I try to make it a point to attend First Fridays at SoWa Artist Guild a few times a year, and after the 3rd or 4th visit I would say you begin to get the hang of it. Your manuevering almost becomes second nature.
That is the room with the watercolor fruit bowls..and that is the studio that always has great cupcakes..and that roo..wait.
(50 ft Woman vs Black Helicopters)
One space caught my eye on a particular visit while steamrolling through the halls. I had to do the embarrassing back track motion with purpose, as if I was ‘looking for my friend’ in the front row of a Smashing Pumpkins concert.
-screams into cellphone- Are you here?! I’m waving my hand, excuse me. Do you see me?! -pushes people- Oh, you’re all the way in front row center in front of Billy? Great I’ll be there in a minute. -hangs up- Sorry, I’m looking for my friends -shove-
But I’m glad I was able to set my pride on a shelf long enough to take in the work of local artist, Martha McCollough.
Martha had a small number of pieces on display during this visit, but her work stood out against the backdrop of primarily pleasant impressionist pieces dotting the halls of 450 Harrison Ave.
One painting in particular that caught my eye was of a crow enjoying a cigarette with another crow emerging from a cloud within the cigarette smoke.
I don’t know what it was about the work, but something immediately intrigued me from a purely raw admiration of color form and composition standpoint. The clean lines seemed akin to an old world German event poster/advertisement with a dash of Yellow Submarine. And for whatever reason the blue smoke cloud resembled a giant bird illusion where my eyes would flit between images like the classic vase/two shadowy visages trick.
I was fortunate enough to connect with Martha that evening who told me the reason I hadn’t seen much of her work prior to the Open Studios was because she had been on a a bit of an art hiatus for the past 5 years. She had stepped back from showing her work in a gallery setting and was only recently getting back into the swing of things and reacquainted with the Boston Arts scene. Fortunately, her community of artist friends in East Boston, many of which show at the Atlantic Works Gallery, have been supportive of her re-emergence into the spotlight. Her 9-5 is in the exhilarating world of corporate america, but her nights are spent thinking about art and the likes. Sound familiar?
(In the studio)
Inspired by “jokes, myths, fairy tales, and anything that is a disruption from the everyday”, Martha began experimenting with art at a very young age:
“I was totally, terminally bored in school—it was all rote learning. In 4th grade we were issued notebooks and ordered to take notes in class. Nothing the teacher said seemed important enough to write down, so I spent all my class time drawing–I filled all my notebooks with pictures of horses and ballerinas and shoes, and no notes at all. I got in what seemed to me like horrible trouble for it. Called out in the hall and yelled at, sent down to the principal and yelled at. All very distressing–when I was such a little goody-goody. But I knew what I liked doing and what I didn’t like doing, so I decided to be an artist.”
After receiving her MFA from Pratt in the 80’s, Martha began to compile a body of work that organically tied in reoccurring characters and themes. Birds, rabbits, factories, ninjas, and helicopters were all key players in her pieces.
“For a while I was very interested in paranoid subcultures and the stories they tell themselves. I thought that in a way ninjas and black helicopters were equivalent. Both are secret, deadly, inscrutable and pretty much non-existent, as far as I know. So I did a painting of ninjas vs. black helicopters. It was the first of a series of paintings about conflict. The helicopters stayed around as symbols of mechanized war and destruction from a distance. The factories usually symbolize environmental degradation, dark satanic mills, all that. They’re simple and stereotypical. Birds seem to show up as representatives of the natural world that is threatened by human activity. “
The enamel medium imbued these earlier works with a grittiness, raw and almost foreboding edge that over time made the artist miss the subtler colors one can achieve with acrylics and oil paints…Well, that and in her words: “It seemed like all at once random people starting telling me I was going to get cancer and die from enamel.” Ok. Fair enough.
After the event, I was surprised to discover that a quick Google search of the artist turns up her involvement with a skatepark fundraiser, an archive of her witty musings, and a website detailing not only her work on canvas but her experimentation with online animation.
(‘Ragebunny in Paradise’ Skatedeck for Montana Skatepark Fundraiser. Aside: Ragebunny is a character from a children’s book Martha never got around to writing about “a sock puppet that channeled so much anger that it came to life.”)
Her videos are as well thought out as her painted compositions and each one engages the viewer in its own unique way. They shed light on Martha’s immeasurable imagination with subject matter ranging from boxing rabbits to a raw interpretation of PJ Harvey’s song ’50FT Queenie’ that reminds of the edgy photocopied punk show flyers of the 70’s.
Clearly the corporate world hasn’t dulled her senses. I can only hope to become someone like Martha someday. Someone who is still in touch with her unabashed creativity, but with a savviness/sauciness/wit that is beyond compare. She manages to be honest and raw without delving into the realm of the abrasive. Her work is inviting and there is something whimsy about her pieces even when it’s a bear incinerating a house with its laser beam eyes.
Martha has a solo show next October in East Boston’s Atlantic Works Gallery, but if you can’t wait until then to see more, her paintings are well worth the embarrassing backtrack at SoWa. That being said, make sure to put your pride on a shelf and stop by Studio # 213 during First Fridays.
I promise the cream cheese cupcakes down the hall will still be there when you’re done admiring her work.