About the Artist
Nancy Natale interviewed Cheryl D. McClure in May of 2015 for the online publication ProWax Journal. Following is her interview.
"What Powers Abstract Thinking"
Cheryl McClure is mostly self taught and has been painting for more than 30 years. She shows throughout the U.S. and is represented by five galleries. Living on a ranch in northeastern Texas, she finds influences in nature – the trees, sky, pastures, pond and creek – but is careful to say that she does not try to replicate what she sees. Rather she lets her observations come through as she paints and “has a conversation with the paint and the process.” She is most interested in surface quality, color relationships and formal design.
Nancy Natale: What draws you to abstraction as an approach to painting?
Cheryl McClure: I am not sure there is an easy explanation. As a kid, I drew, but I was never really attracted to drawing or painting people and things. I see now in retrospect that I was more interested in the colors and shapes in a work of art.
NN: Would you comment on the idea of abstraction allowing you to have greater freedom in painting. Do you think that’s true? Or does the “freedom” of not trying to represent something make it more difficult?
CMC: I feel that I have more freedom, more that I can do or say without having to spell out something I would rather keep to myself. Most people would think of me as a gregarious, extroverted person, but I have a side to me that is very private and this is a little bit of protection.
I am invested in the emotional side of things. I don’t always identify it as emotional, but my work does come directly from my own experience, and usually is just an unexpected and unconscious inspiration. I have come to realize that I generally paint from non-objective to abstraction. In other words, I set parameters in my work with formal issues. Then, as I work, relationships in the painting begin to take on meaning that possibly only I will know. It might not be what others will see, but that doesn’t matter to me.
The emotional involvement to me includes some kind of gesture and a sense of space – probably coming from working less abstractly in the early years. When I am painting, I paint furiously and quickly, then I look and analyze, taking a lot longer than the time I actually spent painting. The brain can get in the way of the hand and the brush and this is my way of trying to avoid that.
NN: How do you begin a painting?
CMC: Sometimes it’s entirely arbitrary because I have set myself up to work with whatever relationships develop as I go along. However, I began a continuing series in 2014 when I started thinking more about intent after reading On Looking, Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. I started looking around me more carefully and then took days at a time just jotting down words or phrases that I thought would be inspiration for paintings. I called the series “Annotation” and also noted the color inspirations.
NN: Is struggle a necessary part of painting for you?
CMC: It has become a part of my work. Usually I do not really want to know exactly where I am going when I begin a painting but only have a generalized map of what I intend, when I do have a more fixed intention. I don’t have to think about it much in the beginning because I can do just about anything and make a layer
that adds to the richness that I hope to achieve in the final work.
I’ve come to believe that the longer you paint, the more you realize how little you know. You become more critical of your work. Hence all those ugly middle layers. That said, I am thankful for the few paintings that come now and then without a lot of struggle, as though someone else painted them.
NN: What effect does changing mediums have on your work? Do you find you work differently in one medium than another?
CMC: I studied watercolor painting when I first began painting since that was the only thing available from teachers in my area. I didn’t love watercolor because it took too much pre-planning, but I learned a lot about negative shapes. I also learned a lot from using pastels and charcoal about the marks I like to make. I like acrylic because I can layer over and over without a problem of compatibility. I find that working with oil and encaustic slows me down a lot, but sometimes slowing down is a good thing. The richness and surface qualities of oil and encaustic are very appealing. I think working back and forth with all these mediums helps me to grow as a painter.
NN: Are you ever inspired by particular places?
CMC: Pier is an example of my being inspired by a place. I’ve made several trips to Provincetown, Mass. for the annual International Encaustic Conference. I have been struck by the color and the shapes of the piers, boats and buildings there. Not being a coastal person, I didn’t start out to paint this, but I found myself making these marks with large brush loads of paint on the canvas. It just developed and somewhere in the process it became Pier. More than likely others do not see it this way, but this is Provincetown to me.