Mary Bucci McCoy spent this past February as a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, and I recently caught up with her to hear about how the month went. The residency provides a largely open schedule, with optional visiting artist presentations, studio visits, and open studio participation. Other than that, residents have the all-clear to devote themselves to their work.
We had a strong group of paintings to discuss, as McCoy made progress on an ongoing series of works on panel and experimented with other grounds. She builds each panel herself, then sands them several times to create a porcelain-like surface.
A thick stack of canvas swatches stood on a work table during my visit, making McCoy’s interest in the details evident. The wide range of samples made both of us realize, in the course of our conversation, how painters and viewers alike may become complacent about the potential influence of surfaces. We remember many paintings for the colors, the quality and composition of the marks, but not always for the relationship between the marks and their grounds. McCoy tried many of the fabrics over the course of her residency. Each sample offered different grains and shades of “neutral,” where it became apparent that some beige colors are not so neutral in comparison to others. The results are striking, particularly Pull, made with acrylic and iridescent acrylic on linen. Its background shows the color of the linen through a transparent acrylic medium.
It may come as no surprise, considering her balanced attention to all materials involved, that McCoy sculpted before she painted. Trained as a ceramic artist, her studio is presently adjacent to the studio of her husband, David McCoy, who also works in ceramics. Her background, therefore, informs her present work. Her intuitive, process-based method creates imagery that viewers may identify as recognizable objects, although that is not her intention. I asked McCoy about frosted windows after observing the image at the heading of this blog post, and she said it may have been subconscious on her part, as February in Vermont certainly has its share of frost. She agreed that her surroundings find their way into her work, but not in an overt way.
The paint is liquiform when she begins to work on a piece. She selects each paint with care. “Color is like a space for me,” she says. Working flat, the compositions come about as the liquid paint gradually dries. The drying ushers in surprises, such as spindly threads of ochre rising up from areas of thick, lavender paint. McCoy’s acceptance of the unexpected is similar to putting an object into the kiln. During the firing period, blended glazes may shift in colors, and cracks may form where the clay seemed firm. She comes upon compositions through the process of manipulation and acceptance of the materials having their own say in the outcome of the finished piece. Accretion and the unescapable effects of gravity become themes of her current work.
The full-bodied materiality of the surfaces and the paints and McCoy’s focus and close relationship with the materials are essential parts of the character of each finished piece. Her efforts bring about singular imagery with luxurious finishes. Texture holds equal influence to shape and color, establishing intimacy between the art and the viewer. McCoy’s keen focus while making is at the heart of her work’s meaning. Her small-scale paintings cultivate, or perhaps invite, the rewards of paying attention.
-Shana Dumont Garr