The Oak and the Cypress: Tangier Overture

Tangier-Overture

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

This painting was inspired by our trip to Tangier, Morocco last summer, as a leg of our European trip. The blue and white color palette, as well as the suggestion of Arabic writing evoke a little of the visuals of Tangier. Maybe more importantly, tensions about the risk we were taking in traveling to a country where it’s illegal to be gay, as well as an encounter with a security agent at the airport informed this painting.

The title addresses these tensions and comes from a game I’ve been enjoying recently, where I get ideas for paintings from mishearing the titles of classical music pieces on the radio. The true title of the piece of music that this painting is named after is Algerian Overture, but as soon as I heard it, I knew that if I changed the place name to “Tangier”, I had my title.

The Oak and the Cypress: Mia, Siena, Stripes

Mia, Siena, Stripes
Mia, Siena, Stripes

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

This painting was inspired by a photograph I took of my wife in Siena, Italy. Once I decided to incorporate pattern into my work in a conscious way, I suddenly saw pattern everywhere. Especially in Siena, each row of brick and each tile were thoughtfully placed to achieve maximum visual impact. While taking this photo, I was struck by the stripes in Mia’s skirt, but also the more subtle stripes from the architecture. This painting won the People’s Choice Award at the City of Federal Way’s Arts Alive exhibition in 2015.

Roof Life

Roof Life, by Svetlana Alpers
Roof Life, by Svetlana Alpers

Recently I was at the library, and on the shelf near the book I was looking for was a different book. It caught my eye because it was written by one of my former professors, Svetlana Alpers at UC Berkeley, someone whose lectures I thoroughly enjoyed. On a whim, I checked it out.

It was a bit of an oddball (not an insult) and I can’t stop thinking about it. Through vignettes of various lengths, Professor Alpers unpacks the psychology of looking, and settles on how a certain amount of remove and distance is needed to really see something. She writes about selling a Rothko painting from her parents’ estate after their deaths, witnessing the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers from her window, looking at photos of herself, and selling her family home (which just happened to be designed by Julia Morgan), among other memories.

The artist in me lit up to read these intimate details about a Rothko painting, for example. Art porn.

But she was after something deeper. In a short passage, she wrote about witnessing the events of 9/11. She didn’t write about it in a dramatic way, but thoughtfully, with reserve. I appreciated that, because so much of the words around 9/11 are designed to provoke a reaction, and I find that to be cheap. Cheap emotion from cheap shots. The way she described the scene – watching from a little bit of distance, noticing the odd way that the cityscape flattens the scene, feeling the simultaneous remove yet complete personal investment in what she was witnessing – is exactly how I also witnessed those events 15 years ago (although I was farther uptown than she). I happened to read that passage on the morning of the anniversary, which I was steadfastly attempting to honor in my own private way, without watching or reading any news accounts, as I do each year. The day is difficult enough without the sensationalism of those images, and it’s always tough to strike a balance between remembering while not falling prey to that crassness. (Patriot porn).

Anyway, I picked up the book early in the morning, determined to not wallow in anniversary tributes. I was at that point in the book where I wasn’t sure yet that I’d finish it – far enough to wonder if it’s really my cup of tea, but not so far that I felt I’d given it a fair shot. I had no idea that it touched on September 11th at all, but it suddenly came up, and there I was, reading about that day, against my intentions. But I didn’t mind; in fact, I welcomed the opportunity to read this compassionate, understated account that so closely matched my own feelings.

This book sort of appeared when I needed it. I felt that was the most perfect, profound tribute. I couldn’t have read anything better had I searched for it that morning.

Encouraged, I kept reading. I learned about the home Professor Alpers lived in while she taught at Berkeley (fascinating because it was designed by one of my favorite architects, Julia Morgan, a treasure of Berkeley, and also because I was learning about the private life of one of my professors, including a dispute over earrings bought at a tag sale that ended a friendship. School porn). She even mentioned my art history class at one point, though when I Googled the painting she referred to, I didn’t remember having ever seen it, and I felt guilty.

I waxed nostalgic when she mentioned various details about Berkeley, or especially New York, where she lives now. I enjoyed reading her descriptions of contemporary art, since our class together focussed on much older art history.

In the end, Professor Alpers advocates for the practice of looking. Looking in order to learn. Looking because it’s fun. And beautiful, even when the subject is painful. And by looking – beginning to see.

The Oak and the Cypress: Diving In (Gina’s Window)

Diving In (Gina's Window), acrylic on panel, 36 x 48
Diving In (Gina’s Window), acrylic on panel, 36 x 48

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

When I’m thinking, I always look around me. It provides me with outside inspirations for paintings sometimes – especially colors and patterns – and frees my mind to go inside and think at the same time. This is also how I discover my many found objects! This is a stylized view of some of the scenery out the window of my therapist’s office, where I do some heavy thinking.

Discovery

Hand-Marbled Paper
Hand-Marbled Paper

Learning something new somehow refreshes the soul, doesn’t it? I felt like I was walking on air after a friend taught me how to marble this paper.

The Oak and the Cypress

The Oak and the Cypress

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

The first step toward this theme was a technical one: I challenged myself to begin using pattern in more conscious ways in my paintings. This technical consideration soon turned metaphorical as I began to consider the patterns (specifically behavioral ones) in my daily life. Around this time, maybe because of this train of thought, I suddenly realized that my eight-year relationship with my wife can now be considered “long-term”. We’re not honeymooners any more, and sometimes we’re both surprised to realize that. On top of this, we traveled to Italy last summer, the first time we’d been there since we went together as a brand-new couple. This trip provided a natural comparison and opportunity to look at our relationship at its beginning and at its current bloom.

It also caused me to revisit some of my earlier artwork, since I was inspired by Italy at that time. The warm Italian palette, crusty textures, sense of the passage of time, and found objects such as Italian wall posters frequently featured in my compositions, and I’ve returned to some of these themes to explore marriage.

The exploration of the figure is a departure from my usual abstraction, and a move into explicitly personal territory and themes.

Pride Paintings

Pride Paintings

These paintings were created one each day during June 2016. June is commonly known as Pride Month among the queer community, and I wanted to celebrate by honoring a different queer person or moment each day of the month.

Almost halfway through the project, the murders occurred at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and this project took on a different tone. Where some early pieces featured small figures cast within a “scene”, or humorous images, after the tragedy I began to focus on making the figure as large as possible, and took care to imbue each with a healthy dose of gravitas. Each day, I added another small image to the growing collection on the wall. It began to feel like our queer ancestors were watching over us in some fashion. It was comforting in a strange, talismanic way. Here are some of the best of the month.

The Sketchbook Project

 

The Sketchbook Project

 

My sketchbook contains entries about my daily life during one point in time. Watercolor, collaged scraps of paper, sketches, and handwritten entries tell the stories of personal relationships, life in New York City, and a business trip to the Middle East.
 
As the sketchbook evolves, whimsical images become more stark and expressive, and humorous observations become news briefs. These topics include the New York State Legislature’s initial (negative) vote on gay marriage in 2009, news about an actress who came out of the closet, and bombings in Afghanistan involving my brother and sister-in-law. By linking my personal anecdotes with news on the national and international stage, the sketchbook ties my own stories to larger concerns such as the war on terrorism and the LGBT community’s struggle for full equality.
 
Artists often wonder if their own concerns matter to anyone else. Creating this sketchbook while residing in another country allowed me to observe my home culture through another culture’s lens. Encountering my own fears and concerns in others validated them. As I reflected on my personal experiences as a gay person, and worried about my family’s safety in a war zone, I was confronted with the concerns of an entire LGBT culture, and the fears of military families everywhere. This experience verified for me that the big issues of the world are made up of the personal concerns of many individuals.
 
The sketchbook makes the case that the personal is not only important, but universal. The personal is also political.
 

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The Lavender Menace Series

The Lavender Menace Series

Artist Statement

This body of work is an exploration of identity and its intersection, or collision, with contemporary events. I am moved by news items about structural and personal violence, which I cull from the internet, social media, and traditional news broadcasts.

Painting abstractly about these incidents allows me to remove them from their specific contexts, providing a contemplative space for both maker and viewer. In contrast to the specificity of the news reports, it is a space where colors and edges inform and suggest, where layers both hide and reveal what lies underneath, where collage items assume new identities in relation to their new contextual home.

Though the news items are themselves weighty, even graphic, the paintings inspired by them are accessible and inviting, featuring harmonious colors, lively compositions, organic shapes, and evidence of the artist’s hand in bursts of drawing. This attention to beauty invites the viewer to engage with a topic which may otherwise be too gritty to face. By actively locating beauty in what may be considered unusual places, I advocate for a concern for social justice. The paintings offer a gesture for connection, and ultimately a hopeful worldview.

The Italy Paintings

The Italy Paintings

These paintings were inspired by three summers spent teaching in Italy. (For those in the know, I should specify that one summer was spent in Italy, and two were in Sicily–big difference!). Some are based on photographs I took of objects such as walls, or tools and machinery left to rust in their outdoor environment, caught in the Mediterranean light, and aged by the sun and time. I use these photos as a point of departure for exploring a visual record of my experiences.

Most of the paintings also include collage items that I found in Italy, such as pieces of ever-present Italian wall posters, discarded paper, and even volcanic rock from the top of Mt. Etna.

Solo Show Explores Gay Marriage

You're invited

In an exhibition sponsored by the City of Federal Way, painter Maura McGurk uses texture, color and found objects to explore long-term relationships, particularly gay marriage.

McGurk explains that she arrived at this theme through a challenge she gave to herself, to begin using pattern in more conscious ways in her paintings. This technical consideration quickly turned metaphorical as she began to consider the patterns (specifically behavioral ones) in her daily life. This train of thought eventually led to the realization that her eight-year relationship with her wife could now qualify as “long-term”.

But it was a trip to Italy in 2015, their first since traveling there together as a brand-new couple, that provided a natural opportunity to examine their relationship at its beginning and at its current bloom. This bookending also caused McGurk to revisit some of her earlier artwork, since she was inspired by Italy at that time. The warm Italian palette, crusty textures, sense of the passage of time, and found objects such as Italian wall posters frequently featured in her compositions, and she has returned to some of these elements to explore marriage.

The occasional exploration of the figure is a departure from McGurk’s usual abstraction, and a move into more explicitly personal territory and themes.

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

Artist Donates 10% of Sales to OneOrlando Fund

Art for Orlando exhibition, First Covenant Church, Seattle
Art for Orlando exhibition, First Covenant Church, Seattle

On Capitol Hill, the acknowledged center of queer culture in Seattle, the Pulse Nightclub murders in Orlando on June 12 exacted a special toll. Most of Seattle’s gay clubs are located here, and rainbow flags and crosswalks dot the landscape, visually knitting together disparate businesses and corners of the neighborhood. Seattle’s generally liberal vibe may have masked any real sense of danger; although assorted hate crimes have increased in the neighborhood over the last few years, there still existed a general feeling that Seattle was safe for queers. The news from Orlando reminded everyone that anything can happen anywhere.

In the immediate aftermath, before the motive was understood or the perpetrator was known, an idea was hatched to create something positive out of this destabilizing grief. Ellie VerGowe, the Community Outreach Coordinator at First Covenant Church, decided to turn the church’s art space over to a month-long tribute to the victims, affording an opportunity for the community to process its grief. Artists, performers and church staff swung into action, hanging a show of over two dozen works that honored the victims in Orlando and celebrated the queer community there and beyond. In addition to the two dimensional works on the wall, the opening reception featured musical compositions as well as an elegiac dance and spoken word performance.

The show was a financial success too, with a robust number of sales and various proceeds marked for support of victims in Orlando. One artist who donated 10% of sales was painter Maura McGurk, who sold seven of the twelve paintings she exhibited. Her paintings were not specifically painted in reaction to the news from Orlando, but were a selection of what she calls “Pride Paintings”. She began on June 1 to honor a different queer person or moment with a commemorative painting each day of Pride Month. When the events in Orlando unfolded, the Pride Paintings took on a different character for McGurk. The collection that was growing on her wall took on a protective aspect, with each portrait looking down and seeming to watch over McGurk and her wife. McGurk’s donation goes to OneOrlando Fund.