The grains shall be collected
from the thousand shores
to which they found their way
--Kay Ryan, from “All Shall Be Restored”
Sometime in her early twenties, Megan Barron took some slides, one of which “was intriguing but sadly underexposed.”
It occurred to me to remedy the mistake by trying to make a painting of the image, which I did by peering through the slide held between my fingers. . . . While I probably gave myself a headache, I was surprised at its turning out well & thought, “Maybe I can do this—paint.”In her current project, wrack line: one year of beach finds, illustrated, Barron demonstrates her considerable artistic talent every single day. The wrack line project, as described by Barron, is “a daily visual journal of what washes ashore. Every day for a year I will post a new painting or drawing of treasures found during beach walks.”
delicately colored sea shells, an elegant curl of leaves or seaweed, lovely shards of pottery, a single water-polished stone. But for Barron, the definition of “treasures” goes far beyond its ordinary scope. “I did know that I wouldn’t be rendering 365 objects just for their prettiness, & that metaphor (always appealing to this creature) was built into such a project.”
If a find is not conventionally beautiful, it can still offer interesting shapes, text that resonates, meaning, &/or humor. I can pair it with an old book page, for example, & have it play off that content.Over the course of the project, inaugurated on May 25, 2009, Barron has painted an empty drink packet, a rusty spoon, a Fred Flintstone mold, many bits of discarded plastic, a corroded spark plug, and a rubber worm, just to name a few. One of her favorite discoveries was a parachute toy.
I mistook it for a paper towel in the sand at first, so it was an even greater treat to pick it up & be startled when the little green plastic man fell out. The graphics on his parachute are all figures wearing expressions of consternation, which made it better still. I couldn’t wait to get home & make that painting.Barron brings to all her works an intensely focused ability to see. She has an unerring sense of composition. She is keen-eyed in her use of color, and her line is sure. The sea may have thrown her chosen objects up as refuse, but she brings them back to vivid life.
For backdrops to her chosen objects, she often uses found paper, ranging from paper targets to a book on metals, a French grammar book, Plaid stamps, a Hindi drama book, and old family letters.
My family has a fairly large archive of old letters, & I like to think I’m continuing the correspondence tradition. The more ways a piece of art resonates, the better, I feel—& the backstory of each backdrop supplies another stanza.Barron certainly does carry on the “correspondence tradition.” Alongside wrack line, she maintains other sites, including auk wrecks & ark larks and among the burrs & stickers. On those sites, she occasionally exhibits rather unexpected items she has succeeded in posting through the U.S. Mail. She and Arden Scott, “an artist I adore,” began an exchange of correspondence after Barron’s last solo show, “Circulation: Letters & Lives.”
Although I’d say she leads the competition in most categories, I know I scored big by mailing a five-foot oar with bingo pieces glued to it, because Arden’s next offering was a humble post card, blank except for a short message: “SPEECHLESS. It is next to the hall mirror.”It’s not surprising to discover that Ray Johnson is among the artists Barron particularly admires—she has said “Ray Johnson is idolized here”—though the list of artists whose work she prizes is wide and deep, including Lee Bontecou, Jen Bradford, Squeak Carnwath, Vija Celmins, Hannah Hoch, and Helen Levitt, to name a few. “And then there are writers, who are every bit as crucial to me as visual artists. Kay Ryan & Charles Simic—so many of their poems could make excellent paintings.”
“Seeing good work,” says Barron, “gives me jolt of delighted energy & makes me eager to get going on my own.” The same can be said of Barron’s art on wrack line. For your own “jolt of delighted energy,” make it a point to go to wrack line every day.
Megan Barron’s wrack line paintings can be purchased through the South Street Gallery in Greenport, Long Island. Once the project is completed, the South Street Gallery will exhibit all 365 works. The show opens June 26, 2010, and will be on through July 19.
The paintings at the start and close of the post are WL 78 and WL 274.
Interview with Megan Barron
RA: In October of 2006, when you started the first of your blogs, auk wrecks & ark larks, you wrote, in a post called “living with objects”:
The stash of photographs & artwork that have been patiently hanging out in my apartment are demanding a greater audience. They kind of won't shut up about it. So, I promised that starting a blog would guarantee them a dozen new fans. (Please don't tell them I'm wildly optimistic.) Here goes.(I think you’ve more than met your promise, by the way.) Talk about what led up to that decision, what internal debate you might have carried on before deciding to plunge in.
MB: The issue of privacy made me hesitate, as did the possibility that strangers could help themselves to my images. However, I also realized that, for the most part, people don’t come knocking on one’s door to see art & that our society is highly Internet based, so I joined the fray.
RA: Your most recent blog is wrack line: one year of beach finds, illustrated. On wrack line, you describe the project as: “a daily visual journal of what washes ashore. Every day for a year I will post a new painting or drawing of treasures found during beach walks.” What led you to this theme for your project and to deciding to produce a piece of art every day?
MB: It was a plot to justify my collecting all sorts of “useless” matériel! I did know that I wouldn’t be rendering 365 objects just for their prettiness, & that metaphor (always appealing to this creature) was built into such a project. Also, I liked that there would be unsolvable mystery to the random finds: Where did they come from? How old are they? What is their story?
RA: Do you have favorite materials/media/tools for making art? How do you think about what materials/media/tools might work best for a given piece?
MB: For wrack line I use acrylic, thinned & layered (it resembles watercolor, but is permanent), & I like best how it interacts with paper (never canvas). I have no clue how to paint with oils.
ABS 11/17/09]—is that a black phoebe we are seeing?; vintage paper targets [WL 205], Russian book [WL 121], French grammar book [WL 135], Plaid Stamps [WL 140], Hindi Drama [WL 171], Wm Johnson [WL 227].) Tell us something about a favorite find.
MB: First, I have to say it’s very hard for me to excise pages from books, so I tend to use only those that are compromised in some way. I don’t have a favorite, but all of them carry their own story. The Mathematical Principles pages come from a fat book on navigation I found in a rainy gutter in the West Village & have used with great pleasure for numerous pieces. The paper targets were given to me by the owner of The Book Scout, a quirky, crazy, & wonderful shop in Greenport. Wm. Johnston is my great grandfather (his name spelled wrong on the envelope, which, by the way, was empty & partly scissored when I unearthed it); my family has a fairly large archive of old letters, & I like to think I’m continuing the correspondence tradition. The more ways a piece of art resonates, the better, I feel—& the backstory of each backdrop supplies another stanza.
RA: Are there any objects you’ve found for wrack line that stand out as favorites? Would you name one and tell us what about it particularly appealed to you?
MB: I could choose many, but will opt for the parachute toy (#247). I mistook it for a paper towel in the sand at first, so it was an even greater treat to pick it up & be startled when the little green plastic man fell out. The graphics on his parachute are all figures wearing expressions of consternation, which made it better still. I couldn’t wait to get home & make that painting.
RA: You commented recently, “Now if only a small figure sporting a trident would wash up on the beach so I could paint my doppelganger” [ABS 01/31/10]. Tell us something about that.
MB: It was a response to your calling me a little devil.
RA: Producing a work a day must feel relentless at times. How are you finding the experience so far?
MB: To address the “relentless” aspect, I feel an ever-present pressure, like the atmosphere on an overcast day, yet that is not to say it’s in the least bit depressing. I do have to consider carefully whether I can make plans with friends, & am a bit worried about upcoming jury duty (my full-time job starts at 5 pm, so it’s not as if I will go home & paint afterwards). Furthermore, it leaves me almost no time to do any other art work, which is disconcerting: internally I debate whether this hindrance is worth it.
Nevertheless, it’s exciting each time I do a new painting. I foresee the finished body of work a happy reward, & it will be great to experience all the pieces on display in the gallery.
AUK 4/16/08 & AUK 5/10/08]. It is arrayed with beautiful objects, lovingly displayed. Yet for wrack line, you spend a good bit of time working with objects that some would find pretty unappealing (at least until you get your art around them!): the rubber worm [WL 122] and the green plastic bits [WL 178] come to mind. Have you ever started work with an object and, part-way through, felt you simply didn’t want to spend so much time and attention on it? If yes, how did you cope? If no, can you describe how you engage with such an object and overcome the more conventional response?
MB: I haven’t considered any of the objects unappealing. If a find is not conventionally beautiful, it can still offer interesting shapes, text that resonates, meaning, &/or humor. I can pair it with an old book page, for example, & have it play off that content.
A few times I have abandoned a piece because it was not coming out to my liking. Also, once I started a painting of a gorgeous long ribbon of kelp, but couldn’t complete it before the plant started to yellow. I felt bad & put it back in the water.
RA: You use the name “kookaburra,” which you’ve said comes from the poem “The Kookaburras,” by Mary Oliver. Tell us something about the significance of that poem to you and why you chose it for your “nom de peinture.”
MB: I don’t think I can without being too personal or emotional.
RA: You have a huge range of interests, from Anne Carson’s poetry to garden birds, or, as you put it in your profile:
pigeon carriers & post boxes, pantoums & cartoons, misprints & epistles, peaveys & yatagans, fruit bats & fairywrens, wrack lines & out-of-season valentines, coverts & primaries, oulipo & hippogriffs, snail begonias & gazanias, gundalows & bungalows.Tell us something about what engages and inspires you. Is there a common thread? How (if they do) would you say these things feed your art?
MB: I doubt there is one common thread. Those listed items are just some of the things that make me happy because of their beauty, amusing nature, profound quality, association with a cherished person or incident, or all of the above.
RA: You’ve sent some fascinating objects through the U.S. Mail (AUK 1/25/10 and AUK 11/15/08 are two examples). I have my suspicions, but let me ask: what gave you the idea for that? Tell us about one of them, if you’d like.
MB: I’ve long had a love for correspondence (it was also the theme of my last solo show), but I think that here you’re referring to the sometimes outlandish three-dimensional mail shown in some blog posts. This exchange can be attributed entirely to my friendship with Arden Scott, an artist I adore. She came to the opening of “Circulation: Letters & Lives,” & although I did not know her well, she was one of about 75 people for whom I created free pieces of art (when the show was over, those folks had to come pick up the piece & sign for it as if they were in a post office).
Arden & I started an epistolary exchange not long after that. Nowadays I often emerge from the post office laughing & giddy at what she’s conspired to send me. Although I’d say she leads the competition in most categories, I know I scored big by mailing a five-foot oar with bingo pieces glued to it, because Arden’s next offering was a humble post card, blank except for a short message: “SPEECHLESS. It is next to the hall mirror.”
RA: In auk wrecks & ark larks, you did quite a bit of writing, including some interesting “book reports.” (Irresistible to me, of course, is the post of November 28, 2006, “on zitting cisticolas & spotted pardalotes,” which happens to be about bird guides.) At least for now, you seem to have moved away from that. Do you miss doing those book reports?
MB: No, for I haven’t thought much about them since this project absorbs most of my attention. I am, however, more apt to lament my reduced time to read as many books as I’d like.
RA: Was there a moment when you discovered making art was what you most wanted to do? Tell us something about that moment.
MB: I don’t remember the first piece, but do believe the following to be significant. Sometime in my early twenties I took some slides, & one of them was intriguing but sadly underexposed. It occurred to me to remedy the mistake by trying to make a painting of the image, which I did by peering through the slide held between my fingers (yes, you would think I’d at least use a light box, but I didn’t have one). While I probably gave myself a headache, I was surprised at its turning out well & thought,” Maybe I can do this—paint.”
RA: Were there people who encouraged you or guided you along the way? Who was significant as a mentor or support, and what was essential about their role in your art-making life?
MB: I have never had a mentor, & am still not quite sure what one is, does, & how one acquires such a person. I didn’t go to art school; it always seemed like a place for other lucky students.
On the other hand, my parents are both artistic, & that is perhaps equal to the benefits of art school.
RA: Can you name some artists (Ray Johnson, perchance?) whose work resonates with you? What engages you about their work—and what, if any, influence would you say their work has on your own?
MB: There are so many worthy artists. Ray Johnson is indeed among them, as are (severely abbreviated list to follow) Toba Khedoori, Candy Jernigan, Edward Hopper, Amy Cutler, Sophie Calle, Helen Levitt, Dan Eldon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Fernand Khnopff, Vija Celmins, Maira Kalman, Atget, Roni Horn, Lee Bontecou, Hannah Hoch, Joe Brainard, Agnes Martin, Walker Evans, Squeak Carnwath, Joseph Cornell, Joan Miro…all right, I should stop. Also, I really like the work of Devon Tsuno, Jen Bradford, & Dozier Bell, who are friends. And then there are writers, who are every bit as crucial to me as visual artists. Kay Ryan & Charles Simic—so many of their poems could make excellent paintings.
As for influence, seeing good work gives me jolt of delighted energy & makes me eager to get going on my own.
RA: On her blog, Drawings from Nature, Milly states, “I can’t imagine my life without drawing.” Would you say that’s true for you about your art?
MB: I can imagine it, & don’t relish the view.
RA: Do you have an artistic “philosophy” you’d like to share?
MB: Not really. I do, however, put a great deal of weight on integrity.
RA: Thanks for participating in this interview—and, above all—thank you, thank you, thank you for making such marvelous art!
MB: Thank you for taking so much time paying attention to it all! Hope to meet you in person soon.
RA: And I you. To close, I’d like to note a work of yours, not part of wrack line, that can give readers a glimpse of your wonderful photographic work—and, also, as we are writers here, that honors so beautifully the act of reading [AUK 8/25/09]: