Meg Forsyth’s education and experience is rooted firmly in design, where experience with arts institutions solidified an interest in visual art and has shifted her practice to paintings more recently. They’re stunning, bright and joyful, and I’m happy to share some insights from the artist on the influence of technology, history, and society in this work. Much more at the links afterward!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York for my undergraduate studies in Graphic Design. I lived in Brooklyn for about 9 years, 4 of which I spent working as a designer for the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was an amazing institution and I had incredible opportunities to work with great artists, curators, and designers. I left to pursue my Master’s degree at Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, The Netherlands. During my studies, I realized that I wanted to shift my practice from design to visual arts. After graduation, I spent a little over a year back in New York as the Design Director for the new multi-arts organization, The Shed, helping them to establish a visual identity for their program slated to open in 2019. In March of 2018, I returned to the Netherlands to marry my Dutch wife and continue with my artistic practice here in Holland.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I can’t remember a time in my life when I first discovered art, because it has always been there. I come from a family of artists and designers. My grandfather had a parallel practice to mine in which he worked for several years as a designer in NYC, ultimately shifting to painting in the end. I think I always knew I wanted to create my own art. It was only after my time in graduate school that I realized I needed to plunge into it full force.
What do you like most about working where you do?
The Netherlands is a great place to be an artist because art is so deeply embedded in the culture. The Dutch respect artists as makers and contributors to innovation in their society. The cost of renting studio space is far more reasonable than what you find in NYC, and in general it seems that cities are happy to have artists around.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I am deeply fascinated by the technologies of ancient history, how some societies had access to knowledge that seems much more advanced than that in which we live with today. Evidence of these beliefs is told and retold throughout world mythology and religion. More specifically, I have been interested in grafting meshes and other surgical procedures used in modern medicine—especially how those practices were dealt with historically and if there was any validity to ancient experimental practices. We might think of procedures like rhinoplasty as modern cosmetic enhancements, but in fact rhinoplasty was developed in ancient India around 800 BC for the purpose of reconstructing amputated noses due to religious or criminal punishments. And, the idea of grafting didn’t begin with the human body, but with plants to produce stronger fruiting trees. These ideas have deeper connections to ethnobotany, a study that is being reintroduced to modern medicine.
What is your process like?
I’m dedicated to drawing and make lots of automatic drawings. I do this in order to generate forms, which I see as a synthesis of my unconscious knowledge being brought to the surface. From a series of automatic drawings, I select a few that I consider particularly successful in composition and form, or they lead me to deeper contemplation and curiosity. Then I begin to introduce color either digitally in Photoshop, or with marker, pastel, oil sticks, or whatever I have lying around. This is a moment of astriction because I am never entirely sure where the drawing is headed and also understand that it will change again once I start working on canvas. Once on canvas, I become a bit more methodical. I use a projector or a scaled up drawing to get down the general placement of the original drawing. From there I start working with paint and have a general sense of color and density while freeing up my movements to reconnect with the automatic nature in the original drawing.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I recently completed a series of paintings on vitrification. Vitrification is a method of cryopreservation and is often used to refer to the processes used for extending female fertility–egg freezing. One of the most important scientists to contribute to the understanding of cryopreservation was James Lovelock, better known for the Gaia Hypothesis. In Gaia Hypothesis, Lovelock proposed that a synergistic and self-regulating system exists between living organisms and their inorganic surroundings that perpetuate the conditions for life on earth. According to this theory, Earth (Gaia) is in trouble due to the contamination of the planet by humans manufactured wastes, perhaps, mainly to do with over-population. Ironically, Lovelock’s contributions to cryopreservation are being used in attempt to allow humans to extend their fertility.
Vitrification can be used to preserve cells beyond the human zygote, giving us hope in avoiding the doomsday vision of the future. Scientists are exploring how similar processes of preservation can be applied to plants, fungi, and other important contributors to Earth’s biodiversity. Perhaps, with cryopreservation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, we can preserve the genes of the human race and the agriculture we need for survival. I’m an optimist.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
I recently had a strange conversation with a historian about the possibility that aliens played a role in the construction of the Great Pyramids.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I was fortunate enough to work with a designer I’ve always admired–he’s a bit of a superstar. I always saw him as more of an artist than a designer, but society doesn’t see him that way and that was proven even under the context in which I knew him. When I told him my plans to leave my position as a designer to commit myself full-time as an artist, he asserted that in order to be welcomed in the art world, don’t dabble in design anymore. Just go make art, or else you will end up like me, 40 years trying to work as an artist and still unable to get rid of the role as a designer.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Live your truth.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
I am trying to find my tribe.
What is your studio like?
In transition. I’m moving my studio a little closer to home in about a week. The new studio is in an old Dutch school house with super high ceilings and lots of light. I have a serious addiction to collecting plants, so I’m sure I will be acquiring some newcomers in the new space.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I love podcasts! I listen to podcasts ALL DAY LONG, mostly from NPR. Hidden Brain and RadioLab are my absolute favorites. (I think I hear NPR ringing my doorbell for some donation money). Well, their programming is absolutely the best and they have excellent spin-offs now like More Perfect which discusses the history of the Supreme Court. Fascinating stuff. When I need get more energized, I rely on another New York podcast I have been following for over a decade called Beats In Space from Tim Sweeney at WNYU. It’s great dance music and it totally touches my soul.
I keep a log of my time in the studio. I treat it almost like a punch card. There is something about it that helps me get into the mindset that I am at work now and I am not going to get sucked into mind melting activities. I work in my studio 40–50 hours a week.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
My MFA was everything for me. It woke me up and shifted my ideas about what I was doing with my life. I got my MFA a bit later than I think most do and I am happy about that. I had plenty of professional experience under my belt before I went back to school. It makes you appreciate the time you have while you are studying to really immerse yourself in what you want out of it. I also studied in Europe which is not only much better for your wallet, but it exposes you to a different type of education system. My feeling about advanced degrees is they are great so long as they aren’t going to get you into deep financial debt, you don’t jump straight into them from a Bachelor’s degree, and you are prepared to design your own plans with how you will spend your time.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I think being vulnerable is a requirement, but totally difficult. You have to apply for opportunities to get noticed, to get galleries to pay attention to you, to get collectors to buy, and you have to keep trying to push yourself to improve. It’s also a strange thing to have to market yourself. All of it requires a relentless force of self-acceptance and vulnerability. It’s a matter of turning vulnerability into opportunity to learn, and to examine where the work is at the moment and where it will go in the future.
How would you define “success” in art?
I can only define it for myself. When I left my design post at the Whitney, I remember thinking that I want to return one day—when I return, I want it to be as an exhibited artist. There are other ways I would define success, but that is definitely a big marker on my goals list.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I am just getting started!
What are you working on right now?
Packing my studio, writing about my work, and considering what my next painting series will be