Maura McGurk Wins People’s Choice Award at City Hall Exhibition

People's Choice Award, FW 2015

The Federal Way City Council awarded painter Maura McGurk the People’s Choice Award at their council meeting Tuesday night, in recognition of her mixed media painting, Mia, Siena, Stripes. The work is part of the Arts Alive exhibition currently on view at City Hall.

McGurk said that her main inspiration for the painting came from an observation made at her last opening, by a friend’s husband who claimed to know nothing about art.

“He said that he noticed that I used a lot of patterns, but painted over them with layers of paint. Then he apologized for asking such a dumb question, but wanted to know what it meant to me to hide all those patterns underneath. Dumb question?! I was embarrassed to tell him that I hadn’t even noticed that in my own process!”. McGurk laughs at the memory.

She says she took this as a personal challenge to work more directly and consciously with pattern. This, in turn, led to a new awareness of repeating shapes and motifs in the world around her. During a trip to Siena, Italy this summer, her eye was drawn especially to stripes.

She says that stripes were evident all around her: single bricks placed side-by-side lining an archway, rows of bricks angled in opposing directions that created giant stripes across the main piazza, the bold black and white horizontal marble of Siena’s Cathedral, the stripes in the flags around town, and even the black and white stripes in a tourist’s skirt, which echoed those of the Cathedral.

Drawing a little bit from each of these scenarios, McGurk consciously constructed a patterned work based on Siena’s stripes. “It’s a little more painstaking than I usually work, and it was tempting to sweep across the whole thing with a big brush loaded up with paint. But I made a deal with myself, and a deal is a deal”.

The Arts Alive exhibition will be on view at City Hall through January 6, 2016.

Road Trip: Van Gogh’s Arles, Part 2

Garden of Hospital of Arles, 1888, Van Gogh; Photograph of Espace Van Gogh (formerly the hospital), 2015
Garden of Hospital of Arles, 1888, Van Gogh; Photograph of Espace Van Gogh (formerly the hospital), 2015

Arles has managed to keep the look and feel captured by Vincent van Gogh in 1888. Here is the hospital where he stayed after he cut off his ear. It’s been converted into an art center called Espace Van Gogh, with small souvenir shops (mostly related to art) on the ground level. The garden is maintained with plants like the ones that were there in Vincent’s day. For me, it was a very somber place, knowing that this was really the beginning of the end for Vincent

Road Trip: Van Gogh’s Arles

Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night; Van Gogh Cafe in Arles, 2015
Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night; Van Gogh Cafe in Arles, 2015

One of the most stunning places I’ve been to is Arles, in the south of France, specifically retracing some of Van Gogh’s steps. This is where Vincent van Gogh spent about a year – probably the most eventful year of his life. Arles is where he created many of his masterpieces (the painting of his bedroom, Cafe Terrace at Night, Night Cafe, his yellow sunflowers, and many more). It’s also where he was – briefly – roommates with Paul Gauguin, and where he cut off his ear. It was an artistic high point, and also the beginning of the end.

In Arles, the cafe where Vincent spent many evenings and immortalized in oil paint still stands. The yellow awning is still there, even the green of the neighboring shop down the way, and the blue-gray door jamb of the neighbor on the other side. It’s amazing to be able to see this little piece of history, practically unchanged after over 130 years, and to even walk into the painting, so to speak.

This left a huge impression on me, and made my eyes a little misty. When I came home, I put a reproduction of the Cafe Terrace at Night on my studio wall, to remind me about being hard-working, and sensitive, and how great things can happen from everyday moments.