Artist Interviews 2023

Maggie MacDonald  
By Laura Siebold

Maggie MacDonald calls herself an abstract expressionist painter and poet. The artist who is based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, started created at a very young age, and sold her first painting at only 15 years old. Maggie MacDonald has come a long way since then – many of her large-scale mixed media art pieces are layered creations of acrylic, pastel, chalk and graphite. Each of her pieces is accompanied by an original poem that is directly related to the painting and reveals the narrative behind her work. Maggie MacDonald’s art is “inspired by the movement of the ocean and intricacies of human interaction” and transforms the raw canvas into something beautiful. I am happy that Maggie made the time to tell us about her style, human interaction, family history, and plans for the future.

What does art mean to you? Have you always dreamed of becoming an artist?

Becoming an artist has been a dream of mine since my childhood years, I spent my youth cultivating my artistic talents in the basement studio of my grandmother's California home. Creativity is very much the foundation of my upbringing, it has informed my life in all the ways that matter, It has given me confidence, brought me peace, and given me an incredible sense of purpose.

Can you please try to describe your art in three words? Please go into detail about why you chose those three words.

Thoughtful, peaceful, layered.  My work is hopeful because it's a practice in daily meditative creation.  Painting, day in and day out offers me hope in so many ways in my life. The practice of creating newness is inherently hopeful. My work is peaceful because of the color palate and the movement of the ink and paint on the canvas. My work is layered not only because of the layers of paint, ink, writings and found items, but because each one of my original pieces is backed by an original poem written in service to the piece. My writing and visual works cultivate something for the eyes, the mind, and also the heart.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you need to be in a specific mood to create art?

Inspiration finds me in many ways. I’m inspired by human interaction and the depth of human emotion. I find myself fascinated with words, other people's poetry, other people’s stories. I love listening to perspectives on love, love lost and the intricacies of human connection and intimacy. I work best when I am in a neutral head space. Extremes in either a positive or negative emotion serve my work in different ways but exhaust me as the artist mentally. I like working best from a neutral, peaceful, centered head space.

You create both mixed media art pieces, as well as murals. How did you find your unique style and voice as an artist? Elaborate.

Finding an authentic voice for yourself as an artist is actually a rather difficult task that took me a lot of years to actually get comfortable with. That being said, I think an artist's voice is ever changing and growing. Life, opinions, perspectives, and taste changes over time ultimately impact one’s flow, work, and style. I found my style by trial and error. As an abstract artist, it’s a bit difficult to find and “borrow” ideas from references without copying so it was important for me to really dig in and dissolve notions about who I wanted to paint like and figure out what I wanted to put forth. When creating visuals from nothing, sometimes navigating the direction you want to take can be tricky. In order to narrow down how I wanted my work to look and feel, I asked myself these questions. I still ask myself these questions regularly during the creative process. 1. Is there compositional balance? 2. Do I like the way this looks, aesthetics only? 3. Is the color palate something I would like to spend time around and live with? 4. If I left the studio, would I catch myself thinking about this piece? 

You combine acrylic, newsprint, ink, oil pastel, and gold leaf in many of your works. How do you choose the newsprint? Is the written story directly related to the mixed media art you create, or does it become part of the art during the process of creation?

When my grandfather and grandmother passed, they left a lot of interesting old papers behind, saved newspapers, paperwork and documents. Instead of throwing all this away, as is the usual outcome for essential trash left behind when someone passes, I attempt to honor their memories in small ways through this left behind-evidence from their lives. The written element for these works is directly related to the piece. A lot of times the poem I write to accompany a piece shares phrases or words taken directly from some scrap of paper or old note. I love working in mixed media and layering information with color and shape.  

How do the poems that accompany your paintings come to life? Do they exist before the art you create, or become part of the art during the process of creation?

Each of my original paintings is accompanied by an original poem. The pieces are created at various times, sometimes the poem before the painting, sometimes the painting before the poem. It's an organic process marrying the two; I find that the literary accompaniments are about charting the passing of time in a constructive and creative way. I have always enjoyed writing and find that my poetic pursuits strengthen not only my connection to the work but the creative process as a whole.

Your website describes your art as follows: “large-scale abstract art, inspired by the movement of the ocean and intricacies of human interaction, accompanied by poetic elements, share the stories of a current reality; of what it is to be human.” How do you translate the transient nature of the ocean and human life into art?

I translate the transient nature of the ocean through the movement of color and light on the surface of my canvases. Mark making also plays a big role in capturing movement and flow. My favorite mediums for this are charcoal, pencil, chalk, and oil pastel. My favorite pieces capture not only the movement of a shoreline, but also the power of its ebbs and flows. I also write a lot of poetry about the ocean, there are so many good metaphors to be drawn from the sea and the way it invigorates, captivates, and nourishes. It's the most fascinating force in nature to me and finds its way into all the many facets of my work.

Please describe the process behind your custom commissions. How are those different from spontaneous and intuitive creations?

Creating a commission is always a bit more restrictive than spontaneous work because I have to take someone else's opinion into consideration. When working with a collector or a designer, I have to think about color, size, and style of abstract work. It's sometimes tricky, but more often than not, I find myself working with people whose vision aligns closely with my own and whose style or desired look is something I am happy to create toward. I am always in awe of people's trust, and how much they choose to trust my hands and vision to create something for their space.

What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career? What kind of advice do you have for newly emerging artists to broaden the exposure of their work?

The best advice I can give is this. No one will do the work for you, no one can love the work more than you and no one should believe in you more than you – if you find the last two things difficult; outwork your self-doubt. Nothing crushes artistic dreams like the dissolution that you are not deserving. Work hard, work often, create despite the circumstances, trials, and difficulties. One day, hopefully someday soon, you’ll find yourself alleviated of the burden of having to always prove yourself and find yourself standing in a room with a body of work you feel tremendously proud of. No one else can tell you what you deserve- put in the work, show the effort you’re game and build up an undeniable stack of proof that puts pride at the forefront of the ongoing conversation you have with yourself.

We are curious about future projects. What are you currently working on? What do you imagine your artistic legacy to be?

I just released a collection of 30 paintings and poems for an exhibition at the Grand Bohemian Gallery in Greenville, SC. I have a few other exhibitions on the books for summer and fall and hopefully some traveling is in my future. I plan to keep making work and slow down enough to enjoy the persistent joy of the creation process.

My hope is that my artistic legacy is one of perseverance. I hope that as people see my work in the future they see the work of someone who was unrelenting in her pursuit of creative ventures, both literary and visual.

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