Annie McLaughlin shares some insights into her second solo show at Nationale, Brushing Out the Brood Mare's Tale.
Gabi Lewton-Leopold: When I look at these paintings, both as separate pieces and as a series, I think of storytelling and folklore. This comes through both in the subject matter that hints at folktales—coyote, rocking chair, smoky chimney—but also in how you use the paintings to tell stories. Often you give the viewer a closely cropped (Fire, Place; Wild Country Chimney in Yellow) or partially concealed view (50% Visibility, 100% Shangri-La), as if to just show one sliver of the larger story. Can you share your thoughts on storytelling and narrative within this series?
Annie McLaughlin: This work is very much about stories and storytelling as subject matter—the way that objects, symbols, spaces, conjure images and meaning within the larger complex narrative of culture and histories. Perhaps there are falsities in the stories, or perhaps the falsities just contribute to our larger understanding of things. This work was specifically about the idea of paradise in America, lots of perspectives and storytellers and folklore come into play within that narrative, some of them problematic, but nevertheless an important piece of context and meaning.
GLL: You took a long solo road trip through the American SW not so long ago. How did that adventure impact your work? Do you see those experiences as shaping this current series?
AM: Yes—that was the larger narrative myth I pulled from here. The folk, the rural, the artist moving to the countryside, the romanticization of rural space or country dwelling that one expects to find. I did a lot of "sifting" to find those tropes. Which is to say they're present, but they aren't the only pieces of the pie. I kind of set out to look at the American West and the craft tradition but ended up relating all of the imagery to "paradise thinking," the oasis, the pastoral haven, and all of the aspects good and bad that come with that.
GLL: I'm curious about your use of texture and patterning, which you explore in all of the paintings. The book that you produced in conjunction with the series also plays with texture and the different references that can emerge within a single painted surface. For example you write in the book, "shaggy carpet or moss or a curly haired canine" followed by a drawing that could be the surface of any of these things.
AM: The texture speaks to different things to me. I think in one way I see it as the texture of the mind's eye, the fuzziness of romantic memory, something that lacks clarity. I also see it as a celebration of paint, or the painter and the painter's role in contributing to the myth of paradise: Arcadian bathers, the exotic, the simple life utopia, and so forth. There's a long tradition in painting with that.
GLL: There's also a lot of play and humor alive in this work. Especially in the rocking horse sculpture, which appears to be all together usable until you get closer and see that it is just one slab of wood, and would be oh-so-painful to ride. I also love the title of that piece: Thank You So Much for the Rocking Horse It Really Means a Lot to Us. What are your thoughts on humor and play within your work? Do you see it as a welcoming entrance point?
AM: Yes! Humor is my favorite tool, I suppose. Especially in discussing history, complex myths, and cultural narratives. The subject matter for those things (especially in America) can be really heavy—humor for me can be a really great entry point in sparking a narrative.
GLL: There's a small painting in the show of a rock that looks a bit like a potato with a little family of smaller rocks nearby. The title, The Brief Moment in the Long Life of a Rock When It Lived in a Garden Belonging to Someone, got me thinking about the absurdity of human ownership over nature. It also conjured the simple fact that the natural world came before us and will outlive us. This painting feels like a comment on the serene domesticity of the majority of work in the show—perhaps a comment on the idea that these worlds we build for ourselves to feel safe and have purpose are actually so fragile and insignificant. What are thoughts on this piece and the title?
AM: I'd say that's pretty solid insight into that painting! I have this amazing favorite rock. It's this kind of pink toned aggregate stone that I found at a river in Southwestern Colorado. I picked it up and brought it into my life then, and as a possession it feels so important to me. But the thing that always comes to mind is how that rock, which I love so much and tend to think of as "mine," is probably the oldest thing in my house (along with my other rocks), and will likely outlive everything I see and know of. To me that painting grounds the work. It serves to remind us that the narrative and cultural meaning is constructed, much like the rock garden, and that in time when everyone and thing is gone, the rock will remain, and however inanimate, will inevitably be the wisest of them all regardless of whether or not there's someone to acknowledge it as such.