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Alumni Studio Visit: Georgia McGovern (MFA 2019)

NYSS: Describe a typical day in your studio.

Georgia McGovern: I often work “in the field” out in nature or cities taking notes and sketching, but I also have a small studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that I share with a soapmaker. The bulk of my studio time is in the preparatory drawings. Even if those drawings start outside the studio, I bring them back into my workspace to make new iterations that eventually become the groundwork for paintings. The first drawing does not always reveal itself right away but takes iteration and conversation to evolve its language and meaning. I sometimes spend days retracing and transferring sections of pictures and overlaying them. I have a stack of sketches on different types of paper, which I sift through and work back into areas of paintings.

Simultaneously, I am also preparing painting surfaces. I like to think that the painting starts with the first layer of glue or gesso on a canvas or panel. I will build up my surfaces with four to six layers before drawing or painting them. I paint with oils but also like to use natural materials rich in historical references that stand out in an era of synthetics and industrial production. A central part of my studio practice is preparing these materials, such as making hide glue, mixing pigments, and drawing inks from organic and found raw materials. Another key aspect of my studio practice is mixing paint. I begin with a specific palette in mind. I sometimes spend half a day mixing up different colors not to delay or interrupt my focus and spontaneity while working. I feel that contemporary art lacks a technical grounding or pursuit of the craft – this deliberate engagement with the tools and parameters of my medium is essential to me.

I do a lot of research. I spend a lot of time reading about artists and their studio practices and sometimes transcribing masters’ art. I also read a lot of other history and theories, poetry, fiction, etc. The historical, critical, and political context is significant. Since my work relates to place, site visits are the best way to conduct research. Depending on the project, visits can be about getting an accurate understanding of an architectural space, collecting ephemera, exposing myself to a culture and way of life, and understanding an environment’s physical and psychological sense.

NYSS: Walk me through your process. What are some of the parameters or problems you set up for yourself within your work?

GM: It can be challenging to get outside voices out of my head and also knowing when to move on from a work. Sometimes, it’s a formal issue, and other times, it’s when the conception of a piece is overworked or doesn’t translate. I think a lot about Jaspar John’s Quote, “The problem with ideas is the idea is often simply a way to focus your interest in making the work. A function of the work is not to express the idea; the idea focuses your attention in a certain way that helps you do the work.” 

NYSS: How has your practice changed during this time of social distance? 

GM: My studio practice has become more focused. It is easy to get overstimulated in a place like New York City. Having more time to look inward with no distractions has clarified the paintings.

NYSS: How did studying at NYSS influence your current studio practice? 

GM: It helped me realize the importance of the fundamental components of the visual language; the act of drawing, the form, and the color, and how all of these elements come together to transcend an idea, experience, and image.

NYSS: Do you have any upcoming shows/projects you would like to share? And where can people see your work? 

GM: I am getting ready to move up to Vermont for a few months to start a new print series. I am hoping to experiment with Intaglio for the first time.

Website: georgiamcgovern.com
Instagram: @georgiadivamcgovern



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