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By AARIK DANIELSEN
Sunday, August 31, 2018
Mid-Missouri’s proper nouns receive proper tribute in the heart and hands of artist Jenny McGee.
Handling the tools of child’s play — some paper and a pair of scissors — McGee expresses a mature reality. The best changes come when joy replaces fear, and instincts become something to trust rather than sidestep.
Known for her painting — which itself has shifted over time from stirring representation to soulful abstraction — McGee has emphasized another dimension and direction, creating multimedia collages of the people, places and things which make the region feel like home.
Just two months into her “Wonderful Faces and Places” series, McGee has documented landmarks such as the Missouri Capitol, Broadway Diner and Hartsburg Grand, as well as people like popular singing duo the Burney Sisters. Each work, like the community she celebrates, is composed of small but essential pieces and a desire to see the bigger picture.
While living in El Salvador years ago, McGee made a series of works in paper, a “visual journaling of the people and the places that inspired me.” She returned to the medium after a recent trip to Colorado. Gazing at the natural, surrounding beauty, she mused on what her home state had to offer, the natural and personal resources within, and decided to make her own document.
The work, McGee estimates, is 70 percent play and intuition and 30 percent concentration and composition.
“I’m in this place in my life, I think, where I’m trying intentionally and my best to have most of my faith be in the unseen versus the seen,” she said. “So it’s important to me to follow those emotions and instincts that say ‘Do this. Go this way. Create this piece.’ So I think it always starts as a fun, playful, emotional response before it becomes a tangible reality.”
So far, she has made good use of recycled paper, paper purchased while in Colorado and sheets of the common canvas which remain from her time in El Salvador. McGee starts with a sketch, then brings together cut paper, digital images of her abstract work and typography.
The work has provoked strong emotional responses from viewers and patrons, who see their own personal landmarks in a fresh or different way. The series allows McGee to relate to viewers in more than one way. Her abstract paintings provoke interpretation, but even that connection resides in a more mysterious or inexplicable realm.
Works portraying specific places and people encourage direct points of access, and establish a common language between McGee and viewers.
McGee certainly hasn’t set down her paintbrushes. She already sees, and is excited to further explore, the way multiple artistic paths can intersect. “Each experimentation, each process, informs the other,” she said.
This series has only amplified and drawn out McGee’s innate sense of wonder. The refreshment these works provide can’t help but seep into her treatment of other mediums or subjects. Through scissors, paper, imagination and instinct, she has accessed and immersed herself in what might be a taboo term in some creative circles — fun.
“It’s the door to Narnia. It’s that secret, unspoken element we all need in our life,” she said. “When we learn to add that back in our life, I think so many positive and amazing doors open and changes happen.”
McGee has no intention of halting this series anytime soon. But she also seeks to hold her work loosely, to trust her instincts to lead her to the right places for just the right amount of time. This new way of working, and the paper trail it leaves, communicate an important message McGee rehearses in her effort to remember.
Rather than live in the past or the future, as many of us do, she wants to be in the moment. Living a present-tense artistic life means living a more fearless life, and finding yourself willing to go wherever the work takes you.
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