Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Pitching Pitchy Siren Songs
Pitching Pitchy Siren Songs
By Tom Wachunas
I’ve always had a soft spot in this often curmudgeonly heart-o-mine for artists who know full well their ability to push people’s buttons. To stir up the pot of our predispositions about what’s beautiful, inspiring, or empowering. To intentionally walk along precarious esthetic edges while brandishing arguments and attitudes guaranteed to trigger lively if not heated discourse. Whether you call it courage or insouciant self-indulgence on their part, such artists will continue to make works we love to hate, hate to love, or long to like. Somewhere in this mix there’s painter Megan Mars.
Since first encountering her work around five years ago, I’ve watched her, with admittedly marginal interest, solidify her niche in our local arts community to the point of brand-name recognition. All along the way, I’ve wondered how or if she could successfully expand that niche, or maybe even transcend it altogether. And by that I don’t mean increasing the degree of her exposure or viewer base, but rather deepening the ideological and technical content of her paintings per se.
Based on the works currently exhibited in her salon-style show called “She’s a Monster” at Thirteenth Floor Gallery in Massillon, Mars appears to be still safely ensconced in her comfort zone, perhaps content that if it ain’t busted, don’t fix it – at least not overly much. Her signature iconography is for the most part intact (and of its kind, compelling enough) – buxom, often robustly beautiful women presented as alluring or scary embodiments of feminine power and self-assuredness, along with a healthy dose of woundedness and vulnerability. They’re theatrical in the sense that one puts on an elaborately decorated persona and lives it out in a strange fantasy world. Some of these women of Mars, so to speak, look like naughty vixens from planet Bizarro, others like Medusa’s extended family. Still others exude a raw sort of elegance. Most of the pictures don’t come off as portraits of real people who breathe or speak warmly into our lives, but rather as codified symbols of roles, situations, identities, or desires. But even at their most gothic or grotesque, there are some signs, in varying degrees, of genuinely palpable emotions lurking beneath the trappings of kinky eroticism and murky pallor of death common to many of the images.
I think there’s true Romanticism in Mars’ work. But it’s more latent than fully blossomed. This has as much to do with her choices as a painter as with her pictorial content. At this point, she seems to be replicating a tight formula for presenting an ‘everywoman’ sensuality and immediacy, but without the sensuality and immediacy of paint itself. To be fair, she has developed an increasingly refined fluidity in the touch of her brush. Yet I’m fairly certain her sensationalistic imagery could take on all the more visceral impact – and emotional resonance - if she were to loosen up and let paint be paint. Why not employ the tactile physicality of painted surface as metaphorical ‘soul’ of the work? Experimenting with a more daring, varied palette wouldn’t hurt, either.
In viewing Mars’ work these past several years, here’s a cautionary note, offered out of my abiding respect for her clear ability in drawing and her authentic passion for making art. The process of artistic maturing has everything to do with listening intently to what an idea is saying - of letting the idea tell how it wants to be manifest, instead of habitually forcing it into a predetermined schematization. It’s highly plausible, given the sense of implied personal narrative in these works, that the ideas driving them are better suited to be, for example, illustrations in what could be an electrifying graphic novel. In any event, and for any artist, it’s also worth remembering that some ideas simply don’t wear paint all that easily, or well.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens, daughters of a sea god, were beautiful women who, with their seductive singing, lured sailors to fatally veer off course. Here’s hoping that as her artistic journey progresses, Megan Mars doesn’t let the song she’s been hearing thus far lead her, as a painter, any closer to dangerously shallow waters.
Photo, courtesy cantonrep.com: “Octavia” by Megan Mars, on view through May 19 in “She’s a Monster,” at Thirteenth Floor Gallery, 28 Charles Ave. SE, downtown Massillon. Gallery hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 12 noon to 6 p.m.