(An) Your work has moved from paintings on canvas to large scale wall-works. The work has transformed into fearless works that have a feeling of openness, freedom, and clarity. I know you’ve talked about this before, but I wonder if you could touch on this transition and how that development happened.
(Meghan) The developments and transitions that happen in the studio are a strange and interesting process to me. I find the actual moments of jumping from one body of work to the next to be awkward and radical but then when I’ve landed on the other side those same changes seem inevitable, as if they were cards and just waiting to be pulled from the deck. I started making the large scale paper paintings in late 2017 when I moved into a much larger studio via a residency program near where I live in Maine (and because I am my own worst enemy, moving studios was something I resisted). When I look at the paintings on canvas that I made right before the studio move, I can see all this pent up and frustrated energy in the way the paintings were being made. And working large is a pretty comfortable scale for me. Anyway, when I moved to making these huge collage paintings, I felt like I hit my groove with my materials, my process, and imagery. Like coming home. And again, I felt a little at the mercy of the new larger space, which was a former school building with high ceilings, big windows, and blackboards. Also, moving my work space away from home meant that I finally had enough mental and emotional distance from my family that I couldn’t hear my daughters yelling and playing. I felt happy and free.
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 64 x 54 in
(A) How do you transition into a new body of work?
(M) I’ve come to see the preparation for new work as just as important as the work. Prepping the canvases, organizing the paint, and spending time away from the studio just thinking loosely about where I want to go with the paintings are all important steps. I have a pretty heavy puritanical work ethic that I’ve begun to seriously question, especially around the studio. The studio, as a place in which there is space for non-linear thinking, is in direct opposition to our goal-oriented culture. So I try -- and I mean this modestly -- to question some of the ingrained structures and rules we have been taught on being productive and successful. I sometimes go to the studio to simply look or read. I have long, meandering imaginary conversations in my head with people who are on my mind that day. Or I lie on the floor and talk on the phone, two things I cannot do at home without having my kids all over me.
(A) Thoughts on drawing? What is the relationship between your drawing practice and painting
(M) Drawing is central for me, a primary language, a way of thinking. I’ve started to define drawing as simple decision making. Like if I throw a pot on the wheel, for example, then I am drawing when I make the neck a bit longer and thinner. And it feels like drawing when I shift the value down on a color in a painting. Drawing is changing the overall shape of a paper painting. That said, I also just draw. I draw when I have a vague idea. I draw when I am stuck. I draw when I want to be in the studio but don’t want to commit the time to painting. I draw while painting and, in this sense, painting and drawing are one and the same. I also love to draw with my kids. And I hoard their drawings in my studio and steal them from my husband.
(A) What is your process when making the large wall works - do you work off your drawings or do you start with a cut piece of paper and just start adding and subtracting?
(M) I begin the large paper paintings by considering their overall scale and then an overall palette and laying the paper down over the floor. I work for a few sessions on setting up a kind of gesture or momentum and try to make the color and forms work together. I make them entirely on the floor so I work leaning over them, crawling and walking on them, and using pretty saturated paint that flows with gravity. Then - this is part that I love - I cut it all up and start over with another set of colors and possibly a different composition and then bring the two worlds together. It’s all about finding that place where the colors and forms almost work with and against one another at the same time. They are disorienting and fun to make and I want to share that sensation through the work. I add and subtract through the whole making of the thing and am never really beholden to anything about it until it’s up on the wall. I relish every step of the process besides the gluing.
(M) You draw a lot and often in a painterly approach. Is there a difference between painting and drawing for you?
(A) I only started a regular drawing practice fairly recently, after the birth of my first daughter; mostly out of needing to make things in a shorter amount of time. It took me a while to develop a way of making drawings that felt similar in process to making my paintings. My painting process often involves many layers of paint, wiping away, reacting to a mark, and destroying it, and allowing the painting to emerge in the studio. Once I figured out that’s what I needed to do in the drawings, they started to come together and became a more rewarding part of my practice. Using a variety of media (watercolor, pencil, oil pastel, etc.) allowed me to achieve a similar exploration in the drawings. I tend to be more experimental in my drawings because there is not a sense of material scarcity or time scarcity. The drawings are not templates for larger paintings, but they exist alongside the paintings and inform them as a conversation.
Watercolor, graphite, oil pastel on paper, 8.5 x 5.5 in
(M) How do you start a painting and / or a body of work?
(A) I often start with the memory of something that I was looking at - like the shadow of a tree or the light on a particular surface - sort of an indirect process. Working this way naturally leads to an abstraction of the thing I am looking at or thinking about. Sometimes I come into the studio and destroy the previous work session until a particular feeling evolves. Through the process of making, the painting forms and reveals itself. I like to make several paintings at one time so each one can develop its own personality and then have a conversation within the body of work. These days, I may just start with a mark from a previous painting or drawing and go from there.
(M) Tell me about your color and where color is in relation to the structure in your painting? Does one come before the other?
(A) I often start with a brightly colored ground - like bright pink or yellow - so that the light refracts through the layers of paint. While I was living in the city, my palette was much more subdued and gritty; more mid-range grays and there was a process of starting with a bright ground then toning it down over the layers. Since moving out of the city, the light feels different; brighter colors are entering into the work. In my last show at Turn, you can see some of this starting to happen.
Down the Valley
Oil on canvas, 64 x 52 in
(M) I love the scale of your paintings in relation to the marks from which they are made. And your moves are searching and confident. Tell me about how you think about scale and mark and what mood you're after?
(A) My process is a bit more malleable rather than formulaic. I am interested in moments of discovery while making. I don’t know that I am necessarily conscious of certain decisions that happen while in the studio - it’s more subconscious thinking. I am always trying to experiment in the studio so I don’t necessarily have a consistent process for how every painting comes together or how the marks are made - it really depends on the particular painting I’m making.
(M) Do your daughters influence your studio? How have they changed your studio life and you as an artist?
(A) I am constantly in awe of the freedom the girls have when making - I watch them work without inhibition or self-consciousness. They are truly my best teachers - my goal is to try and stay in that same mindset - just making, no thinking.
(M) I know you have a studio in Greenpoint and a studio where you live along the Hudson. How do these different spaces, environments affect your work?
(A) Pre-pandemic, I would take the train to Grand Central and there was a lovely transition I was afforded on the train ride in; looking out the window and instantly being able to daydream a bit; take things in without being interrupted and have a little headspace. By the time I got to the Brooklyn studio, I would have a solid block of straight work time and would work efficiently without distractions. I work on larger paintings in Brooklyn.
The set up at home is very different - I either paint outside or I work on small-scale paintings or drawings. During pandemic, I try to wake up early before anyone else and hope the kids don’t wake up early that day. Otherwise, I will incorporate it into the children’s day where we sit together and make drawings. I’ve also started playing around with acrylic paints because of the faster drying time and also the ability to draw overtop of the acrylic.
(M) Who are your heart of heart painters / your painting soulmates, historical and contemporary?
(A) This list is always evolving, but lately, I find myself going back to Susan Rothenberg and early Rothko. There are so many artists making good work these days, but the recent show of Luchita Hurtado at Hauser & Wirth really stayed with me.
(M) Can you talk a bit about your curatorial project? How it came about and your vision for it at this mid-pandemic moment?
(A) We have a one room, unwinterized guest house on our property. My husband is an architect and we spent our first summer living up here doing the finish work inside. Many people have asked why I don’t use it as my studio. I’m a messy painter and I don’t want to worry about getting paint on the walls,on the floors etc while I’m working.
I decided it would be a fun project to curate shows in the space in the spring/summer months to bring different artists together. So I came up with Stonehouse Art Projects - to be a place where people could come enjoy looking at art in an environment that is very different from the typical white box gallery experience. You can look at art, then I can take you for a canoe ride on our little lake, while being surrounded by nature. It’s a more intimate viewing experience that brings artists together to relax and enjoy being out of the city. The project exists on instagram under @stonehouseartprojects.
During the pandemic, the project has been put on hold, as it has become the satellite office for my husband’s architecture practice. But once we get past this and it’s safe to gather again, I am hoping to pick it back up.
Meghan Brady’s Studio Photos © Elizabeth Atterbury
Meghan Brady’s Portrait Photos © Karen Gelardi