Interview with the Artist: Birthmark/ Blemish 2008

After years of being a closeted artist, Kelcie McQuaid finally came out during the second anniversary of IWAN’s The Bubble. Her passionate work is the product of a turbulent life’s story.

Written by Julie Rodrigues, 2008

With a fourth cigarette in hand, Kelcie McQuaid and I switch places again because the fickle wind’s change of direction. She respects that I don’t like the fumes. She brushes away a strand of hair that audaciously writhed before her doll-like face and raises her hazel doe eyes from the ashtray.

I have seen her art: It is defined by dripping colors, rich layers, nude bodies and consists of multiple mediums ranging from acrylic, glazes and pastels. For our interview, she brought a thick sketchbook that is marked with inspiration, ideas, and quick sketches to use as a reference point for the questions I am about to ask. She tightens her lips around the cigarette, rolls up the sleeves of her cardigan and we begin to explore her roots:

JR: Your art certainly has a number of themes that tie each individual piece together. Where do you pull your inspiration from?

McQuaid: A number of things, including Biblical allegory, Modern Expressionism, street art, texture. Feminine energy and the struggle with a woman’s place in society. Sexuality. And music. I can’t paint without it. Live music has been a part of my life since I can remember. Also, relationships from past to present and how people and your relationships can evolve, dissolve or transcend. I use the layering of paint and other media to explain my own personal growth and power.

JR: What sorts of relationships have morphed you and your work?

McQuaid: Growing up as the youngest of three siblings and the only female has impacted me, so has my relationship with my father. My personal growth and development of style has emerged from having to be on my own as a teenager and losing that important male figure just as I was becoming self-aware. Also, my art is a way of expressing my relationships with the strong women in my life, such as reigniting the bond with my mother, other mother figures that were not my own and watching my best friend become a mother.

JR: Do these events and people play a part of the title (Birthmark/Blemish) you have placed on your collection?

McQuaid: In every way. My paintings share common themes, and they consecutively brush up on the two points: Birthmark, which is symbolic of my youth, Blemish my coming of age.

JR: You said that the paintings share common themes—what are they exactly?

McQuaid: My concepts are derived from those selective and blurred memories we often get. I am largely influenced by how over time, perspectives change. As we grow and age, we see things in a different context, and I express this through layering. When I begin to paint, I release a certain emotion but by constantly revisiting and changing the painting, I create something new. This is why most of my paintings take months, if not years. I like to revisit the paintings as a stronger person down the road and give the painting the same development.

JR: Your technique seems pretty interesting; can you elaborate on that without revealing trade secrets?

McQuaid: Certainly. I use color as a guide of the eye to determine positive and negative space. I layer acrylic and water soluble mediums, white wash, ink, and photo transfers to create depth both metaphorically and visually.

JR: Did you ever take painting classes or were you ever formally trained?

McQuaid: I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by some outstanding visual artists, and have worked in some of the most artistically nurturing environments, however Institutionalized schooling has not yet been feasible, as I have supported myself since the age of 15. Self-taught, artists such as myself, I think, create their own standards and methods. Often, when young creative people go to an institution, they are marginalized and styles and ideas are simply recycled. If I had done things by the book, I may have never embraced drip work because it would have been criticized and possibly considered juvenile. Using flowing mediums to create sharp lines is actually quite a task.

JR: So were you influenced by Jackson Pollock and other artists who brought drip work to the mainstream? McQuaid: I admire their techniques but I wasn’t initially inspired. On my first visit to MOMA in NYC, I walked into Jackson Pollock’s room, saw ‘Full Fathom Five’ and immediately felt enraged. It’s one of the most expensive paintings ever and all I could see was spilt paint. At the time, I was focused on figures since I was working at the Museum of Art in Ft. Lauderdale and sitting in on figure drawing classes. The instructor, Joel Dugan would constantly talk about how important it is to stay true to the figure. His words stuck out in my mind and I thought that it would be difficult to figure draw but easy, almost cheating to work in an abstract way. It took me a long time to appreciate drip work and change the mentality that all Pollock did was splash house paint on raw canvas.

JR: How did you first get interested in painting?

McQuaid: Around the time I could conceive thought. I was that strange little kid in preschool who sat at the art table all day, just dreaming, and messing with finger paints. Later, I would draw out costumes and my mom would sow them. When my parents were separating, my kindergarten teacher would let me stay in her class hours after school since my dad was usually late. I helped paint the murals off 95 on Sunrise and in Wilton Manors when was 7 years old. I started really getting into painting during high school while I was learning graphic design and dealing with some new angst.  I felt compelled to replicate imagery I could create on the computer. It helped me escape the pressures of growing up in a hurry.

JR: How does it feel now to have your art available for all to see?

McQuaid: It was terrifying at first, but it is quite invigorating. I’ve thought about it since I interned at the Broward Cultural Division during my senior year. There, I saw that being a working artist was completely within reach, and that this community desperately needed determined young artists to form an identity. It seems like there are a lot of commercial artists, and fine art students, but a lack of professional fine artists. I commend the Independent Working Artists Network and other organizations for supporting South Florida art. It’s imperative to have a niche here, a tight-knit culture, to support and keep it going, not just for self-interest. I know that there is a way to be true to your art without having to resort to commercializing and ultimately losing value, or just sticking with illegal graffiti. I want people to feel that they have something of unique value, when they purchase a piece from me. I know those who have, share a special connection with the painting, and that’s all I’ve really wanted.

JR: Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

McQuaid: I’m Kelcie McQuaid and I owe it all to my vag.

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