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Art & Life with Margaret Crowley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Margaret Crowley.

Margaret, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I can’t start from the very beginning because that would not be a brief story- it would be a tome. However, I feel my best beginning happened most recently when the world I was comfortably comatose in (eyes wide open) blew completely apart in a big bang- divorce edition. When all of my pieces came together (a few were missing), I hit the ground running towards a happier future that I intended to make for myself. Florida Atlantic University graciously adopted me, and I am currently making mental framing decisions for the MFA degree I am about to receive in April.

I have always had a thing for faces. I received mild encouragement when I drew wompy, almost good, portraits of friends and family, as an adolescent. It really didn’t take much to propel me towards a career as an artist, and a future devoid of steady income wasn’t any sort of deterrent either. I like to cannonball into things and sort the details later.

I spent the years of my marriage and family production stealing time to paint and promote my work. As a result I managed to be accepted into over a hundred juried exhibitions, win numerous awards, achieve lifetime signature status with the Florida Watercolor Society, be featured in the American Artist quarterly publication: Watercolor (Fall 1995), get published in the book, Best of Watercolor 2 (Rockport Publishers), among other cool boast-able things.

At FAU I was encouraged to experiment and break free of convention. Through mini-explorations, I found a theme that I felt was worthy of digging into manufactured beauty. The modern beauty paradigm is unnatural and unattainable, and it has been fucking up my head since I can remember. So now I am painting hyper-realistic images of crumpled ads from high fashion magazines as a vehement rejection of unattainable and unnatural depictions of beauty and stature. The sense of deprivation that such advertisements imposes is harmful to individual’s mental well-being and the state of the world as it promotes accelerated consumptive behavior resulting in an unsustainable take-make-waste lifestyle.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
First and foremost, I paint and draw in a traditionally representational manner (portraits are what I am typically commissioned to do); however, my approach is slightly less conventional. I like to fully work out ideas in my head, then, through a mobile phone camera and photoshop, give them an artful physical existence. I think it could be argued that I am a photographer who paints and draws.

Once I have a source image that gives me the same intoxicating feeling, looking at it, as I would experience from listening to a beautiful piece of music, such as (most recently) Erik Satie’s Gnossienne no. 1, I become the mechanical device that delivers the painting/drawing to the world. When I paint, I lose track of time and awareness of my surroundings. I feel like it must be some sort of trance state because once the work is complete and I have signed it (which means I can never alter it- other than repairs, if necessary- my rule) I am rarely able to recall the painting/drawing process.

My most recent projects have been explorations (exploitations) of what I find on social media and print advertising (modern and vintage). I am enthralled with this ever-expanding sea of information from all imaginable vehicles of media. Edward McLuhan, 1960’s media visionary, said, “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.” He said this when television began to invade homes. Our unwitting consumption of all this information spins Jung’s idea of a collective unconscious into the hyperreality of a collective conscious society where posts gone viral have meaningful influence on culture. It is happening at the speed of electric current.

My current body of work involves researching fashion magazines, past and present, and comparing their impact on girl culture, past and present. My paintings of crumpled fashion spreads are an exploration into the visual elements that make these pages appealing and whether advertisers’ messages of inadequacy can be deactivated while still retaining the elements of beauty. I choose pages with models whose faces and bodies are disfigured by the wrinkling of the pages. Not unlike the disfiguring we experience when age wrinkles us! The human form is necessary in these rather abstracted images because it provides a familiar connection that the viewer can relate to.

I don’t limit myself to paint or graphite. Sometimes an idea that I want to express is more effective in music, video, or as a tangible and occasionally wearable object. I work in all of these mediums. Some examples can be found on social media- links below.

Why do I create? I always quip, “It’s a mental illness.” Certainly, the creative approach to things is always outside of normal. I feel compelled to do it. It isn’t a choice for me.

Do you think conditions are generally improving for artists? What more can cities and communities do to improve conditions for artists?
Artists! We have always had it rough. When the day comes that educational institutions value art by seriously incorporating it into its curriculum, things would certainly change. Until then, we as artists should educate ourselves, our patrons and others as much as possible. Do not stop making. If you can’t afford to create major pieces, keep filling sketchbooks! Unfortunately, art is considered a luxury item, so sales are linked with the economy, particularly those of living artists. That has to change. Art should be considered a necessity.

Artists should promote sales of living artists by buying from living artists when they can. I have always tried to bank creative karma points by purchasing another artist’s work when I sell some of my own. I love my growing diverse art collection of not yet famous artists!

I would like to see more artist co-operatives or collectives. Artists need to be with other artists. I love the areas that get transformed by clusters of artist studios and galleries such as Wynwood or FatVillage. Everyone does.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I am in production mode, so I don’t have work on public display. I will be having my thesis exhibition in the Schmidt Gallery at Florida Atlantic University. The opening is April 18th, and the show will run at least a month. Some work can be viewed on my Instagram (@msmcrowley) and by appointment.

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