boston painter

Dream by Kerri McGill

Your dream is bold and clear. The path is obvious. Maybe it includes a timeline. As you proceed forward with determination and optimism, unforeseen aspects of life make the path less straightforward. Other realities come to light and the goal is far less attainable than when first conceived. In fact, you have to put your dream away for a small while and attend to other matters. It will only be a short while…

Time slips by. A break turns into a hiatus. When there is finally an opportunity to return to the dream, you are not the same person, your life is a different place and even the dream looks different.  Will you rework it or leave it behind?

Dream (painting)
This painting is in response to a dream that came true. Painted as an anchor piece for a body of work to be created in a Buenos Aires art residency. It explores ideas of anticipation, imagination and reality. This piece will endure the physical tribulations that often occur philosophically to a dream.

The painting came about so quickly it felt reactionary. I didn’t think twice about size or color. It was clear and bold. It was like making something that I had memorized plans to… I guess it wasn’t supposed to fit through a door.

I pack the piece up and travel through Patagonia. In Buenos Aires,  I plan to use the blemishes of travel and rework “reality” into this “Dream”. The residency vetoes my project. This hefty beast I’d been lugging through South America is now a mute thing. It stays packed up. I create a very different project.

It remains packed away tight for two more years. The creases and folds have a life of their own.  I don’t have the proper stretcher bars and the damn thing wouldn’t fit out the door if I did anyway.

I miss it though. And here is the day I pull it off the shelf, fuss with wrinkles, folds and crush marks, put it back on the wall and reexamine this Dream.

Art Residency: Buenos Aires by Kerri McGill

I've made a monstrous miscalculation, an enormous error in judgement...

As dreams are clean streamlined versions of reality, my dream of travel in Arg leaves a hefty something out. That something is the city, itself.

After years of working in city spaces, the idea of traveling the Goliath space of Patagonia followed by making art seemed complete. Buenos Aires, the spot to contemplate ideas of time and space in cities vs natural setting: sitting in a quiet cafe reading and sketching, working in a studio, trading ideas w/other artists... A satisfying plan.

As the plane circles BA to land, my heart sinks a little. The city reaches as far as the eye can see without break or deviation. The city is All. My plan does not take into account the shear power charisma and magnitude of this city, this city, unknown to me. Of course I mean to explore this city. I just had no idea how much city there is!

The taxi driver grimaces when I tell him the address. It's a good drive away from the city center. Paternal is a working class neighborhood. The Main Street is lined w/kiosks(bodegas) fruit stands, and the type if stores you'd find on the edge of Chinatown. The sidewalks are broken. There is construction everywhere. Construction looks like holes in the dirt. 

The residency is a homey apartment with 3 bedrooms, 2 cats and a studio space. There is a roof deck and a small apartment where's he organizer,  Frank, lives. 

When I speak about my project idea. The reaction: it would be good if you make work about Buenos Aires.

Of course. This makes sense. But my Lord I just got here! Have you seen the size if this city? How do I approach an unexpected unknown subject and make honest work? Even if I use Patagonia as a point if departure, I fear coming off as the typical tourist. How can I know this city well enough to make a sincere comment?

Things become more complex...
The rain storms of the first two weeks hold me captive. This is not weather, this is a beast that shakes the walls and infiltrates the house. All of the cracked sidewalks and dirt-hole construction turn walkways into mud.  Storms own the mornings and often appear from nowhere in the afternoon. When I say there are sheets of rain, I refer more to sheets of plywood and less to sheets of Egyptian cotton. The weather fluctuates from cold rains to debilitating heat and humidity, and the rain in the evening is dealer's choice. This is not conducive to exploring.

In packing, I have only hiking boots or sandals. My sandals rub the skin off my feet, give me blisters and disintegrate in the mud bathed walks within a week. A hunt for shoes takes up more time than I'd like. It's hard to find something between a $10Flipflops and $180 Nikes. I get lost easily. My, first day I trek  along Warnes Ave- an unending avenue full of auto body shops with unending piles of motors and parts. I cannot explain what it is that makes this greasy street enchanting in some way.

A window in the rain allows me, bandaged feet an all, to get to a few of the museums, artisan markets and cafés.  I spend so much time avoiding sidewalk hazards, I often miss the details of architecture that fill the city with magic.  But the street art stands out at every corner.

In my favor I came armed w/George's Luis Borges Ficciones. When I had enough of fighting the city storms, I hide in a cafe and read. I had enough for thought to know his work is full of possibilities, a connection factor. His stories are full of labyrinths, double realities, twisted time space. He might as well be a quantum physicist. 

Time moves quickly. There is still much to see.  Between thoughts of Patagonia, the depths of BA, and the cpmplexity of Borges.. I am overflowing w/thought. How to pear down and focus... I still need shoes.

Pablo Neruda series, XII of 20 Love Poems by Kerri McGill


Your breast is enough for my heart,
and my wings for your freedom.
What was sleeping above your soul will rise
out of my mouth to heaven.

IN you is the illusion of each day.
You arrive like the dew to the cupped flowers.
You undermine the horizon with your absence.
Eternally in flight like the wave.

I have said that you sang in the wind
like the pines and like the masts.
Like them you are tall and taciturn,
and you are sad, all at once, like a voyage.

You gather things to you like an old road.
You are peopled with echoes and nostalgic voices.
I awoke and at times birds fled and migrated
that had been sleeping in your soul.

Pablo Neruda

A WORD is Worth Thousand Paintings...Saudade and other untranslatable words by Kerri McGill

My posts to this point focus on images.  Today I write about the word.  

We rely on language for all transactions, emotional, business and everything inbetween.   Written or spoken, the word can fall short sometimes.  Delve into something beyond banter, something below the surface of social interaction to emotions deeper felt, those driving forces of our daily actions.... This is when verbal communication lacks the accuracy to articulate emotion.  This is when the artist (visual or audial) reaffirms a hold on a deeper type of communication.

This thought is indebted to another's search, posted publicly:

I've been hunting down this word for years... And it's finally in my grasp. This is a perfect word for how this reality makes me feel most of the time:
(The definition is mostly from Wikipedia)
Saudade is a Portuguese word that has no translation in English.  Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing/yearning for an absent something or someone that one loves, often one whose whereabouts are unknown, a lost lover or a family member gone missing.  It carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. 
Saudade describes "the love that remains" after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone or something should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence.  One can have 'saudade' of someone whom one is with, feeling a loss towards the past or the future (e.g. unrealized/unfulfilled expectations).  While saudade conveys longing for a past that can never return as well as a future that will never happen, acceptance of the reality is also built into the word.  It embodies all that is positive of a time or feeling that is no longer, while deeply acknowledging the sadness of this truth.
In Brazil, the day of saudade is officially celebrated on January 30...
(I admit I am most curious about this holiday of heartache.)

Communication is a tricky game.  Similar background provides us with the same set of words that we combine in different formations and toss back and forth to each other.  We agree on meanings for all of these words, though different interpretations are inevitable.  There are times we search for just the right word.  Sometimes we never find that word.  It may not exist in our native language.  

A list of 20 untranslatable words gives more examples of things missing from our English.
(I really love #2 as well - Mamihlapinatapei)

The continual hunt is a constant for any artist.  They say the painter paints the same painting his whole life.  Like searching for the right word to convey the thought, the artist searches color, composition and subject to find the most powerful presentation of the idea.

The idea behind this one word, Saudade, is the source of hundreds of artist.  Hopper comes to mind quickest.

A painting may be worth a million words, 
but you can make a million paintings from the seed of one word... the right word.

Gift Given, Gift Received by Kerri McGill

The Blind Drink, the Seeing Hold Sky
The Gift
A recurring theme in my images is The GIFT... most plainly expressed in the Vessel series.  It took me a while to see the recurring part until my dear friend and artist, Soapheap Pich, moved back to Cambodia.  His last painted works are a Sacred Vessels series.

His idea of the vessel stays with me, Greek burials, alms bowls, the Grail.  I revisit my flower sketches.  I notice how my people clutch things, like the potted orchid in my "Gift".   The idea is already there... It's in the damn title for Christ's sake!

I ran with it.  I veer from flower paintings in favor of the pots and bowls that hold them.  Oranges are a traditional gift, for Buddha, Chinese dragons, good children, monks, and travelers.  Many of the images have a perspective that flattens out.  This is something I love in 4x5 photography, changing the plane of the negative.  It stays with me in painting still.  I love qualities of the two dimensional.

One Gives, One Recieves
Receive a Gift with Grace
A gift...Give and receive, the action between empty and full embody these images.  Release something to another and make room for something new.  The physical action: one extends something into the personal space of another, one takes something in allowing another's action to impact them.  We are in flux.  Every moment we have something to offer another and we are in desperate need of something just out of our reach.

There is vulnerability in needing.  It is a harrowing terrifying humbling place to be. Even in deepest moments of need, we are so full there is always something to offer, to give to another.

Evolution of Studio Space by Kerri McGill

Establishing a studio space after college means something at home.  To make art between the waitress shifts, art shows, and general mayhem of daily life on no budget, my home needs some type of extra corner, just an extra something... and low and behold, I come across an apartment with a walk-in closet.

The closet is cozy to say the least.  A fan is always on so the oil fumes don't make it into m bedroom.  I have to step back into my bedroom to look at my paintings...But if Weegee used the trunk of his car for a darkroom, then I have no worries. (more details in "Artist in the Closet" post)                                                    

So the roof fell in and I fell into a beautiful new apartment with room in the basement for a studio space.  It's so much larger!  I was excited... So  excited I gave it a good cleaning, a special "anti-moisture" paint job and spent the next two years rearranging things.    It never quite took off. 

I thought I was just being spoiled, wanting some kind of natural light...I mean if Monet can have a boat studio, why can't I have a basement studio?

It turns out, general consensus says basements are challenging studio spaces.  Apparently dark and dank is tougher than wind and waves.

On a random day filled with random tasks, I drive down an unfrequented street.  There is a huge brick building, door propped open with a small handwritten sign: "studio sale".  I stop for yard sales, tag sales and church bake sales.  This fits right in... I use the opportunity to ask about renting studio space... "..two year waiting list..maybe try your luck posting on the bulletin board.." 

I did.  Just as I poked the thumbtack in, a voice from a man trotting down the stairs- "Hey what are you doing? Are you looking for space?.. This door shouldn't be open.." and he pulls the wedge. 
The door locks shut. 

 But I am already in. 

Now I have a beautiful sunny spot at 6 Vernon Street Studios in Somerville...Let the painting begin.

Sketches to Paintings by Kerri McGill

Sketches come from bold, reactive play with simple carved form into the oils with charcoal fast and dirty. The palette is less complex than the painting. But don't kid yourself, I can fuss for days on the sketches too. I never know when my next studio time will be. Some of the sketches are precious to me and wait for years before a more substantial object is made.

Sometimes the painting is a close reinterpretation. Hummingbird Girl sketch and "Hummingbird Halo" have many of the same elements. The palette and lighting are deeper. The hummingbirds achieve a different spatial tension and movement. The painting also introduces a woman with smudged lipstick. It's a small detail. The little details are gifts to the viewer who keeps looking. It broadens the story.

Other times the essence of the sketch sketch evolves dramatically. "Eaglehandler" portrays a very plain girl with an enormous, rather well behaved, eagle on her ungloved hand. The sketch does not have the visual tension of the actual scenario.Eagles are big raptors that should not perch on anyone's hand unaided.

The following painting, "The Facilitator", creates a more engaging situation and the title adds nicely too. The woman is more refined, the eagle, more raptorous. Adding the titmouse in her right hand would be trite if I kept the eagle's original stance from the sketch. It would have been titled "food chain". Eye contact is skewed between the main players, so motives remain veiled.

The talon to bare hand reveals the nature of the relationship between woman and eagle. In the sketch, it is also the weakest point...It's a mush of charcoal and pretend. The painting shows less mush and more pretend.

Pablo Neruda Series, Ode with a Lament by Kerri McGill

Ode with a Lament
Oh girl among the roses, oh pressure of doves,
oh prison of fish and rosebushes,
your soul is a bottle filled with thirsty salt
and your skin a bell full of grapes.

Unfortunately I have nothing to give you save fingernails
or eyelashes, or melted pianos,
or dreams that spring gushing from my heart,
dusty dreams that run like black horsemen,

dreams filled with velocities and misfortunes. I can only love you with kisses and poppies, with garlands wet from the rain, looking at ashy horses and yellow dogs,
I can only love you with waves at my back,
between vague hits of sulfur and distracted waters,
swimming against the graveyards that flow in certain rivers
with wet grass growing over the sad plaster tombs,
swimming by submerged hearts
and pale registration lists of unburied children.

There is much death, many funereal events
in my forsaken passions and desolate kisses,
there is the water that falls on my head
while my skin grows,
a water like time, a black unchained water,
with a nocturnal voice, with the cry
of a bird in the rain, with an interminable

shadow of wet wing that protects my bones:
while I watch myself, while
interminably I look at myself in the mirrors and in the windows,
I hear someone following me, calling to me with sobs
with a sad voice rotted by time.

You stand over the earth, full

of teeth and lightning bolts.
You spread the kisses and kill the ants.
You weep of health, of onion, of bee,
of burning alphabet.
You are like a blue and green sword,
and you undulate at the touch, like a river.

Come to my soul dressed in white, with a branch
of bloody roses and cups of ashes,
come with an apple and a horse,
because there is a dark room and a broken candelabra,
some crooked chairs that wait for winter,
and a dead dove, with a number.
Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda series, Wind on the Island by Kerri McGill

Wind on the Island
The wind is a horse:
hear how he runs
through the sea, through the sky

He wants to take me: listen
how he roves the world
to take me far away.

Hide me in your arms
just for this night,
while the rain breaks
against sea and earth
its innumerable mouth.

Listen how the wind
calls to me galloping
to take me far away. With your brow on my brow,
with your mouth on my mouth,
our bodies tied
to the love that consumes us,
let the wind pass
and not take me away.

Let the wind rush
crowned with foam,
let it call to me and seek me
galloping in the shadow,
while I, sunk
beneath your big eyes,
just for this night
shall rest, my love.

Pablo Neruda