A Marker of Interesting Thinking - 10 Questions with Mixed-Media Visual Artist and Folio Weekly Arts and Entertainment Editor Madeleine Peck Wagner
Madeliene Peck Wagner is a mixed-media visual artist. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts) and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Savannah College of Art and Design(SCAD)(Savannah, Georgia). Peck Wagner explores with both form and materials to create work that challenges societal norms surrounding human behavior. Her body of work examines concepts such as consumption as it relates to capitalism and imperfection as it relates to beauty.
Cathedral Arts Project is hosting an exhibition of Peck Wagner's work in the Heather Moore Community Gallery during the fourth quarter of 2017, with an opening reception scheduled to be held on September 20th. The exhibition, titled "The Labor of Learning," will feature new work by Peck Wagner, some of which the artist has dedicated the last three years to developing. In her latest series, Peck Wagner utilizes two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms to visualize an internal monologue pertaining to body composition and how our mental perceptions are sometimes exaggerated forms of reality. Her series illustrates that the concept of beauty is subjective to the beholder and that there is no textbook definition of allurement.
From 2010 through 2017, Peck Wagner participated in an artist in residence program at UF Health Jacksonville where she employed the arts through specialized workshops for psychiatric and long-term care units. Peck Wagner designed projects for dementia and trauma patients, as well as patients battling Parkinson's disease. These programs focused on the healing aspects of the arts and the ability of artistic practices to assist with pain management.
In addition to being a visual artist, Peck Wagner has made use of the written word to serve as a critical voice covering art and culture in Northeast Florida. She has written content for Folio Weekly, Arbus Magazine, EU Jacksonville, Jacksonville Magazine, and The Florida Times-Union. Peck Wagner has also written for regional and national blogs such as ARTnews and Art Papers. She now serves as the Arts and Entertainment Editor at Folio Weekly.
The arts are woven into the fabric of Peck Wagner's everyday life. She has long encouraged others to find a way to participate in the arts, whether it is creating art themselves or participating in critical discourse related to Jacksonville's arts and culture sector.
10 Questions with Madeleine Peck Wagner
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
When I start a new project, it is usually the result of ideas that have been simmering around the corners of my mind for a while. I’ll have some notes and preliminary research done about how I think I want to move forward and present the work, but inevitably that changes and evolves. For instance, I recently tried my hand at some collage work, only to realize that the collages are actually place/idea holders for some print works (Chine-collé technique) that I want to do, but I will first need to ask for help from a talented printmaking friend.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
I think that I have learned my whole self. So what does that mean? I have learned that confronting a painful truth is not as bad as it seemed. I have learned that the hand follows the eye. I have learned that research is rarely in vain. I have also learned that mistakes aren’t the end, and that absurdity is okay—often more valuable than seriousness.
How do you define success in what you do?
Because we live in a place that doesn’t have the kind of artistic infrastructure that most interests me (along with a market—but to be fair, most places don’t), I define success for myself in terms of making works that I am surprised by. For me, it is a marker of completing interesting thinking when folks I admire and respect give me opportunities or make introductions to people/artists who they respect. In fact, Sea Farm City, a gallery space in Los Angeles that has some of my work, is an opportunity that came about because of continuing, long-distance conversations with the owners, Katie and Matt Allison.
You have written about the arts in Jacksonville for more than 10 years. How would you summarize the current state of the arts in Jacksonville and how have you seen the arts and culture change or evolve during the last decade?
The thing that strikes me most now, is the decentralization of the scene. When I was younger, there were small experimental spaces and galleries, real DIY stuff. Now, I see more of a coffeehouse/food-space supported scene. While that’s not a bad thing, per se, I just wonder where all the weird places went. I understand the inherent fleeting nature of those spots, but I do miss them (with the notable exception of Long Road Projects, which is a current representation of such initiatives).
Right now, I’d say I worry most about a pervasive mindset that equates art with real estate development, and while yes, I understand the role of the arts in economic development, art—in any form—is so much more important and interesting than being used as a divining rod for condo builders.
What do you feel your obligation is to your audience as the Arts and Entertainment Editor for Folio Weekly? How does that compare and contrast to any obligation you may feel that you have to your audience as a visual artist?
I started writing about art because I wasn’t reading (locally) the kind of art-historically contextualized critiques that I was, and still am, deeply interested in. So now, as the A&E editor for Folio Weekly, I hope to bring a little of that sensibility, as well as a curious and hopeful mind, to bear on the articles that I write or assign. It would also be extraordinarily remiss of me to not say that FW has relationships with incredible writers like Dan Brown (my predecessor), Shelton Hull, and former Folio editor Matt Shaw. Thus, in terms of keeping up with interesting, relevant, and weird things to cover, I rely heavily on their good taste and inquisitiveness.
You also asked about how that might contrast with my obligations to my visual art audience. That’s a good question, I guess the best way to answer it is to say that I plan to treat myself like any other artist in terms of the magazine. But in terms of the work itself, I don’t think it will change too much of what I am personally interested in as that has remained stable for years.
You have dedicated several years to develop the concept and process behind "pillowform." How has transitioning from two-dimensional work to three-dimensional work influenced your thought process and creative practices?
The multi-year development of the pillowform idea was initially very frustrating to me, as I wanted to have the objects “in hand.” But since it was so drawn-out, I now recognize the role that time plays in editing and in being very deliberate with work while still allowing for chance and materiality to affect the outcome. And now, I am super into multiple editions of pieces. I’ve been working on making a smaller edition of the pillowforms. I have also been making tiny block prints of some of my forms.
Your previous series of mixed-media drawings examined animal forms and what it means to be a responsible steward and consumer of natural resources. Your current series examines human forms and challenges societal norms surrounding beauty, perfection, and seduction. How do you land on a theme or concept to explore through your work and what is it that you hope to achieve through using the arts to examine these topics?
I’ve always been drawn to and loved the natural world, especially animals, because I think they are extraordinary, fascinating, and beautiful. So making work centered around respect, compassion, and symbolism/myths came very naturally and is still a part of what I do. The pillowforms grew out of a conversation with a friend who suggested that I make art about the thing that hurts. One of the most challenging parts of my life has been my weight. Even when I was 127 pounds, I thought I was too fat. So... I looked there, and in so doing, to a certain extent released myself from that narrative, though I still imagine myself with great wobbly jowls.
Insofar as landing on themes and concepts, I make stuff that reflects my life, but sometimes it takes a while for me to get into a place where I can deal with what the work requires. For instance, I’ve had an idea for just about a year now, for several very large drawings (6'-8' wide). But, in addition to the need for me to get the depicted form right, I need to be emotionally strong enough to tackle the underlying theme of the work. So in a way, it is understanding oneself, to an extent.
In making work, I also think a lot about what Marina Abramovic said about good v. bad ideas: write each one down on a sheet of paper, go through them, throw the bad ones out; when you are through the pile, retrieve the ideas in the trash can; make those, and, I think about what will make me laugh.
What do you feel are the merits of art criticism and how do you think we as a community can promote and facilitate more critical discourse amongst artists and the arts community as a whole?
I think the most important thing that art criticism does is foster informed dialogue. I am forever encouraging folks to read, write, and do research. I think that when artists do this sort of foundational work, it gives them a better and more objective lens through which to look at and understand their own works as well as those of their peers. It takes conversations away from the general and moves into the specific, and it helps to aide in the evolution of ideas, and with that comes better, more interesting art.
You write about the arts, are an artist yourself, You are married to an artist, and many of your friends are artists and arts professionals. Do you ever feel like you have to take a step back and recharge from such a heightened level of involvement in the arts community? Additionally, do you try to set any balance related to your creation of vs. your consumption of the arts?
The short answer is yes, yes I do take time for myself, and I will from time to time step back—whether that is to the beach, or to more quiet making of my own. But the thing that I know to be true is how pervasive art is in my life, and how that means I live in a bit of a bubble. I don’t know what it is like to not be worrying about an idea, material, or presentation. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have an opinion on a show that I’d seen or on a lecture I’ve attended, and I am always surprised that the larger part of the population cares more about sports than about exhibits.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow the city's creative economy?
My first answer is always grants and funding. Because in too many tangible ways, the artists of our scene are expected to bear the brunt of costs associated with making and exhibiting art, while other entities benefit much more directly. I’d also like to see a greater focus on bringing in artists, gallerists, and curators from places like Miami and Atlanta which have their own vibrant scene but also intersect with NEFL in terms of culture, tradition, and history. And finally, more specifically dedicated spaces to showing art. These don’t need to be 5-day-a-week-galleries, but rather curated spaces with a distinct point-of-view.