Visual arts career draws on teen dream
As a child, Gail Postal would sew doll outfits out of textile samples her father brought home from work. At 16, she took a fashion illustration class and envisioned a career in that field. But her family advised her to find a more financially secure profession.
“I had a choice: I could be either a teacher or a nurse, and I don’t like blood,” said Postal, who retired in 1999 after more than 26 years in New York City public schools, most of them teaching pre-K and kindergarten at PS 3 in Manhattan’s West Village.
Postal, who has a doctorate in educational research from Fordham University, loved teaching at the nontraditional, experimental, arts-focused school. But her second career as a visual artist has brought her even more happiness and satisfaction. “I never felt like I was old and retired from a job because I went back to something I loved when I was 16,” she said of her second act.
After she retired, Postal took a class in life drawing — drawing the human figure from observing a live model — at the National Academy of Design and became obsessed with realistic pencil drawing and trying to make her sketches of models look like photographs. Several years later, she ventured into oil painting at the Art Students League of New York.
While visiting a flea market in Paris, she found some hand-tinted photographs from Japan — popular tourist souvenirs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At home in Manhattan, she would spray her graphite pencil portraits of models with fixative to preserve the lines and then add layers of deep blues, reds and other translucent oil paints, changing the patterns and colors of their clothing and adding backgrounds. She also started embellishing some works with Swarovski crystals or glitter.
Postal, who is primarily a portrait artist, had another epiphany while visiting a monastery on the Volga River in Russia. She was transfixed by church icons that looked more “like regular people” than paintings, she said. The icons were painted on gold backgrounds, a feature she would incorporate into her own portraiture.
She emailed her teacher from the Art Students League, and “I told her I found out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life — my models are going to resemble icons,” she said.
Postal is relentless in the pursuit of her art career, constantly exhibiting and selling paintings, entering hundreds of juried shows and putting her boundless energy into making her teenage dream come true. She has won numerous awards and, in 2019, the Billboard Creative — a nonprofit that spotlights emerging or undiscovered artists — selected her portrait titled “Sasha” to display in Los Angeles.
Postal’s art marries her love of fashion design — she paints vividly colored and patterned clothing on the models — and her work with young children at PS 3, where she used materials like glitter and rhinestone. “I love it. It’s absolute pure joy and pure pleasure for me and it’s kind of meditative,” she said.
Thanks to her UFT pension, Postal said she can work as an artist and not worry about paying the rent. “Whenever I sell anything or when I get a prize in a show, it’s like icing on the cake,” she said.
“I’m 78, but I’m still planning on doing this for another 20 years at least,” she added, “because I have a lot to accomplish.”