A Sense of Possibility


Lauren Tresp, spokesperson at the Delgado Street gallery Eight Modern, has described artist Siobhan McBride’s gouache paintings as having an enigmatic potentiality. “Like a deep breath before a cataclysmic moment, or the sight of a storm on the horizon, McBride’s gouache paintings are pregnant with wonder and introspection,” she wrote in a press release for the show opening today. “Though her compositions are unpopulated by figures, the potential of their presence is felt. The artist’s choice of show title, ‘Strong Wings May Exist,’ reflects this sense of possibility.”

The artist herself does not reject the analogy. “I saw a road sign saying, ‘Strong Winds May Exist’ while driving, and it struck me as very strange,” she said. “Uncertain, somewhat magical, not the natural language of road signs, and humorous. It suggested to me uncertain realities and fickle perceptions, and seemed to imply larger existential questions.

“Also, I feel like my paintings are so still and ultimately so inhabitable that pairing the text with the work seemed both funny in a literal way and futile. ‘Strong Winds’ or anything else for that matter might indeed exist… the fact that something so mercurial and impermanent necessitates a very real, if hesitant, declarative statement, strikes me as both hopeful and hopeless and wonderful either way.”

Siobhan McBride is herself a little improbable, adopted as a Korean infant by an Irish-American father and an Italian-American mother, making her way through the world with the very Irish name Siobhan. “My parents have a sense of humor I suppose,” she commented dryly. “I like garlic and heat and pickles of all kinds, but that is pretty much the only Korean thing about me, except the face.”

She grew up in Bayside, Queens, NY, where the 32-year-old still has a large, loving family. Now, after a year as artist-in-residence at the Roswell Museum of Art in southern New Mexico, she is making an extreme move – to Miami.

“I was an undergrad and grad student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philly. I suppose I’ve spent the most time in New York and many of the people I love are still there, but Miami will be home soon enough, even though I’ve only spent three days there. My husband is an artist as well and he got a teaching position at (Florida International University). I am excited for alligators and manatees,” she said.

Gouache is demanding

“I work with acrylic gouache, which, unlike traditional gouache, does not reactivate with water after it is dry,” McBride explained.  “This allows me to build a thicker, more complex surface with many layers of paint both think and thin. With the acrylic base I can handle it more robustly and work the paintings for a long time. I love the richness of gouache color and its lovely matte surface. Gouache is best suited to paper. I mount hot press watercolor paper to panels. I used to make big oil paintings and work on canvas, and I  miss the scale, but the paintings I’m making now benefit from a smaller, more intimate format.”

The open skies and stark terrain of eastern New Mexico have been a useful contrast to McBride’s paintings of complex, often closed-in spaces, Tresp observed. “I have come to think of my paintings as views of a place where magic reveals itself differently than it does in this world,” McBride said. “The scenes are tense with anticipation or blushing in the aftermath of an unseen event. Paintings combine disparate yet familiar fragments into spaces that are still, anxious, and temperamental.”

Paintings such as “Atlas,” of a warped, dog-eared atlas lying on the dashboard of a traveling car, suggest countless destinations past and future, both in the viewer’s life and also in those of the unseen travelers. McBride said, “I hope the work is strange and suspenseful like the excitement of exploring a new place, and the thrill of knowing you are drifting back into a frightening dream.

“The choices of subjects are intuitive, which is not to say they are uninformed; there are innumerable reasons why a particular element is allowed into a painting. I just don’t plan it out in advance and try not to deliberate about it too much,” McBride said. “I work on a number of paintings at once and try to work somewhat quickly. This help me to not over-think and smother a painting. I am not often thinking of a specific story, although sometimes I will remember a particular event or conversation that sifts through, not in a illustrative way, rather through tone or the psychological mood of a scene.

She described her paintings as “flat.”

“I mean flat in a couple of ways,” the artist said. “No matter how built-up a gouache surface becomes, it is still relatively smooth. There is not tons of physical surface texture, no globs hanging off. The uniformity is flat. I also use hard, flat shapes to create contrast against more nebulous, aqueous areas. This can create a sense of depth. Often different vignettes abut one another. These different regions can have conflicting light situations and perspective and create space in the painting that is overall problematic to read and that would be impossible to actually enter… creating flatness.

“I mean, it’s not a problem for me,” she said, “but then I don’t care if things ‘make sense.’”

McBride received her bachelor’s degree in English and fine arts as well as her master’s in fine arts in painting from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005. Over the past several years, McBride has completed four different residencies, been included in numerous group shows and had a solo exhibition at the Roswell Museum and Art Center.