Margaret Evangeline is a gifted New York City based artist who creates poignant work. I met her online through art friend Robert Curcio. I'm very glad that we connected www.margaretevangeline.com because I learned a lot from her through our chat. Check it out. You'll enjoy it too.
MICHAEL: Hello Margaret. While checking out your website, something crossed my mind. We're living during such a strange time, full of uncertainty and upheaval. What role do you think contemporary art is playing in the world right now? I know that's kind of a loaded question.
MARGARET: Hi Michael, Thank you for including me in your home and program! Loaded question indeed. I'm not setting out to change the world, but one hopes a kind of consciousness is created, especially when I use a raw gunshot to subvert the safe, simplicity of the modernist square. Who knew steel could be so vulnerable. My latest work is a collaboration with soldiers in Iraq. I sent them a box of "zips" proportioned after Barnett Newman's "Sabacthani" "zips". As it turned out, I had to cut them into 24 inch lengths to get them into a regulation shipment. They shot them and sent them back to me. I have painted them iridescent white, pale blue (the color of longing) and the color of the horizon. I intend to install them as horizons, truncated horizons, and inscribe the backs with the word "Sabacthani". It was a reaching out to the men we are so willfully choosing to not think about. Think of these last ten years in terms of the life of a child of a soldier who has been growing up with an absent father, a family life on hold. I am against violence and against war, but using art as the "fire that fights the fire" appeals to me. Of course, I have been asked "Why did you do that?" about this collaboration. Maybe when I get to present the work formally, outside of my studio, the "why" will seem more evident. You can't really know what will register, so you can't set out to change the world. You have to follow your feeling.
MICHAEL: I have found that many people simply don't have the courage to TRULY be individual. You certainly are with your choice of projects. Where does this come from?
MARGARET: That's very flattering. Thank you. But I don't see myself as being truly individual. In a spiritual way, maybe, I'm true to myself. I began meditating every morning when I was 14. I do try to know myself, but it's been years of analysis and spiritual work. Someone said to me that I was the only person she knew who could be outraged and reasonable at the same time. I do think artists frame their questions through passion and their answers through reason, but then again, when do we ever really get answers? If we come to a point in our lives when we realize we have a limited time here we are lucky. We make a decision not to waste time. It's precious. I know a few writers who pinpoint that moment in their lives as 9/11. My moment was earlier than that and it dawned on me over time. I have been inspired by the writings of the late Florence Scovel who said, "Faith without nerve is dead."
MICHAEL: Absolutely. What role has your work played in your development? Have you reached self-actualization through your work or do you have to already be self-actualized to create in the first place?
MARGARET: Through the work...and I'm still seeking.
MICHAEL: Maybe it's me, but I find your gunshot works very serene. But what could be more violent than a gunshot? It's almost as if the art is quoting Pat Benatar by saying, "Hit me with your best shot!" After you've been shot and survived, I would imagine a peace comes and you learn you can move forward. That's what the work does for me anyway.
MARGARET: Good question...Because I find them serene and am never sure why. The large piece, "Expecting Rain" is the most peaceful to me. I thought it was because it looked like raindrops hitting water. I hadn't thought of Pat Benatar, but I just looked up the lyrics and I should have thought of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." It's impertinent. And yes, if you've survived violence and moved on, it's a reminder that you can survive, prevail. Eventually that brings an inner stillness that you could call peace. Again, it has to be peace with nerve, but I'd say the work hums with stillness.
MICHAEL: Those pieces also remind me of the work of Thornton Dial. He collected some of the remains from Hurricane Katrina and mounted them onto canvas among other innovations. His latest exhibition is devastatingly beautiful. You've also created something that's horrifically symbolic at the very least and raised it to the level of art. That's certainly a great metaphor for living. I'm sitting here flipping through your book (Margaret Evangeline: Shooting Through the Looking Glass) again. I also LOVE your prints and canvas pieces. I love the fact that they're so large and BOLD. They're bad-ass like Joan Mitchell.
MARGARET: Your comment on Thornton Dial brings to mind how artists and writers and curators can eventually connect. When I lived in New Orleans I was founding director of the gallery program at Delgado Community College. In the late eighties, I got Jay Murphy (who now often writes for Parkett) to direct the gallery. He had just moved to New Orleans from Florida and was publishing Red Bass, an alternative magazine funded by the NEA. Jay included Thornton in one of the first exhibitions that he curated. It may have been titled, "On The Spiritual." Thornton spoke to our students and I recall being tremendously moved. Thornton Dial's work is a wonderful example of how miraculous artistic energy is. You can experience the divine running through it, especially seeing a large body of work installed. So you bring to mind that the way we eventually connect through a certain artist's work is amazing.
MICHAEL: Cool. Now back to you. What drives you to work in so many different media? In which are you most comfortable?
MARGARET: Most comfortable painting. In my studio, all alone with my painting. The other media get me out interacting with all sorts of people and that's an important reason for doing it. It's more common now. Artists crossing these boundaries. I love the challenge of surprising myself. In fact, astonishing myself at times.
MICHAEL: I see both intellect and emotion in your abstract canvas works. When you're actually painting, does either dominate? I'm asking because I think I see more intention than free form emotion. I could be wrong.
MARGARET: I'm not sure. I mostly get out of the way and try not to obstruct the process.
MICHAEL: What things in the outside world inspire your process while you're not working? Music? The city? Smells? Food? Current events? How do you incorporate them?
MARGARET: I've begun a video of the meatpackers, loading and unloading carcasses on the street. The repetitive looping gestures of the hands of the workmen are a big part of the fascination for me. The formal ritual, like painting. That this element of our neighborhood culture has disappeared so quickly is conceptually compelling to me. What is replacing the American hand of labor? I really don't miss the smell, but the raw meat that was so recently here on the street, now replaced mostly by the refinements of fashion is a mashup. It makes visual sense if you don't try to narrate; if you get underneath words and connect to it. And then you question, what was it about that awful smell of carnage, the part you reject? And you allow these questions to be without verbal answers, to let it grow and feed the art without intervening explanations. Of course other artists have had this fascination with the gestures of work and labor...Van Gogh, for instance. And more recently, British artist Hilary Lloyd. In literature, Tom McCarthy's book, Remainder, is inspiring for its theme of repetitive, looping gestures.
MICHAEL: Very interesting. Anything else?
MARGARET: Another inspiration is my dog, Voltaire. He has become my muse; this big, silver, wooly, lamblike dog. I understand now so many mid-life male artists falling in love with their models. For me, it's my dog. He's only 16 months, still growing actually. I'm in love with him, his utter dogginess. He is my connection to nature, to its divinity if you will, and I find the shape of a lamb (which he resembles) haunting my new paintings. Also, Gorecki's Third Symphony. A good example of turning pain into affirmations through music that reminds me music this beautiful is a complete mystery. Gorecki also wrote a symphony called "Lamb" that has been popularized through film especially, but I am more moved by his Third.
MICHAEL: As you know, many artists view New York City as the "place to be" if you want to be a successful artist. Being a New Yorker, what do you think about this?
MARGARET: It is the place to be. I have friends in L.A. who were here who like it there and housing is cheaper, but it's so beautiful in California. Personally, I need GRIT.
MICHAEL: What would you say life experience has done for you and your technique as an artist? Are you more optimistic and therefore use lighter colors? That type thing.
MARGARET: My life comes out in the work. To me, there's no separation. One thing is that I have to read a lot before I start a new body of work. And then all of a sudden, I can feel it's time to begin. Lighter or darker colors, I think those are mostly decisions I make. But I will say that if I'm painting with dark colors, that always precedes a big change in my life. That's an observation I've made over the years. A friend who studied with Elizabeth Murray says she advised him to go bake a cake if he was feeling light and optimistic. Mostly my life experience is that there's nothing to prove, just paint and see what you're given.
MICHAEL: Ain't that the truth. For me, art is art and it really doesn't matter whether it's created by a female or male. Are female artists disadvantaged today in the art world or is it a non-issue?
MARGARET: OMG...do the math. At the opening of the first renovated MOMA exhibition, you walked through to find about 5% women. And look at the lineup at the galleries and the prices at auctions. It's getting better for women artists, but it almost 0% in the near past. There have emerged some amazing women artists in the last fifteen years, but such a small percentage get the important venues. You wonder how many fabulous women artists are missing. It's far from a non-issue. Of course my roots are ABEX (abstract expressionism) because like a lot of abstract artists working today, I was taught by an ABEXer who got a teaching job in a college art department. We picked up their tools, big brushes, paint sticks, but mostly the non-ironic; the painting experience comes first, not painting ABOUT painting. Fortunately, that is enjoying a revival right now. And it looks different on this generation. I happen to love Grace Hartigan who when she was called the mother of Pop Art said," I'd rather be the mother of a movement I hate than a follower of a movement I love." Grace called me when she was dying to remind me of painting's authority. I was doing the stainless steel installation in the Thames and she said, "Remember steel sinks!" She gave me that earthy laugh and I knew she trusted I would understand.
MICHAEL: Personally, I don't understand why this remains an issue today. Art is art. Unless the work is overtly feminine or masculine, you can't tell anyway. Politics as usual, I suppose. I wanted to ask you a bit more about your painting because I really love the fact that they're so large scale. They really are to die for and speak to me on so many levels. What makes a painting complete and successful for you?
MARGARET: What makes a painting finished is that it doesn't feel finished. Successful...that's just a feeling in the back of my knees.
MICHAEL: Finally Margaret, Does it matter to you that people may not see your messages in your work when they see it? What would you like people to see in your work long after you're gone?
MARGARET: It used to bother me, a "Mis-read." Now I just learn from it, there's no control after it leaves your hands and it really takes an audience to complete the work. Is this another statement on completion? Mostly I'd be happy if people still saw things in my work after I'm gone, but if I had to choose something, I would hope they found strength and courage in them.
MICHAEL: Thanks Margaret. I've really enjoyed this.
Check out Margaret Evangeline's work for yourself at http://www.margaretevangeline.com.