There should be no quibbles over the definition of fact, but fabrication has more than one interpretive connotation. It can mean the assembly of materials such as cloth, wood, or metal into a totally new structure. It can also mean the invention or the utterance in words or objects into something calculated to deceive. That deception does not necessarily have to be malign; it can be puzzling or challenging. After all, fiction can be described as fabrication. Consider the implications of the phrase made from whole cloth. Originally, the term referred to a piece of fabric that was not yet cut and ran the full length of the loom. Tailors would claim to use whole cloth, but actually used previously cut pieces to make fabrics or garments. This was deception. But this meaning can be expanded to acknowledge the creation of something out of nothing by using the imagination. Heather McGill does indeed fabricate out of whole cloth – this is what makes her a true artist.
Heather McGill, whose works are on display in ALCOVES NO. 2 at the New Mexico Museum of Art until February 9th, 2020, is a master of reconciling such opposing concepts of: fact and fabrication, individual and mass produced craftwork, conventional female and male artistic expressions, history and modern technology. What is born in conflict evolves into unity of thought and presentation.
McGill's works appear to be seamless and smooth; the hand of the artist is not visible in brushstrokes or drips or blots of paint, but this technique is part of the fabrication. The hand of the artist actively guides the work. The trigger of the spray gun is always controlled for individual design. Mass or digital technology is neither heartless nor headless nor handless. She uses spray guns, lasers, digital files, but her work is far from automatic. Meticulous hierarchies are developed and followed. Scales are manipulated, patterns are varied, materials are selected and converted. Such materials can be commercially available fabrics, fiberglass, wood, lacquer, urethane, beads, Japanese paper, paint. Even though the sources are commonly and technologically available, the result is a unique aesthetic of design and construction. What impresses the viewer of McGill’s work is the actual hard physical work the artist must exert in order to incarnate her ideas.
McGill searches for images and lines which are unbroken, both sinuous and sensuous. She scans this inspiration into a digital file. She manipulates scale and orientation. She uses the computer files to punch holes in wood and then patiently hand sews beads through that machine made matrix. She acknowledges and emphasizes the grain of the wood with paint, stencils, and beads. McGill relishes her engagement with the physical world. Her mind and body are involved in the same process and she literally “steps off’’ into her own world of space and time. Again, there is the reconciliation with thought and practice, hand-made and automatic, historical and contemporary.
Her sources are surprisingly accessible – examine Untitled (secular) and Untitled (ecclesiastical) 2019. Here the inspirations are: Paint by Numbers kits, Save the Date, commercial lace, floral fabrics, and announcements for weddings or births. The appeal is to the traditional womanly homemaker’s eye, since it is women who are targeted to frequent fabric stores in order to shop for female or domestic adornment. McGill’s process is to take the image of the kitten, scan it into a digital file, enlarge the size, position it on a digitally printed replica of an open-work, net-like, flowery fabric, spray paint the replica, insert the machine-generated hole matrix onto the wooden backing, then hand bead the pieces together.
She reinterprets the gender ranges of traditional work, the hand-made crafts of women – sewing, quilting, dressmaking – and the commonly assigned male construction skills of woodworking, industrial designing, spray painting. Such demarcations seem to become more fluid and eventually invalid in our growing age of automation and self-identification. The hand is not necessarily female; the arm is not necessarily male. Good art, like equitable societies, is gender-free. History is a guide, not a dictator. The artist and the viewer, or participant decide what is successful art, whether it achieves its purpose aesthetically and philosophically.
Experience the balance in the works of Heather McGill who successfully creates harmony out of discordancy. She is not only a fine artist, but a resolver of conflict. She is literally designing beauty out of the whole cloth of her vision.
Written by Sharon McCawley, Curatorial Docent at the New Mexico Museum of Art