Interviewed in April of 2014
Current town: Roslindale, MA
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1. Meghann, share a bit about where you’re from or where you’ve lived… We’re just guessing, is it near the sea?
Haha, how’d you guess? Manchester-by-the-Sea is a pretty small town on the Northshore. I lived there until I left for college. I just left Somerville after an 8 year stint for Roslindale.
2. Can you tell us about any specific locations throughout the North Shore that have influenced your direction?
Singing Beach was the place to be in Manchester, and of course we spent many hours on Magnolia Beach. There’s a great place called the Lobster Pool in Rockport where we’d go on those blisteringly hot days (we didn’t have air conditioning) to eat by the ocean. As a family, we’d all head up to Maine to the state parks and lighthouses every summer. My mom is from Maine, so I think she wanted us to know about her favorites from childhood.
3. Jellyfish… Are they really as old as we think and will they take over the world one day? You have used them in your work for years, what do they represent to you?
They already are taking over! Last year, a nuclear reactor in Sweden was shut down by a plume of them. In 2007, 100,000 salmon died on a fish farm in Ireland by a jellyfish attack. There’s even an Israeli professor patenting a technique to make jellyfish into bandages and other medical products to address population control of this invasive species. There is talk that jellies pre-exist dinosaurs by 400 million years. Yes...I said million. Something tells me they’ll outlast most of the species on this planet.
4. You render underwater light in many forms, whether calm or violent it carries the distinct feel of this atmosphere. Does this light feel more natural to you? What draws you to this light over any other?
I tried to beat breath-holding records when I was little. So I would purposely float face-down in the ocean or pool with my eyes wide open (BOY did the adults just hate that!). I spent all day observing the sunlight reflecting in calm and choppy water. Or the way it turns an inky black when a major storm is rushing in. When I discovered bioluminescence on Singing Beach one August night, I found a new light-quality obsession. I definitely use these observations in all of my paintings.
5. To paint such weightless forms must come with it’s challenges, do you find form without gravity is a subject you
explore? Is space a possible subject your work could merge into?
Oh definitely. Outer space is part of the feel. Some of my jelly paintings purposely lose the underwater background in lieu of a celestial, star-speckled expanse. This was inspired by David Attenborough’s narration on the Blue Planet series, claiming that we know more about outer space than we do about the bottom of the ocean. There are some obvious parallels between the movie industry’s idea of an alien and the sea life found in the deepest trenches of the oceans. Regarding form and gravity: I have an okay time conveying form without gravity, but the space around the form is always a challenge. To address this challenge, I lay my paintings on the floor to paint the backgrounds. I do this to avoid giving the paint too much movement in a specific direction. Sometimes what started as the top of the painting becomes the side or the bottom. I want to keep the essence of being suspended in time and space.
6. We love how your work can have a playful side as well as a classic, painterly approach. What style comes easier/more
I guess playful happens more easily IF I’m feeling playful. If I force a piece to be playful, the painting becomes a chore. That’s usually when I’ll start a new piece to avoid working on the first one...and that next piece is always the one that is quick to finish, sells immediately, and gets the most reaction from admirers. It pays to trust your gut!
7. You were part of the very successful “Play Me I’m Yours” Street Pianos Boston event and you painted a jelly fish piano that was placed in Boston’s Green Way park by the seaport. What was it like to be a part of that project? Tell us a bit about your piano’s story.
It was such an amazing experience to meet artists from different backgrounds and watch their creative process over the course of a month. And to see Bostonians participate so widely with an installation..wow. I’ve never had an art experience like that. And the story...I named my piano Helmholz’ Aquarium after Hermann von Helmholtz, the guy responsible for pitch notation. He also wrote about color vision, depth, and motion perception. I figured if I were going to dedicate a piano with jellyfish on it, he should be the one. However, if Edie Widder professed an interest in pianos, then I might have to rename it since she just-so-happens to be my hero.
8. What artists have inspired you over the years? Teachers or Mentors?
I had some fantastic teachers who inspired me to keep going, even when I wasn’t sure I was meant for the creative life. I remember at Syracuse, feeling overloaded on courses and tried to drop out of Jerome Witkin’s class. He gave me the “are-you-kidding-me-can’t-you-handle-this” face and refused to sign the paperwork (he was right, I could handle it). Another semester I sliced up my pointer finger and was duct-taping over the stitches and gauze to continue throwing pots in ceramics class. My teacher David MacDonald was not thrilled by this idea so he lent out his carving tools and taught me a new technique to use on my already-made pots and teapots. While curating at Bloc 11, Diesel Cafe and keeping a studio at Joy Street, I was constantly inspired by all of artistic and musical talent in the city. I felt challenged to keep going and be a part of the creative voice in Somerville.
9. Do you branch out into any other aspects of art or design?
Product design or graphic design?
I’ve done a fair amount of hand-lettering and signage. A few years ago I created the sculpted cow icons for Lizzy’s Ice Cream in Harvard Square Cambridge, MA. I was so lucky to have their trust in me straight out of college. Because of that gig, it opened the doors to my current job as a signmaker in the city.
10. You seen to have a nice balance between working in a artistic field and selling your own personal work. What’s been the hardest part of living a life devoted to making art?
It’s tough not to let the day job take over all of my energy and time. Sometimes it’s best to leave on time, sit in the studio and mull over the half-formed ideas floating around in my brain. I have a new studio space in my house, so I’m more excited to get home and paint.
11. Lets talk about the studio: When you work are you a complete disaster covered in green and blue hues or do you keep a tight ship? Sea-pun intended.
Matey, this ship ain’t tight. Our last studio was filled with big rectangular outlines of my past paintings all over the floor. If I’m cleaning instead of painting in-the-moment, what’s the fun in that? Ok, I guess I could consider a drop cloth.
12. What medium or product is your sweet spot when you’re working? Even down to the brand name. Any secret weapons you can reveal?
I love Golden Acrylics, especially on Elephant board. I like seeing the wood grain under there (and it sometimes inspires the composition). I’ve strayed here and there with paints but you can always tell how thin the pigments are in the cheapo brands.
13. Do you have anything in the works you can talk about? A series or project you will have out in the future you’re excited about?
I’m hoping to get a children’s book out there one of these days. Wait, in admitting this, does it mean I actually have to get started? So yeah, I’ll get that started.
14. Give us an artist out there right now that you think our readers should know more about & why? What’s your local fav?
Sarah Gay and Chris O’Neill are two of my local favorites (who just-so-happen to also be married to each other!). Sarah’s work reminds me of those adorable illustrations in children’s books and magazines from the 1950’s. Chris’ work leans towards a hilarious and sweet grotesque. Another favorite is Jon Sarkin (out on the Northshore). He kindly sat down with us at his studio the other day and showed us a few drawing series with classic car tail fins and all possible musings on aloe plants. It’s the closest I’ve seen an artist get to stream-of-consciousness art production. You can really see where his mind is wandering off to.
15. Bonus question… I’m in Union Square, Somerville, It’s past midnight and I have a flat tire… do I order the crab rangoons at the Red House?
Oh God. The horror... If you have a stomach of steel, go for it.**