On April 23rd at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette, CA, I spoke about the influences of science and nature on my work, as well as details on my art process. If you missed it, here is a recording of the talk.
While working on a recent commission, I was given a challenge: don’t use the color blue. Or purple. OR PINK. Let me tell you, it was not easy! My first 15 paintings were absolute failures. On the first go around, I created paintings with purple in them, and on the second, the red paint I was trying to use bled terribly and dried in strange ways. (Between the technical and professional failures, I was grateful for patient clients!)
But then, after a reboot with supplies and direction, I got it together, and created a strong series of work inspired by the colors and memories of New Mexico. The project was a great exercise in restraint, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had so much fun, I thought, why not do an entire series of paintings exploring my memories of the natural world?
And that’s what I am working on right now, along with furthering the Entanglements series.
All before my second child is due in one month!
Gotta keep it interesting, right?
Mark-making is one of those art terms that you hear in art school as an artist, but it doesn't really mean much to anyone outside the arts. (Frankly, it doesn't always mean much to artists!) However, it is a term that encompasses what creating with line means: the primal instinct to leave one's mark somewhere. It is this very human urge that compels one to "art"- to use art as a verb- to create, build, make, craft- to say with the hands, rather than the voice, "I was here."
Texture goes with line. Rough, smooth, silky or crisp, texture is the design element that relates most to the physical world- often coming from it, with the materials reacting to the surface on which they are used.
The piece above, Relic, was created by layering watercolor on paper. While the paper was still wet, I drew into the work, activating the charcoal and deepening the black, giving the marks depth as they melted into the paper. While the paper dried, I sprinkled salt and old paint granules on the paper, so that when it dried there was a mottled look, like stone or rock. The marks in this piece are primitive, simplistic, inspired by seed pods I've been collecting from my garden. The title of the work refers to history in the geological sense.
I will not weigh in on gun control, or the need for better screening and treatment for mental illness. I will not tell you to "hug your kids a little tighter" (even if you do) or to write your congressman. Urgings are not my intention. I may or may not agree with any of them, but right now, that is not at all what I want to say. I want to tell you this:
I created this piece, Harbinger, in Spring 2010. At the time I was living in Mountain View, CA, trying to figure out my next move in life. Stuck in a depression so profound, so deep, it seemed there was no end to it, I ventured out of my gray, Silicon Valley apartment onto the streets along office parks and strip malls. I was never more surprised than to find magnolias, in bloom, pink and full, in front of a cold, glass building.
The magnolia flower is known as the harbinger of Spring. Spring is the metaphor of new life, growth, possibility. In other words, out of the gray, cold winter of our lives and this world, find hope anywhere you can– so that darkness and coldness and brutality does not engulf you.
I have followed Skyler McGee’s work since she was a student of mine at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Since then, her work has evolved into careful, poetic considerations of nature, space, and color.
Inspired by the natural world, Skyler works in fresh, delicate layers. She plays with combinations of materials– hard and soft, light and heavy, from oil paint to printmaking to watercolor. She emphasizes the artist’s hand or presence- nothing feels machine-made, but rather as if it was somehow uncovered in a forgotten studio from long ago, or excavated from an anthropological dig. She works carefully, slowly, her color sense reflecting the natural elements that inspire her work.
Currently living in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and two little girls, Skyler’s work reflects her daily life as well, as she balances her life as an artist, mom and wife. You can see more of her work at charcoalandsaffron.wordpress.com.
"Creative artists ... are mankind's wakeners to recollection: summoners of our outward mind to conscious contact with ourselves, not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being. Their task, therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that an actual shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of a brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another."
Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Volume IV: Creative Mythology
What is art if not to awaken us? To make things seen that we do not see, to bring light onto subjects we would pass by. Art says, "Look. Hear. Feel. Experience." – and then some.
Art creates a place where we are present.
So much of art work is about layering. It is so easy to over-layer, to build a surface up too much to the point that it ceases to breathe. But in nature, layering happens effortlessly, and the effect is often one of ease and strength. The lesson: don't overwork it. Let it grow how it wants to be.