On Friday, Binghamton University was visited by artist Margaret Maugenest, whose artwork, in a series titled “Painted Light,” is exhibited in the Rosefsky Gallery in the Fine Arts Building until this Friday.
Margaret Maugenest, of Asian and European background, was born in Indonesia but lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, in her famously rent-free loft. (She won a court ruling last June against her landlord, who did not maintain her apartment building.) When discussing her work, Maugenest often uses a phrase that aptly and succinctly describes her approach to art: making marks. Because while that statement may be taken at face value, with the artist leaving her painted marks on canvas or silk or even cigarette papers, Maugenest’s work is ultimately something much greater.
Maugenest says that she “prefers art that is personal, art that has that connection” with its audience. In striving to attain that connection, her artistic style has changed drastically throughout her career, flowing from still lifes and landscapes into the more abstract work currently on display.
But the process that led Maugenest to “Painted Light” has been a lengthy and serendipitous one. The idea’s genesis can be traced back to a trip the artist took to West Virginia, where she found herself without canvas to paint on. Her boyfriend jokingly handed her a cigarette paper and suggested she paint on it instead. Rather than simply laughing the idea off, though, Maugenest took on the challenge, creating a little abstract landscape on the delicate, translucent paper, forever changing the way she thought about art.
She has since painted dozens upon dozens of these small rolling paper paintings, which proved to be a surprisingly perfect medium. While lugging around canvas, easels, paints and brushes is cumbersome and inconvenient, cigarette papers can fit in a back pocket, ready to whip out and use to create an impromptu snapshot of life whenever inspiration strikes, which for Maugenest can be any time at all.
For example, when a friend gave her a piece of silk at a wedding party.
The desire to create something on this fabric hit, but silk is not your typical medium. After experimenting with different paints, silks and locations (at one point painting with the fabric laid directly on the beach), a method for painting on the fabric eventually began to emerge.
“It took a long time to figure out how to paint this way,” Maugenest said, “and even longer to figure out how to display them.”
She reached the point in which she would lay a long piece of silk on the floor of her loft in Brooklyn, apply the dye to the silk and let the wet fabric lay outside under the moon and stars to let the dye set and cure.
“I think there is a blessing there, under the night sky,” Maugenest said.
Finally, the piece would be thoroughly washed and ironed, and the work would be complete. However, this is obviously not a science, and to this day, Maugenest never knows how the work will turn out. But therein lies the beauty of the whole process.
“The rewarding part is when you finally iron the piece and you see what you get,” Maugenest said. “Because there’s nothing better to me than a good surprise.”
The works in the “Painted Light” series have a living quality about them in the way they are constantly reacting to the world around them and producing ever-surprising results. Being translucent, light plays an enormous role, shining through each piece differently, lightening and darkening the hues of the dye. Furthermore, each piece is hung from suspended wires, allowing them to interact with the very space around them every time someone walks past or a breeze whips up. They can even be moved along the wires, overlapping each other and producing a new, unique experience upon every viewing.
Then, at the end of the exhibit, the silk can be easily packed away and brought to the next location, unlike bulky canvas still lifes.
“I can put all my silk paintings in a box, and that’s a wonderful thing,” Maugenest said.
All of these nuances culminate in an incredibly expressive exhibit that has much more to say than is suggested at face value. It is a breathtaking statement about what art is, how even things we do not expect to produce inevitably take on a life of their own and interact with the world around them, how they breathe with autonomy. They celebrate spontaneity and taking the initiative to follow every instinct and creative inspiration that hits you. Because once an idea enters your head, it takes on a life of its own, and by making that idea a reality, you are giving it the chance to affect others, to inspire them in turn. It makes marks, and that is art.