Bright Primary Brady
Words by Edgar Allen Beem
Painter Meghan Brady goes BIG.
There has been a lot of buzz recently about painter Meghan Brady, so not long ago I drove up to Rockland to visit her in her studio to see what all the talk was about.
In 2015, Brady was featured in the Portland Museum of Art Biennial. In 2016, she and husband Gideon Bok had a very well-received exhibition at the Perimeter Gallery in Belfast, and she curated the inaugural group show at Able Baker Contemporary in Portland. Then, in 2017, Brady had a two-artist show with Andrea Sulzer at Icon Contemporary Art in Brunswick and was one of the first artists in residence at the new Ellis-Beauregard Foundation in Rockland. It was her residency that generated much of the buzz.
I kept hearing from other artists that Meghan Brady’s work had really taken off as a result of being afforded the time and space to work on a larger scale. Brady was so enthusiastic, in fact, about having an entire classroom to work in after having painted in her garage for several years that she has been renting a studio in the Lincoln Street Center since her residency.
When I walked into Brady’s studio, I immediately saw a dance of bright primary colors and bold geometric forms taking place on the floor and on the walls, a kind of visual pas de deux between abstraction and representation. The imagery, when it coalesced as such, had a human dimension but more vessel than visceral.
“How can I make something that refers to the human form while also keeping the narrative open to something grander?” she asked herself, telling me, “I want to make something heroic that is also humbly constructed.”
Indeed, there is something free and childlike about Brady’s big, colorful paintings. The ambition is a function of size, not tabletop but wall size, floor size. BIG. The humility is expressed in the elementary palette, unstretched canvases, and sheets of cut paper on which her works are painted. These loose, wild, friendly paintings are not afraid to be playful.
Brady’s new paintings will be featured at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor (January 11 to May 4, 2019) as one of three concurrent solo exhibitions, the other two featuring Brunswick artist Richard Keen and Boston artist Zach Horn.
Brady, 43, is the mother of two little girls, Helen and Ada. She and Gideon Bok, also a painter, live in Camden, where Bok helps run his family’s farm and Brady commutes to her studio in Rockland. Last winter, the entire Brady-Bok family took part in Circle Time: Children and Their Artists, an exhibition of work by artists and their children at Able Baker Contemporary.
Brady did not grow up in an artistic family, but because she had an aunt who was an art historian, she thought she might major in art history when she left home in Connecticut to do her undergraduate work at Smith College. One painting class changed her plans. “Painting is an unsolvable mystery,” Brady says of her affinity for making art. “There’s no end. It’s not like finding something that makes sense. There is no solution to the puzzle.”
After graduating Smith in 1998, Brady went to Boston University, where she earned her MFA in 2002 under John Walker, the great English painter who now lives most of the year in Maine. “John has a way of believing in you and making you work really hard,” Brady says. “My brain on its own can’t figure out the painting, but John used to say, ‘You’re so much smarter with a paintbrush in your hand than without one.’ I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-messy person.”
Brady and Bok were living in Brooklyn in 2005 when Brady was offered a one-year sabbatical replacement position at Bowdoin College. Her Bowdoin stay stretched into three years, after which the couple settled back in Camden where Bok grew up. “There’s a healthy art community here in Maine,” Brady observes. “If we’re not happy with what’s happening, we make something else happen. There’s been an expansion of the table, so a lot of people can be at the table. There’s a sense of freedom and space in Maine. Maybe it’s the ocean.”
Brady also values the work ethic and supportive nature of the Maine art community. “You can be anonymous here,” she says. “You don’t have to keep up with anyone. Everyone around here is so hardworking. No one has just one job.”
The artists Brady feels close to in Maine include her husband, Elizabeth Atterbury, Karen Gelardi, Anna Hepler, Cassie Jones, Kayla Mohammadi, Mark Wethli, and John Walker. She is also a great admirer of painter Katherine Bradford. She says Bradford’s recent large figure paintings, which she saw at Canada, a gallery in New York last fall, inspired her with the way Bradford seemed to have discovered a magical frequency where images work naturally at scale.
“I think what I’m after is to make something that is mysterious and out of my comfort zone,” says Brady of her own quest as an artist. “I’m after something generous that on some level is familiar. I love the power of painting to take me someplace I wasn’t expecting.”