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If you've lived in Columbia in the past three years, most likely you've run across one of Jenny McGee's paintings. Her earthy and ethereal, eco-friendly work has been displayed at the Columbia Art League, at Perlow-Stevens Gallery and at Orr Street Studios, where she occupies a studio — but also in such places as Boone Hospital Center, Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport and the True/False Film Fest. Although McGee's art has been wide-ranging in theme, topic and color over the years — some of it influenced by years spent in El Salvador, in particular — she has become locally venerated specifically for her sand, glass and milk paint landscapes on repurposed doors and window frames.
I've often been affected personally by McGee's willingness to speak honestly about the ideas behind her art, most specifically her fairly recent bout with breast cancer. Her art has always reflected a sense of spiritual and emotional struggle with circumstances, accompanied by a final acceptance of rest and peace. But never before has she painted so openly about the experience of cancer than now, in a new series named "Figuring It Out." This series, along with another new collection, will be displayed this month at the World Trade Art Gallery in New York City.
The series addresses personal issues — cancer, body image, patience, healing — in bold colors and expressive contours. McGee also incorporated blood into the milk paint and mixed-media works; she said in a news release that the blood represents suffering but also life, nobility and universal womanhood.
In one of the pieces, a female figure is shown with her back to the viewer, sitting propped forward on one arm as a red spear of paint seems to come down and pierce her back. The body and streak of red together seem to suggest a guitar shape. The implication is an acceptance of one's scars and using pain as a path of healing and also as a way to become an instrument of grace for others.
In another abstract realism painting, "Healing 4," two nudes seem to glow against a dark background — one is standing, looking down at another figure sitting crookedly on the floor. The piece portrays the idea of empathy, sharing burdens in the midst of unforeseen turmoil. The series, McGee said in a recent "20/20 Night" presentation at The Blue Note, also reflects both the earlier insecurities of a 15-year-old girl pondering issues of body image and self-acceptance along with the older, wiser reflections of a woman who has experienced a double mastectomy and multiple childbirths. The truth at the heart of it all, McGee said, is accepting "imperfection as perfection."
The other series McGee will exhibit at the World Trade Art Gallery is her "Water and Light Collection," a series that is informed by high-gloss luminosity. This allows the viewer to explore both the reflective qualities of water but also the smaller, gritty details that lie beneath the surface. Using cool blues and greens and the texture of pearl and stone covered by eco-friendly resin, McGee has worked up a fascinating liquidlike series that complements much of her other soil-laden landscapes full of tree, earth and clay.
But whether figurative, silhouetted, abstract or nature-infused, McGee's work no doubt will affect New York City visitors fortunate enough to stumble across her art as much as it does the native Missourians she calls her family.
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