Siobhan McBride: Long Letter

Vanessa Kahin
08/02/2012

A good storyteller knows how to pull elements from a mix of sources to create a well-rounded, collage-like image in the minds of those who listen.

Siobhan McBride, the next Roswell Artist-in-Residence who will exhibit her show, “Long Letter,” at the Roswell Museum and Art Center Aug. 10-Sept. 23, creates the same story-telling effect in her artwork. The RAiR exhibition will be the first time McBride shows her work solo. It is also a break from tradition for an artist who typically shows her work along the East Coast.

It is no surprise that elements of good creative writing have made their way into McBride’s sultry and alluring images of domestic scenes. McBride is just as naturally drawn to the power of the pen as she is to the brush.

Born in Seoul and adopted by an American family at the age of 6 months, McBride grew up in Queens, NY.

No one else in her immediate family is an artist per se, although McBride’s father is an English teacher who filled her young life with storytelling and books.

“I read a lot, always,” McBride said. She also noted that her mother enjoyed creating crafts, but otherwise the family’s leaning toward artistic expression seems to begin and end with the young woman who has traveled a long way to share her vision with Roswell.

McBride attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she double-majored in English and fine arts, with creative writing and painting as the respective emphases.

“I’ve always drawn and done stories,” McBride explained, but it wasn’t until she was exposed to the variety of college courses that she could truly zone in to her life’s calling.

“I just tried a lot of different things, (and) really gravitated towards art,” she said. After completing her undergraduate work, McBride traveled to England to briefly live with her brother and his family. While there, she concentrated on her art, and also got the chance to see first-hand some of the art that Europe has to offer.

After a year of living abroad, McBride returned to the U.S., and completed a master in fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania, this time devoting herself fully to the art of painting. These days, the artist deals mostly in acrylic gouache and watercolor.

So far, McBride has shown her works in exhibitions in Jentel, Wyo., Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vt., and in Manhattan with the Workspace Program of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The RAiR show being her first solo attempt, she will soon open another solo show in Brooklyn in March 2013.

Her RAiR exhibition, “Long Letter,” includes a series of acrylic gouache paintings that are barely held together by a common—albeit subtle—thread. McBride said that the exhibition centers on a certain temperament or mood. Regardless of what the painting depicts, she said it is this mood that is being communicated—the mood is what the work is truly about. “I don’t care if it’s a tree, a house, a landscape,” McBride said of the paintings’ literal depictions. It’s about the anticipatory mood she creates in her domestic scenes—the feeling that, although things are quiet for now, something will soon happen. Or, she said, the scenes may suggest the mood right after the occurrence of an energetically charged event, the moment afterwards when the feeling of anticipation and excitement linger yet in the air.

To create this effect, like the good storyteller’s collage-like descriptions, McBride composes her paintings with fragments of different images. She compared the process to cooking—adding a bit of this and a bit of that, until the desired effect is achieved. Actual people in her paintings just wouldn’t quite fit, McBride said, because it is the landscape itself that is the active participant, the communicator of all the feelings the artist is trying to impart.

McBride said she was inspired in her art by one of her favorite films, “8 ½,” a 1963 Italian comedy-drama by director Federico Fellini. There is a scene, she said, in which children at play anticipate an event, and share their feelings of excitement with the use of the film’s made-up but much-used phrase, “asa nist masa.” The camera pans away from the excited children, as if to reveal a satisfactory conclusion to the children’s anticipation. Will their desires come true, or are they just wishful child’s dreams?

The viewer is held in suspense as the camera pans, then stops at a view that reveals nothing. The effect leaves the viewer feeling “shocked by something plain,” McBride noted.

McBride’s RAiR exhibition will open Aug. 10 with a free lecture and reception beginning at 5:30 pm. At RMAC.