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Margaret McCann

Margaret McCann: Interview

From Rome to Atlantic City, an exhibition of paintings by Margaret McCann, is currently on view at the University of Virginia’s Ruffin Gallery, through December 7. In works rich in both allusion and painterly craft, McCann merges careful observation, popular culture, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the tradition of painting. To view McCann's paintings is to understand that popular culture has long been a part of the language of painting. Each of McCann's works is an enigmatic parable inside a dynamic formal structure that is animated by a personal sense of touch and color.

McCann recently agreed to discuss her work with Painters' Table.

Margaret McCann, Lookout, 2008 (courtesy of the artist)

PT: I think we have to start by acknowledging that your Atlantic City series has an unanticipated additional reading after Hurricane Sandy. What We Worry? (2009) depicts the sea looming over a spiraling Piranesi-esque Atlantic City boardwalk. Lookout (2008) depicts the boardwalk being inundated by the sea. How do you feel about this unexpected, yet unavoidable new reading?

MM: During Irene “What We Worry?” and “Lookout” were in my show “Boardwalkers” at the Atlantic City Art Center on the Garden Pier, the front of which was washed away in a previous hurricane – you can still see the broken piers. When the nearby Revel was built, huge amounts of sand were added to the beach so the pier is now ‘sand-locked,’ but it used to extend over the water, so I had to temporarily remove all my work during the storm. On a barrier island the weather and water encircle you and the possibility of high water feels ever-present.

Their meaning is probably more journalistic than metaphysical now. At least I painted them before the tragedy (I’d be too self-conscious now), and the synchronicity supports painting’s power and reach - the kind that draws non-artists to painting. But floods are archetypal events, as Guston’s versions express. I was struck by how much my painting “Water Country” resembles the roller coaster washed offshore in Seaside Heights.