Inside the Artist’s Studio
So On We Go: Megan Gray
Hello, and happy New Year. Happiness is a pandemic in the rearview mirror, right? I wish you and yours the best in the coming new year and beyond.
“A valuable thing art has brought to me is a voice, I have always been more of a quiet person, but as I began to create and communicate with people through my artwork, I felt I was being heard in a way I never had been before,” comments local artist Megan Gray. Megan is a recent Master of Art graduate from the University of Texas at Tyler. She has also earned an associate in art from Tyler Junior College and a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Texas at Tyler.
Her graduate exhibition at the UTT Fine Arts Complex Gallery in late November was an immersive, interactive, fantasy dreamworld installation. The artist created gloopy, bulbous, sculptural, organic forms and piled them on the floor, suspended them from the ceiling, and clung them to the walls in a space where she also controlled the cool color lighting and bizarre sounds. It felt like a one-person Meow Wolf. Megan explains, “I use a two-part expanding foam. This material is super cool. In graduate school, I was craving a material that would move like a fluid and show this sense of movement but would solidify and hold dripping forms. After hundreds of tests and many failures, I found this material. I spent a large amount of time experimenting with this material to understand it as much as possible. I utilize fabrics mostly from old clothing, or old dance costumes. I also use pigments; my favorites are glow-in-the-dark or florescent pigments because the piece gets to have a secret.” Adding, “My intention is for the viewer to take a moment and allow themselves to reflect and feel, whatever emotion the work evokes, to allow oneself to feel it. While navigating the idea of weight, both physically and emotionally, my work acts to immerse the viewer through an installation set to reflect gravity. Each piece is my presence and my thoughts, and I invite the viewer to feel the pressure of scale and materiality. Sound surrounds the viewer, bringing them to an eerie fabricated atmosphere. This work is a nonrepresentational portrait of who I have become and who I was. The viewers are invited to reflect in this space and be in this moment I have created. I invite anyone viewing this space to experience with me everything I have felt all at once and to see themselves reflecting in the shining light of small mirrors covering my work.”
Megan describes her art journey: “I struggled with the idea of being an artist, but not creating realistic work. I tried and tried to make realistic pieces, but it just wasn’t me. It felt like wearing shoes backward. I didn’t take my first art class until I was in college, so I always felt behind compared to my classmates. Learning my style was hard. As a young artist I desperately wanted to have an identifiable aesthetic, but there is so much exploration you have to go through to get there. I have been limited by my space, I have been doing a lot of large-scale work, and storage units are expensive. I love how large-scale work feels, but it’s not reasonable for my apartment. I got a degree in education and after graduation was asking myself ‘What now?’ So, I decided to take one more semester of classes that just interested me, and one was a painting class. I had an amazing painting professor, who was so enthusiastic about creating and teaching that after the first class, I changed my major. I was amazed at my options and the fact I could just make whatever I wanted. During that painting class I was obsessed with the impasto style of painting and my professors suggested I take a 3-D class since I was so interested in texture. I took ceramics and fell in love with being able to create something with my hands physically. My favorite part was glazing. I loved creating beautiful drips, dripping down my pots or bowls. When I transferred to UT Tyler, I took a sculpture class and I had never felt so powerful. I was able to use power tools. I felt truly in my element, so I began using whatever material felt right, and that began my exploration of foam.” She continues, “I learned super early on I am not a sketcher, or I do not use my sketchbook like many others do. I utilize my sketchbook more as a journal with notes, comments from friends, and critiques from colleagues and professors. Printing out images and taping them in, or little clips of fabric I love. I would roughly draw out plans, but my work never resembles sketch.”
When I asked, what art has brought to her life, Megan answered, “Relationships, I have created the most beautiful interactions and friendships because of art. My best friends are artists, and some of my favorite people were my professors. It can be so scary being an artist and being so vulnerable with your work, but when you meet people who believe in you and your work it creates such a beautiful bond. I am a product of a COVID education. My last semester at TJC was cut short by COVID-19, but the professors did their best. Philana Oliphant created little kits of printmaking supplies so we could print at home. Then transferring to UT Tyler during COVID was weird, creating friendships and meeting professors and only knowing half of their masked faces.”
Inspiration for Megan includes Lynda Benglis (an artist known for her wax paintings and poured latex sculptures). Gray exclaims, “Benglis’ work is truly awe-inspiring! I found her work during my undergraduate studies, and I authored a paper about her and her work. What inspires me most about her is her materiality, she never lets material limit her.” Other inspirations are Toast and Annabelle, Megan’s two cats she adores.
Find out more at: @ megangray.art