatricality of art came from watching your father perform.

Misty Gamble: My father was a very big deal in the puppet world. He not only knew all the greats in that field, he had trained a lot of them. We had celebrities who would come to our house. The actor who played the Lone Ranger on TV, Clayton Moore, came to the house once. I was starstruck. I didn’t know who he was, only that he was the Lone Ranger. We didn’t know normal people, we knew facsimiles of people.

My dad had changed careers in mid-life. He started as an aeronautical engineer and later joined the Air Force and became a pilot for Continental Airlines. Puppetry came later.

KCS: You chose a different career path in your 30s as well.

MG: I started out in music. I can play a number of instruments, but I don’t consider myself a musician. I was a publicist for musical acts, I booked acts and I produced festivals and musical events. Music was all-encompassing for me from an early age. When I was 15 years old, I would beg my mother to drive me to the library, and I’d check out 30 record albums at a time, which was the limit. Then I would make compilation cassettes using my father’s music equipment. Music was my life until I decided to go to graduate school.

When I was looking at what was happening in the world of ceramics, I felt there was a place for me in it. I never fired my first kiln until I was in graduate school at age 37. But the study of figural sculpture, which I’m sure was influenced by my father, was so challenging. So many techniques to use in terms of strategy, engineering, armature, technology, content and context.

Ceramics is also a tactile art, very immediate and visceral. Clay was the medium we used to learn about the body and figure. There’s theatricality to it, both a sense of performance and fashion.

KCS: You moved here from your loft in Oakland, California not expecting to stay, but you did.

MG: : I was happy to leave when I did. I love Oakland, but I was ready to see the world. I was ready to explore the Midwest! I met the people who would represent me as an artist, who would put my work out there. I’ve been involved in several exhibitions and had the opportunity to make social commentary on issues of femininity and standards of normalcy and propriety. My work confronts and challenges the conventional standards of womanhood, beauty and power.

I grew up in a culture where it was far more important to look good than to feel good. I was constantly reminded of that as a child of Los Angeles. I couldn’t wait to get out of that city. Moving to San Francisco was like moving to another country.

KCS: Your father died last year. Had he seen much of the work in this current retrospective?

MG: Yes. I think he thought that one artist in the family was enough. My work came out as social commentary, a reflection on the world I came from. Dad was so happy that I did quite well.

Kansas City Spaces: You’ve made Kansas City your home for the last eight years, but your future plans have you moving away.

MG: The world is my oyster right now. I need to decide if I want to continue in academia or follow different dreams. I might walk across Spain or I might move to Mexico and live in Oaxaca.

This current exhibition is, in many ways, my goodbye to Kansas City. I believe I’ve learned what I came here to learn, which has been enormous. But there are still many things I want to see and do.