Jenny McGee Dougherty | An Interview
We happily introduce Jenny McGee Dougherty to Tappan today, introducing her unique mixed media collage. We love her interpretation and abstraction of the environment as she explores the intersection between the natural and urban world. The combination of cut paper and gouache creates bold pattern play reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement.
Read our interview with her below:
Describe your work in three words:
Abstract textile landscapes.
Tell us about this body of work launching on Tappan?
This work is an extension of the work I have been doing for the past five years or so, and it is a material exploration of my interest in the intersections of humans and the natural world. Through this work I lay out layers of visual information that has been archived in my mind as I travel and see places within the built environment where humans have made their mark. Using primarily gouache and cut paper, I am creating abstract meditations on these woven landscapes.
What is your creation process like, how are you conceptualizing and thinking about each of these pieces?
My studio process is very intuitive. I usually start out with a concept in mind, maybe a general color palette or overall structure that I want to explore, but typically the process dictates the visual outcome. I like to experiment with new visual vocabularies, which then either stay or go when I move on to the next piece. I also often sit down in my studio and totally paint over the work that I made the day before, hence the monochromatic pieces in this collection.
Regarding your method of making, is it a case of the material or method dictating the idea of the other way around?
I've been working with the same materials for a long time now, and I find the process of collage making to be very forgiving, so I would say the method is dictating the results. I like to lay paper down and add paint and then pull out my X-Acto knife and cut it all up.
What’s the first thing you do when you begin formulating an idea for a piece?
My brain is clogged with ideas; I rarely have a problem of having too few ideas, so when I get in to my studio it's mostly a process of sorting out which idea I want to try to articulate first. This is hard because I'm constantly overwhelmed by inspiration.
Would you say you have a studio philosophy?
My philosophy is to just follow my intuition and to keep working even when I'm feeling stuck. I often find that when I have a day where I'm not happy with what I'm working on, in a matter of time I'll come back and see it in a new light, so I just make sure to keep myself active. But I also know when to put the brush down and do something else, so that I don't paint over everything in sight.
Tell us about an artist whose career you admire?
Margaret Kilgallen was and continues to be a huge inspiration for me. I discovered her work when I was in my early twenties living in the Bay Area and she had just passed away. I had seen the Beautiful Losers show at YBCA and it blew my mind, because I had never seen work like that on a scale like that. It felt exciting to see her work- so grand in scale, but with such a beautiful hand-painted touch and a femininity that felt radical. I admire her devotion to her practice and I feel a kinship with her approach to gathering visual information.
What is the arts community like in your city? Do you spend your time around other creatives?
Maine has an interesting arts community. There are a lot of artists here. It is a haven for New Yorkers coming up to get some fresh air and work. There are a number of amazing residencies here too: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Skowhegen, among others. I was fortunate to have worked at SPACE Gallery for four years and my time there as the Associate Director allowed me to meet and work with so many amazing international and local artists. For a mostly rural and off-the-beaten-path place we have a pretty happening art scene.
If you could travel anywhere to create for a while, where would you go?
I'm currently really interested in traveling to Uruguay, and South America in general. The exposure to textiles, the landscape and the bright colors of the cities would really give me a lot to work with. Plus, the food.
What was the last gallery show you went to?
My dear friend Alicia Eggert had a solo show at T+H Gallery in Boston. Alicia's work is amazing and she is one of my biggest inspirations.
What influences you?
My friends' work. Urban Landscapes. Color theory. Natural Landscapes. Music.
What motivates you?
My motivation comes mostly out of a need to release the built up inspiration/ideas that are nesting in my mind.
What country do you wish to visit?
I mentioned Uruguay, but I'm also really interested in visiting Finland, which is a big part of my heritage.
Have the cities you’ve lived in influenced your practice? If so, tell us a bit about that, and what elements in particular steered you in certain directions.
Yes, for sure. I moved to Oakland, CA right after I graduated college, so the few years I spent there really shaped who I am as an artist and a person now. I felt really connected to the art scene there at the time and I also started to define parts of my interests in urban landscapes and co-existence. The colors of SF and the landscapes of these places still make my heart swoon. I think it's still evident in the work I'm making now.
What are your other hobbies?
I spend a lot of time cooking and sewing. I have a goal of making all of my own clothes, but since I have a toddler that goal is probably out of reach for a few more years.
What’s one habit you wish you could break?
Using my iPhone.
If you could have a drink with one artist, who would it be?
Also a really hard question! Right now I'd say Mark Bradford. I have always loved his work, but I'm particularly interested in how visual arts can become community based and positively influence a community outside of the art world, while also existing in that world.
Silence or sound while creating? If sound, what?
Podcasts. I've been listening to WNYC's Death, Sex and Money a lot, plus a bunch of other podcasts, maybe too many too list. Also Aquarium Drunkard mixes are the best.
How many hours do you try and work in the studio per week?
It fluctuates based on what I'm working on, but I'd say anywhere between 20-30.
What work took you the longest to complete?
I made a painting back in 2012 that was the first time I tried starting out with a grid. I was making work to be included in a show that I knew I had gotten in to and I was experiencing an artist block of sorts, so I laid out a grid on the page, which was about 40x60in, and went to work painting hundreds of half in rectangles. It took me probably a couple of months, but I was really pleased with the end result and it launched a whole new direction of work for me.
Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?
I have a knitting machine from the 1950s that was gifted to me by my bother in law, who found it at the dump. I have worked with knitting machines in the past and I loved the pace and possibilities that the technology offers, and I'd love to hone my skills. I'm also beginning to work in clay again, after a pretty significant hiatus, and I'm excited to see how my current style of work lends itself to this medium.
Do you have a favorite quote, or a phrase you think about often?
My family and I just took a big 7 month road trip around the country in our converted Sprinter van. It was a big financial risk for us, because we quit our jobs and basically drained our savings to make it happen, but it was so worth it. Any time we would have a moment of panic about how things would work out when the trip was over, we would just say "the Universe will tell us what to do." And as cheesy as that sounds, it seems to be the thing only that makes the most sense to me right now. And it's also working so far- it's mostly the idea of letting go of expectations and opening yourself up to new possibilities.
Tell us about your hometown. Did you grow up with creative people in your life?
I grew up in a house built in the 1800s in a small New England town in Massachusetts. It was a lovely place to grow up and I spent a lot of time outside. My mother was an art teacher, so I identified myself as an artist at a young age.
Who was your favorite teacher in school?
I had this amazing science teacher in 7th grade named Ms. Kelley. She was nutty and liked to sing and dance to teach us things like the table of the elements. I can still recite most of this song. I was also really close to my high school art teacher Mrs. Hart, who was really encouraging to me.
What's one thing you still have from your childhood?
An antique watercolor set that my aunt gave me. I used it all through high school and it still has paint in it! There's probably about 40 colors in total, and it is worn and loved and beautiful.
Best gift you’ve ever received?
My husband gave me a banjo when we were first dating. I had been talking about wanting to learn forever, so he found this beautiful vintage banjo and surprised me with it. I don't really play it, but knowing that I can always pick it up if I want to, and that I will some day follow through on that goal, is enough to keep me happy that I own it.
What makes you nervous?
When I'm in the middle of a project and I can't seem to add up the sum of the parts. When I feel like I can't see how something is going to come together. And, you know also the current state of the world.
What makes you laugh no matter what?
My husband's impression of Punky Brewster's Dad
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Giving birth to my son at home
What is one artist living or dead you feel a great connection to? Someone whose work has inspired your own practice and what you’re creating these days?
That's a really tough question, so I'm going to break the rule and say the women of the Bauhaus, as well as the women of Black Mountain College. People like Anni Albers, Otti Berger, Gunta Stolzl, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp and the way that they approached their work is what feels most similar to how I'm approaching my work. I'm constantly learning from my own practice, but also looking to experiment and integrate everyday life with the things that I'm making.
I have a few mural projects in the works, none that I can talk about yet, but I'm excited to continue to work at this scale. I'm also working on a collaboration with my friend Dee Clements of Herron Clothier, so keep your eyes peeled for some textiles.