Three Members of the UMVA Share Their Art and Thoughts
My sculpture has come in and out of the overtly political over the years. Right now it is hard for me to avoid commenting in some way, which I am doing with the series, Who’s the Victim? Making the sculptures allows me to both escape and engage, whether it has political content or not.
Who’s the Victim? accepts that there is not necessarily right or wrong, but relative perceptions by different individuals. In this divided and angry time I have come to realize that everyone feels victimized even when their “opponents” don’t view it that way.
In fact, we all seem to feel that we are the victims. The question, “Who’s the victim?” is important to encourage us all to find common ground.
Cynthia Motian McGuirl
I do not make a conscious effort for my work to be political. In some ways, I find the label problematic. I worry that people will prejudge the work or galleries will be turned off from showing it. But the parallels between my subject matter and the current state of the world are incontrovertible. Within that subject matter, everything boils down to human rights. Human rights are a political issue.
I am the granddaughter of Armenian Genocide survivors. A series of intense dreams about my ancestors caused me to research what happened to the Ottoman Armenians during World War I. I found myself drawing the dreams and the narratives. I created portraits of the people I wanted to know better.
At first, I was reluctant to tell the personal stories behind my images. But once I did, it opened up conversations with viewers about their own, similar family histories. Telling personal stories humanizes history. It helps us to see a truer version of current and past events by focusing in on what actually happened to people rather than being captivated by historical generalizations that promote patriarchal and nationalistic views.
I use multiple media and processes. I often start with a simple story or vague, intuitive idea. I have discovered a back and forth repertoire between creating images and the skills of drawing, stitching, printing, book binding and hammering. There is a meditation that happens in the rhythmic “craft” work that helps the “art” work to evolve.
Old Maid was prompted by a dream I had about a deceased Aunt who was in an abusive relationship. I made some drawings and collages. I wrote a short text that I printed with traditional letterpress.
Refuse to be afraid of becoming an Old Maid
Aunty Rose is dead
Home for unwed mothers, orphans & widows
Mail order brides
I wonder what kind of car she would be driving now
The caddys are not very good anymore
I began to think of Widows, Brides, Mothers, and Orphans as what society considers acceptable roles for women. I made a miniature card deck (with them as the suits) to go with the book. Then, I decided to make a large deck of cards. Each card is 12 x 16 inches. Each of the 53 cards is on paper I marbled, letterpressed with the suit and deck name, stitched the card number, and stitched a cut out image from an etching, woodcut, or lithograph I had previously made. Then, I made 53 backs that were marbled and printed with a woodcut with four images of the “Old Maid.” These were stitched to the fronts. The cards all fit into a copper box that I hammered and stitched together.
I suppose just the act of spending so much time creating something that may never be sold and definitely never create enough wealth to justify the time is political. In my game, the person who ends up with the “Old Maid” wins.
My work is autobiographical in nature. It tells of places and people that are an integral part of my life. I am intrigued by places that are worlds unto themselves and subjects that are larger than the canvas.
My artist’s statement is brief as I paint what I can’t say. In all ways, it speaks for itself.
Like so many of us, I have been greatly concerned by the manner in which we are treating our fellow citizens, be they minorities, immigrants, physically or mentally challenged, or LGBTQ+. Having attended undergraduate and graduate school during the period of the fight for women’s rights, I am amazed at how quickly there is a retreat from the progress that occurred in the years gone by. The Kavanaugh hearings and the upcoming Presidential race have further exacerbated this reversal with female plaintiffs and candidates discussed and judged by stereotyped characteristics not applied to males in the same context. The masochistic tone of comments, including the question my female friends are asking “But can she really win?,” is prevalent in the daily conversations we hear.
And so, as an artist I began celebrating the women around me, be they homemakers, students, working women, community leaders, retired people, or politicians; they represent what is best about this country and the women I have contact with, they care about their fellow human beings.
I paint in oil from photographs. I try to capture the women in a way that best expresses what appeals to me about their humanity. I paint them close up and uncontained by the canvas, just as I feel women should not be constrained by outdated rules and standards in today’s times.
My younger women show the exuberance and joy of their age. My older women show the wisdom they have gained over the years.
In the words of the Helen Reddy song, I hope my paintings express “I am woman. Hear me roar.”
Cover Image: Cynthia Motian McGuirl, Old Maid (detail), pages with multi-media collage, 8 x 13 in., 2017