Megan Chapman – This is our family tree made of charcoal dust

Megan Chapman has been carving a niche with her distinctive abstract art. We fired off some questions. She gave us some great answers.

An abstract painter for over the past twenty years, Megan’s work is an intuitive, visual diary of an interior language.

The foundation of her work is in the balancing of shape and line with colour, texture, and atmosphere.

She says she enjoys creating meditative places to get lost in, as well as dynamic spaces to explore relationships — such as how we dance between our inner and outer selves and each other.

She uses colour to explore our connection to the world as we navigate the push and pull of life.

We’ve known her for ages, online, and never actually met in real life. But we’ve always been keen on her art. We were grabbed earlier this year by her series of accidental portraits.

Megan has paintings in collections throughout the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

She was born and raised in Fayetteville Arkansas, earned a BFA with honours in painting from the University of Oregon, and currently, lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It felt like the time to have a word.

Accidental Portrait # 17

P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?

MC: I am in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m having my first cup of tea while sitting at my desk in front of the window, getting ready to answer these questions.

The sky is partly cloudy with good swathes of blue.

P3dro: What is your favourite view?

MC: I like so many views. I am pretty passionate about our fabulous earth in general.

I am known to jump up and down for rainbows, and can be heard saying, “Isn’t this beautiful?!” at every turn. I do love a particular disused railway path that goes under a bridge just down the road from my house.

My heart skips a beat as the sun comes in through the trees and down the path, the wind is punctuated with birdsong and the lovely bit of old architecture that is the bridge shines in the light. I always take a deep breath as the bridge comes into view.

P3dro: We know you as an abstract painter, what draws you to that style of imagery? Is there anything in particular you try to convey, or to say, with your images?

MC: I have been dedicated to the practice of abstract painting and drawing for well over 20 years. It feels like the most natural thing to do, to take the line for a walk – to express myself through shape, colour, layers – I like to create space and break the rules.

Abstraction is a language that I understand and can use to communicate with those that also speak the language but also those that don’t.

I have said before, give me a charcoal line and I will show you my heart’s story. Pair that line with paint and I will show you my life.

In my work I convey emotional states and my openness to the process through gesture and action. I create powerful places to get lost – I think many of us need a void where we can go and be. Perhaps now more than ever.

P3dro: You recently started to do a series called Accidental Portraits. Tell us a bit more about them and how they came about.

MC: I have been working on the Accidental Portraits off and on since 2017.

It’s a bit of a sad story. A dear friend and fellow artist, part of my chosen family, William Mayes Flanagan, died unexpectedly that year and I was heartbroken. I went to the studio to paint and process the loss and my abstract practice wasn’t working in the direct expressive way I was looking for.

I started drawing and painting a face, dripping paint, rubbed out eyes, very expressive. It was me but it wasn’t me, it was realistic but abstracted too. The quality of line and colours came from my abstract practice.

The direct feeling of pain and loss were more easily expressed in a face. As I moved through the process, I felt the release I needed and I also felt a freedom of breaking out of my usual way of working. I am not a portrait painter.

Even though I am trained in drawing almost as much as painting, my confidence comes into question when I draw. I exploited my perceived weakness. The faces almost became more human and raw due to the rudimentary handling. There was a freedom that I needed and enjoyed, so I called them Accidental Portraits.

The portraits took me by surprise and calling them “Accidental Portraits” was a way to say, this isn’t what I really do – you know, almost a disclaimer.

The thing is that when I shared them they really resonated with people in a way I wasn’t expecting. I have now completed sixteen of these portraits including several commissions. During the Covid lockdown I turned six of my Accidental Portraits into prints which are now available in my shop.

Gutless Sketch – Tell Me How You Really Feel

P3dro: Is there an image, or other piece of art, you wish you were the one who had created it? Which one?

MC: This is an interesting question, I have never been asked this before. I don’t usually think this way about art.

Perhaps, “Lavender Rust” by Franz Kline from 1957. That painting says a lot about everything I love about abstract painting, colour, and working on paper. I love the balance and the tension in the piece. This work is bold in its imperfection. Kline is not worried about painting on paper with oil paint, uneven edges, or how long the work is going to last. Those are our worries. He is getting the energy out and onto the page. It is pretty close to a perfect painting in my book.

P3dro: If you could go to a show (art, music, play or whatever) right now, anywhere in the world, which artist would you see? And in which venue?

I would go back in time and see a band at Studio 225 in my old hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I might be watching Fugazi, ass to elbow with all the sweaty folks from around town.

I would love to go back in time and see some of the bands I had the good fortune to see as a teenager. Music gave me such hope, strength and power, and it showed me a much bigger world than the one I was offered in my small town at the time.

From L7 to Black Flag, Camper Van Beethoven, Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, to a roadtrip to see Bad Brains at The OutHouse in Lawrence, Kansas or to Memphis to see Iggy Pop open for The Pretenders.

I feel so lucky to have had access to live music, there are too many bands to list. Their music said to me “We see you, we think like you too – fight the power, keep going – there is a place for you here.” Music is everything to me. I have had tickets for ages now to see Peter Hook and the Light play a celebration of Joy Division at The Barrowlands as it keeps being rescheduled due to Covid. I will keep my ticket and wait in hope…

The Anchor Holds

Who are your artistic influences?

I love the paintings from the Abstract Expressionist/New York School movement and feel a connection to that time in art history. Some of my favourite painters of the time were Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, and equally the women involved in the movement such as Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner.

Besides painters, I’m also very influenced by photographers. Francesca Woodman and Sally Mann inspire me as I love their sensibilities and the space they create. Music and the people who make it are a huge influence, because for me, without music my paintings would not exist.

Music is the key to a portal, a jumping off place to begin and end. Musicians inspire me most because they help me get the work done.

What’s for breakfast in your place? Who would you invite to share it with you?

MC: I eat leftovers from dinner the night before or porridge with peanut butter and golden syrup. Several cups of tea too.

Lately, I have been getting into vegan bacon. I would invite actor Francis McDormand over. I would love to listen to her talk as she seems quite down to earth as well as a rebel rouser. I think I could learn a lot from her.

False Dynasties

P3dro: Tell us something we don’t know.

MC: I love flowers. When I take a walk I say “Oh these are my favourites” to about almost every flower I see. There is only one flower I don’t like much – the Bird of Paradise. They are too angular and look like they might attack in the night.

P3dro: Which city do you recommend we visit – and why?

MC: I wish you could have visited my home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas when it was small, sweet, and dirty. I loved it so much. When I was a kid I would sing along with The Go’s Go’s “This town is our town, this town is so glamorous, bet you’d live here if you could and be one of us” and think of my town.

I love Edinburgh of course, the green spaces and the old buildings stacked and layered. The living history at every turn and the gorgeous old graveyards.

I love Glasgow too. The first time I visited, I felt like I knew the place. I saw things I thought I had seen before and felt like I could navigate the city quite well without any prior knowledge of the place. It was sunny that day and a beautifully decrepit shop was playing a blues record that mentioned Arkansas and I thought ooh – this is all meant to be.

I like visiting places that are falling down, places that are on the edge – where the windows are open, curtains blow in the wind, there is music on the air and I can sit right down on the pavements if the sun is out. Wherever that place is – we should all go spend time there but then leave it exactly as we found it.

P3dro: What’s your drink of choice?

I am quite happy with a cup of tea, especially after a long walk.

What’s next for Megan Chapman?

I will keep painting my abstract works as well as my Accidental Portraits as I explore new ideas for future series.

My goal is to maintain my studio practice come hell or highwater. I still have my work available in a few galleries. In England you can find my work at Irving Contemporary in Oxford and in Scotland you can find my work at Solo Gallery in Innerleithen in the Scottish borders. I also have some work available back home at the Fenix Gallery, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I also continue to sell my work directly from my website, various online shops, such as Ko-fi, and through social media.

I am excited to be part of a new collective of women artists based in Scotland. We are called the Abstractionistas and our goal is to advance abstraction throughout Scotland and beyond. We will have our first exhibition scheduled for July at St. Margaret’s House Gallery in Edinburgh, Covid permitting of course. Follow us on Instagram @abstractionistas to stay in the know

Do you have anything else to declare?

This is a delicate balance – this life and calling. I gingerly walk on a high, fine line. My patrons are the net below. My faith in the alchemy of art helps guide each step forward on the path. I am here for the craft, the mystery, the freedom (and the banter too). I am here because I know this is where I belong and it’s through painting that I find myself and my community. This is our high, fine line walking lineage. This is our family tree made of charcoal dust.

You can find my work and learn more about me at the following places:

2 thoughts on “Megan Chapman – This is our family tree made of charcoal dust

  1. Wonderful interview with an old friend of mine. Thanks so much. It was lovely to see her here.

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