I walk into New Image Gallery and immediately notice that there are a lot of children around. I take one sweep of the gallery, and it suddenly makes sense that there are so many kids in an art gallery. There is something very playful and childlike in Megan Whitmarsh’s work. Her show, Here Comes Purple, is a decent survey of the variants to her unique style.
My second thought was: Andy Warhol. Hanging on the wall by the entrance is an assortment of handmade plush sculptures of a bunch of stuff. The artist describes this stuff is “ephemera”, but I prefer the word stuff. It’s stuffed stuff. Made out of fabric, embroidery, and stuffing. What does that have to do with Andy Warhol? Bananas. Bananas and vinyl records. That is the stuff that hangs on the wall. I checked the records for references to The Velvet Underground, but they all had titles such as “World Destruction” and “Killing Joke” which were either completely made up or beyond my level of musical knowledge. Other stuff included sharpies, spray paint, paint tubes, and a paint bucket. So the theme for this wall of stuff seemed to be something along the lines of music and art.
Continuing with the “stuff” theme were Whitmarsh’s embroidered drawings on unstretched canvas. The stuff is mostly the same, with the addition of alarm clocks, soda cans, and spools of thread. This gets me thinking that maybe all these things are what the artist has on her bedside table. The works definitely give off a homey vibe. The objects are very personal yet at the same time generic. These are things from the everyday, things you can find at Wal-Mart. But they are also specifically Megan Whitmarsh’s things.
In contrast to the fun and whimsical works that occupied most of the gallery, her Dream series was more thought-provoking. Again using the embroidery technique, she writes out diary entries describing apocalyptic dreams she has had. The works are somber and melancholic and give tension to the show as a whole. Although discussing a more serious subject matter, the works do maintain the artist’s trademark quirkiness in that the notes are written on “notebook paper” made in a similar way to her plush sculptures.
What I found most intriguing about the artist was her ability to make great paintings without any paint at all. From afar, her piece Drop Cloth looks like just another abstract painting. But take a closer look and you can see that the expressive scribbles and splatters are not painted but embroidered. There is much complexity added with the use of collage and even attached plush sculptures. By layering on fabric she makes the piece come alive with colors and shapes. My favorite non-painting in the show was Orange Belt which consisted of red and blue fabric stretched on a canvas, divided by an orange belt. The dyed fabric gave the work such bright and vivid color that I don’t even recall the last time I saw an actual painting approach this level of energy and depth. Another work in the “painting without painting” category was Drip Canvas, which used cotton and polyester to emulate drip color field paintings from the 60’s. The process that Whitmarsh uses is particularly interesting. The expressive gestures she uses come from a technique that is usually exploited for its immediacy. Abstract expressionist paintings are supposed to be fast. Instead, the artist uses an approach that is slower and more tedious. In doing so she creates a style that is uniquely her own.
Words and images by Noé Gaytán.