Megan Chapman is an American artist from Fayetteville, Arkansas who lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her abstract paintings are a balancing of shape and line with colour. In addition to her painting, Megan mentors artists, she has created a series of videos called Tuesday Studio Video Visits and for the last 11 years she has written about her practice each week on her studio blog. Her paintings have recently been a part of the HBO TV series True Detective. I asked Megan some questions about her painting practice and ideas.
Julie: Tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education.
Megan: I grew up in a house full of books, music, and art, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Because of this, I have always been interested in the arts ever since I was a small child. Ultimately painting became the strongest calling.
I earned my BFA (a 5-year studio art degree) with honors in painting from the University of Oregon in 1999. While at University, I was fortunate to have a brilliant painting and drawing mentor, Professor Ron Graff. Under his guidance, I became confident in my abilities and passionate about abstract painting. I knew from this positive experience that I wanted to focus all my energies on creating a sustained studio practice and working professionally as an artist, showing my work in galleries and exhibitions, and I have done so ever since.
Julie: How would you describe your practice and has it changed since you moved to Scotland?
Megan: My painting practice is influenced by my daily life as well as my memories and emotions. Once in my studio, I listen to music, usually with a certain song on repeat. The music I listen to greatly influences my practice by creating the energy I need to do the work I want to do. I feel that as a painter I am a conduit, always receiving and synthesising information from various sources. I focus on this information and what is happening on the canvas and how my materials are behaving. Once something of interest shows itself to me, then I’m off and away following its lead. The painting tells me where it wants to go. It’s a meditative and intuitive process. I noticed that when I first moved to Scotland it took me a while to get my bearings in my new life and this translated into my work as well. The first series I created in Scotland was very bright, warm, and primary- it was as if I was bringing the warmth of home with me into my new cooler and monochromatic surroundings.
Julie: Your abstract paintings seem to speak the language of landscape and still life, are you interested in those references?
Megan: One of my first serious bodies of work after art school was a series of dark brooding imaginary landscapes. I quickly switched gears from that body of work, but I would imagine the landscape is something that may still be in the back of my mind and these elements have shown up again in my most recent paintings. I think it’s mostly the way I’ve been dividing up the canvas as I work. There is a bit of an implied horizon which does project a kind of landscape feeling but it is not my intention. However, at the same time, I was recently back home in Arkansas in December and January, staying at my parents on top of a mountain. It was very atmospheric especially in the wintertime with the bare skeleton trees in the fog. Being on top of a mountain engulfed in the clouds was such a contrast with where I live in Leith, Edinburgh (the most densely populated area in all of Scotland). I fell in love with Arkansas in a different way than I had before and promised to take something of that experience back home to Scotland and into my work. It’s interesting that you say still life- that is not something I think about. My paintings are purely abstract, influenced by my inner language and the action and energy of the brush and my materials.
Julie: You use a lot of circular motifs, do the circle and curved shapes have a special resonance for you?
Megan: The circular shapes have resonated with me off and on for years. They are not present in my current work as I sometimes worry that I may use them as a design element or a crutch when I could say the same thing in a more painterly way. When the shapes show up and I embrace them, I feel they are capturing the energy around us, the ideas, stories, and relationships that float past and through us. These circular shapes are conversations and I find them comforting to paint and draw as I think our hand and eye knows and feels these shapes intimately within our being.
Julie: Who are your influences?
Megan: I love the paintings from the Abstract Expressionist/New York School movement and feel a connection to that time in art history. Some of my favourite painters of the time were Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, and equally the women involved in the movement such as Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner. Besides painters, I’m also very influenced by photographers. Francesca Woodman and Sally Mann inspire me as I love their sensibilities and the space they create. Music and the people who make it are a huge influence because for me, without music my paintings would not exist. Music is the key to a portal, a jumping off place to begin and end. Musicians inspire me most because they help me get the work done.
Julie: Could you please describe your process for making artwork?
Megan: I go to my studio regularly and usually early in the day before the activity of the outside world gets in. When I arrive I must be prepared to make mistakes and I have to leave any fear at the door. Often, I start painting on multiple canvases at once just to get them covered and to create something for me to react against in my next studio session. I have a few variables in place when I begin. I know I work in series and I will work from a minimal palette of three to four colours. After adding a few layers to the canvases I begin to know where I want to go with the series and then I follow the process and what presents itself on the canvas. First, my process is additive then over time it becomes more reductive and minimal, a constant editing of the overall surface not allowing any one area to get too precious. Yet I have to allow for a bit of tension and drama. My most recent work is about exploring what is enough to make a painting. Can I distill the process to this one isolated moment or stroke and let the rest of the painting support this moment? The painting process is a relationship, the canvas pulls me along and shows me where to go as long as I am open to receiving the message.
Julie: I am always interested in materials. Most of your work is in acrylic on stretched canvas. Do you have any favourite paints, mediums, brushes or surfaces? After white, which colour do you have to replace most often?
Megan: I was trained as an oil painter and continued to use oil for many years. My favourite oil paints are by M.Graham & Co. My favourite colours from their line are Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, and Orange and Red Oxide. Their Orange Oxide is divine! I am very excited that you all carry the M.Graham & Co. line – I may have to go back to oils! Since moving to Scotland, I am using acrylics and enjoy several brands, with Sennelier and Liquitex being the two that I use most often. I am not opposed to painting with what is on sale, and will also use paint from DIY shops. I use charcoal powder and water instead of black acrylic as it gives a more organic and raw feeling. I like to use a wide range of large flat brushes with synthetic fibers but will also use industrial brushes depending on how large of a canvas I am working on. I finish my paintings with Winsor & Newton Professional Spray Varnish in Satin. Besides canvas, I love to paint on a wide variety of paper from newsprint to vintage paper torn from books as well as oil painting paper. The colour I replace most often is yellow ochre.
Julie: What is a good day in the studio?
Megan: When I leave this world and fully dive into the one I am creating on the canvas. The music is just right and the work is telling me where to go. A really good day in the studio usually ends with tears of satisfaction and my being in awe of the process.
Julie: In the studio – music, Radio 4, audiobook or silence?
Music. Always music. I listen to postmodern composers, to post-punk, and everything in between.
Julie: Tell us about your Tuesday Studio Video Visits.
Megan: I have been writing a Friday Studio Blog about my art and practice since 2007 and my Tuesday Studio Video Visits seemed like a natural extension. I filmed the first one in April 2017 and share them each Tuesday on my Facebook art page. The videos are a way for me to bridge the gap between my studio practice here in Edinburgh and other artists and patrons around the world. It was also a way for me to stay connected with my fellow artists and patrons back home in my stateside art community as well. I was feeling isolated and needed a way to reach out to others as well as to hold myself accountable. I also have a passion for encouraging other artists and demystifying the art process for patrons. The videos are usually quick, spontaneous, and filmed on my phone. I like the unscripted natural quality of the videos, especially in our filtered, perfected online world. I want to let people get to know the real me in my studio environment and enter into an exchange with the viewers.
Julie: Who are your favourite contemporary artists? Where do you go to see art?
Megan: There are so many artists I admire but off the top of my head, I love the work of mixed media artist Emma Parker, painter Jan Allsopp, painter Joan Doerr, collage artist Isabel Reitemeyer, painter Steven Heaton, painter and illustrator Ben Strawn and sound and installation artist Craig Colorusso.
I am happily and luckily spoilt for choice when it comes to art in Edinburgh. I enjoy seeing work at The Velvet Easel, &Gallery, and Union Gallery. Those are three contemporary art galleries in Edinburgh that represent my work as well as many other wonderful contemporary artists. I enjoy seeing work at The Scottish National Galleries, especially the Modern One and Two, where I just caught the NOW exhibition and the paintings of the fabulous Jenny Saville.
Julie: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Megan: In Edinburgh, I will have two paintings in The Velvet Easel Gallery “Defying Sameness” exhibition that opens 7th July and runs through the 28th of October. I will also have four large-scale paintings as part of Union Gallery’s “Summer Garden Party” exhibition which opens the 12th July through the 4th August. In Stateside news, HBO, an American cable network, purchased three prints of mine from a recent exhibition at The Fenix Gallery in Fayetteville, Arkansas to use in their award-winning series, “True Detective.” I will be watching the series with anticipation when it airs next year.
Friday Studio Blog: http://meganchapman.blogspot.com