Q & A with Meagan Shein & gallery Director Laura Moriarty
LM: When I first saw your drawings in person, I assumed I knew how you made them, and then found out I was wrong, and that your process is actually quite unique. Would you mind describing this process for us?
MS: I have never had any teaching or formal instruction in encaustic. I started using encaustics around 1993. I found a few pages of instruction in “The Artist’s Handbook” and R&F Paints had a hand-out sheet at NY Central. I was looking for a way to “get under the surface” and wanted to explore layers in a way I couldn’t with oil paints. I continued to experiment through graduate school. I have painted on paper, Chinese silk, and finally the lightweight Asian papers I currently use. I paint on the paper with encaustic and beeswax and then re-melt it using the zinc plate and a paintbrush. The process is very physical and full of experimentation and chance accidents. Then I draw on the paper with pen and ink. The creation of the paper happens first, hanging on the wall until I know what image goes with it.
LM: Your images function as contemporary artifacts. Do you begin a series fully aware of this aspect, or does the social-environmental critique emerge as the work develops?
MS: I always begin with the conceptual idea. It is really important to me to have both conceptual and process driven parts. I would not be satisfied with just one or the other. The painting of the paper is where all the process-driven art making happens, but I spend a lot of time mixing the right shade of encaustic for the paper and experimenting with transparency and ink color for the imagery.
LM: How would you have viewers interpret the ample negative space, or long-distance view, that is a feature in many of your works?
MS: Chinese painting, particularly 11th – 17th Century is a huge influence for me. I look forward to figuring out how to roll and unroll the paper to make a scroll painting. I am fascinated by the use of negative space and composition in Chinese painting. Having all that space in my images allows a viewer to really look at the image; it gives these overlooked and forgotten buildings beauty, dignity and space to notice them.
LM: Your work examines the structure of suburban American life through images of sidewalks, shopping malls and gas stations, to your more recent abandoned houses of Detroit series. How does your personal history inform these projects?
MS: I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan but was living in New York City; whenever I went to visit my family, I was amazed by all of the development being built. It was everywhere we travelled and it all looked the same, even in California. I began thinking about what we don’t notice visually in our own lives: suburban sprawl, gas stations, faux landscaping around shopping centers and medians. So I began photographing and drawing it. When I moved to Ann Arbor, I lost my distance and ability to be an outside observer. I had photographed these crumbling, abandoned brownstones in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, so began working with that imagery. That series (which were green paper and beautiful) ultimately failed, but when I went to Detroit, I saw similar abandoned houses overtaken by nature. I have deep roots in Detroit, I was born there, my parents grew up there and my grandparents were political activists in Detroit who loved the city. I grew up visiting there until my grandparents died, but my parents are uninterested in Detroit. The tragedy of those abandoned houses is my own forgotten family history. I am looking forward to getting my mom to Detroit to find the house we lived in when I was born, that will be an interesting series of drawings. The house may not even be there anymore...
LM: If you could travel to another place to do your artwork, where would you go?
MS: There are many places I would love to travel to and make work about: Europe and especially Rome, because the history of the city is visually present, built into and on top the of the architecture. Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries looking for caves and crumbling bricks. The Great Wall of China….
My “Abandoned Houses, Detroit” series are drawings based on photographs I have taken of abandoned houses in the city of Detroit. I draw with pen and ink on paper painted with beeswax and encaustic. I have a personal history with Detroit: I was born there, my parents grew up there, and my grandparents were political activists there. These drawings are about what remains after departure and displacement. The abandoned houses are ageless ruins, yet contemporary images.
In the Gas Station series I am examining what is visually ignored or overlooked as homogeneous development spreads everywhere. These works on paper resemble blueprints, mapping what we see and what we don't in our daily /personal landscapes; what we remember or experience as opposed to what is really there. Will the artificial landscaping around shopping malls, gas stations and housing developments become our accepted notion of landscape? In both series the drawings function the way a memory works, idealized and distant, yet colored by emotion.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2005 Meagan Shein: Wax Drawings, Miller Block Gallery, Boston, MA
Meagan Shein: Mixed Media, University Gallery, University of Massachusetts Lowell, MA (catalog)
2004 Meagan Shein, Buffalo Arts Studio, Buffalo, NY (catalog)
1997 Mended Eggs, Washington Square Windows, New York University, New York, NY
Selected Group Exhibitions
2010 dis.place.ment, Urban Institue for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, MI
2009 The American Scene, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE, curated by Susan Isaacs
Encaustic Works 09, The Castle Gallery, College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, NY, curated by Heather Hutchison
2008 Post-Petroleum, Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, University of Nevada; Reno, Reno, NV, curated by Christine Karkow
2005 Scope Art Fair NY, Miller Block Gallery, Flatotel, New York, NY
2004 Summer Exhibition, Hebrew Home for the Aged, Riverdale, NY curated by Susan Putterman
Holiday Gifts, Transplant Gallery, New York, NY
AAF NY, Riva Blumenfeld Fine Art, Pier 92, New York, NY
2003 Dumbo Art Under the Bridge Festival, Metaphor Contemporary Art, Brooklyn, NY
Nature Hanging by a Thread, Queens Theatre in the Park, Queens, NY curated by Robyn Love
Paper 2003, Metaphor Contemporary Art, Brooklyn, NY
2002 A Very Cosy Affair, Staub(g*fzk!) Galerie, Zurich, Switzerland
Biomorphix, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE curated by Susan Isaacs (catalog)
2001 Invented Objects/Imagined Spaces, Maryland Art Place, Baltimore, MD curated by Susan Isaacs
2000 Flurry, Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY curated by David Burke
Space*Time*Links, Gretel’s_File at Penzenstadler + Schaller Architecten, Zurich, Switzerland
Wide Open, Gretel’s_File, Zurich, Switzerland Spring Exhibition, Noodleworks, Seattle, WA
1999 Surface Tension, Art in General, New York, NY curated by Catherine Ruello
The Passion/Passions of Art, Richard Anderson Gallery, NY, NY
Significant Others, Longwood Arts Gallery, Bronx, NY curated by Sandra Toro
1998 Artists Look at Gender, Foreman Gallery, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY curated by John Wineland
Take This Job and Shove It, Here, NY, NY curated by Lisa Levy
50:50, Gallery Onetwentyeight, NY, NY
1997 In-Stitches, Abrons Arts Center, Henry Street Settlement, New York, NY curated by Kathleen Spicer
Artist in the Marketplace Exhibition, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY curated by Marysol Nieves and Lydia Yee (catalog)
The Long Hot Summer - The Sequel, Aljira Gallery, Newark, NJ
Awards, Commissions and Lectures
2005 Slide Lecture, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA
2000 Lobby Commission, Capital Z Partners, New York, NY
1997 Fellowship in Printmaking, Women’s Studio Workshop, Rosendale, NY
1997 Artist in the Marketplace Program, The Bronx Museum of the Arts
1996 Honorable Mention for Sylvia Faulkner Award, Hunter College
1991 Louis Sudler Prize in Performing and Creative Arts, University of Chicago
Victoria Donohoe, "Anniversary Show", The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/10/09
Nancye Tuttle, “Steppin’ Out”, Lowell Sun, 1/27/05 (illustrated)
Kate Deforest, “Different Seasons”, The Buffalo News, 3/12/04 (illustrated)
Jenny Santomauro, “Brand New Ancient Artifacts”, ArtVoice, 4/1/04 Vol 3 No.14
Victoria Donohoe, “Contemplative Works Examine Structure of Life”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/2/02
Mike Giuliano, “Artists Imagine Their Own Worlds at MAP”, Baltimore City Paper, 6/27/01 (illustrated)
Annemarie Setz, “Neue Perspektiven verschiedener Richtungen”, Neue Zuger Zeitung, 12/30/2000 Nr. 301
Robert Mahoney, “Flurry”, Time Out New York, March 9-16, 2000, No. 233 (illustrated)
Lisa J. Curtis, “Storm Front”, The Brooklyn Papers, 1/31/00 (illustrated)
Grace Glueck, “Surface Tension”, The New York Times, 10/08/99
Jeanne C. Wilkinson, “Surface Tension”, The Tribeca Trib, Vol. VI, No.2, 10/99
“Meagan Shein: the Art of the Body, Becoming.” Interviewed by Lauren Berlant,
Newsletter of the Center for Gender Studies, University of Chicago, Fall 1999
Dan Bischoff, “Youthful Intensity makes Aljira exhibit worth a visit”, Newark Star-Ledger, 8/8/97
Hunter College Master of Fine Arts, Painting
Williams College Master of Art, Art History
University of Chicago Bachelor of Art, Special Honors, Art History and Art & Design