Introduce yourself and tell us where you are from.
My name is Madeline Jennings McMahan. I came to Mississippi from northeast Arkansas.
What attracted you to the graduate program at the Department of Art & Art History?
I knew that I wanted to go to school fairly close to home, so I had begun keeping up with nearby art departments on social media. And I actually saw a photography installation by Blythe Summers on Instagram, and it was a way of working and experimenting that I hadn’t really seen before. So I was attracted to the idea that this was a department where students were being challenged to think outside of the box and outside of the traditional presentations for a discipline.
What type of artwork do you create and can you explain your process?
In my current work, I am combining digital collage and digital-based prints with painting. I’ll gather all these photographs that I’ve taken and collage them together in Photoshop. Then I print them out on a large-format Epson printer. I seal the prints with acrylic, and then I add layers of oil paint on top. The final product will then sort of straddle the line between being a photograph or a digital print and being a painting. When I’m painting, I can match the colors in the print fairly accurately, so there will be areas that trick the eye a bit and make it more difficult to discern what’s been printed and what I’ve painted.
Could you tell us about your MFA Thesis?
My MFA Thesis takes those painted digital prints and uses them to explore the relationship between domesticity or family life and time. My son is two-and-a-half now, and I’m amazed by how fast it seems like that time has passed. He grows and changes so quickly. And then being busy, being in graduate school, accelerates those changes in a way. For this work, I used photographs that I’ve taken of my family, and they’ve all been collaged and blurred and abstracted as ways of referencing that super-rapid passage of time. The show title is Perennial; that comes from this association I have in my mind between perennial plants and mundane joy. Annual flowers bloom once and they only live for one growing season. I think of those as being more like milestone events. Perennial plants bloom more than once, but they have a shorter bloom time; for me, they’re more like the little ordinary or recurring moments in a life— mundane joys. Those are the moments that are easier to take for granted, because they’re less anticipated and because it’s easy to take for granted that I’ll load my son into the car seat again, I’ll make coffee again, we’ll be sitting around the apartment again.
Which artists do you look to for inspiration?
I spend a lot of time looking at Melissa Huang, Zoey Frank, Larry Madrigal, Beth Welch, Jenny Saville, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Corinne Wasmuht, Sakae Ozawa, and Tiffany Calvert.
Which professors inspired you the most during your time here as a student?
The three professors who definitely had the most impact on me were Lauren Cardenas, Joshua Brinlee, and Dr. Kris Belden-Adams. They’ve been incredible. I haven’t worked with Brooke White very much, but I’ve really been inspired by seeing her work and even seeing her students’ work. Dr. Bokyung Kim is also an excellent professor. I was able to take two of her classes, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
Do you have advice for incoming undergraduate/graduate students?
My advice for all students is to be an active part of your own education. If you want to learn a skill, pursue that skill. Utilize the resources that are available to you. And advocate for yourself. Ultimately, you’re here to get what you need for your future, so be vocal in that process. And then something practical that I wish I had been warned about as an incoming graduate student— just be aware when you’re searching for a place to rent, because there are companies and renters who kind of prey on students.
These past couple of years have been crazy. Did the pandemic affect your life as an artist or your artwork? If so, in what ways?
The pandemic made it a necessity for me to start thinking about how to make work from home and with a child in the house. I knew I would have to think about it eventually, but I never expected to have to be away from my studio while I was still in graduate school. Since that time back in 2020 when we had to be away from campus, I’ve started keeping projects going on the side that can be made from my kitchen at home. That’s been the biggest change.
Do you have any hobbies outside of the art department?
I like to cook, sew, and play video games.
What type of music do you listen to while you create art?
It depends on my mood. I like rock, I like R&B, and I like a lot of pop.
What’s your favorite thing to watch while being a couch potato?
My husband and I watch a lot of Japanese anime; we’ve been trying to finish Naruto Shippuden for a couple of months. And I have a toddler, so I do frequently watch Frozen and Encanto as well.
What’s your go-to restaurant in Oxford?
Can we find you on social media?
Yes, I am on Instagram: @mcmahart
“Perennial” will be on display in Gallery 130 from April 11–15, 2022.
Q&A Interview conducted by Frank Estrada. Photos provided by the artist.