Christina McPhee: How Ojai Inspires Me As An Artist

The audience members of the Ojai Music Festival are as eclectic, imaginative and passionate as the music performed and the artists who are engaged in the creative process. Once such patron is Christina McPhee, visual artist from the Central Coast, who shared her work with us inspired by the 2014 Festival. 

Naphthol Red - Tree of Fire
Christina McPhee, Naphthol Red – Tree of Fire, 2014, 65 x 39 x 2.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist

The Muslin-Drum // Ligeti Iterations :
As a child, I found sanctuary in piano practice. Each evening the required hour came with the delight of the fall of the keys, the fascination of synaesthesia’s colors with chromatic chords, and escape from external pressures. For no audience but my own brain, my ears connected with digits, and with structures of flight. Later I sought to materialize this experience in painting.

With my partner I built canvasses in translucent muslin, coated in clear, slightly crystalline rabbit skin glue, with taut surface like a drum. From the first the support and surface conditions set up a performance situation around color-shapes, linear thresholds and tensions of the stretched canvas. Interacting with these constraints set me into a graphic predictive process, to ramify lines from sound. The delicate surfaces pinged as the graphite slides across the rabbit skin. Dyes threw across the slightly glittering crystals of rabbit-skin embedded in the glue ground. The soft swish of liner brush extended murmur and glissando. Tcherepnin, Varese, Cage and Harrison crossed through this matrix. None stayed as long as Ligeti. Hundreds of repeats, listening to the cd of György Ligeti’s Piano Etudes, Books 1 and 2, as performed by Jeremy Denk in a Nonesuch recording of 2012, cast the studies into iterative material abstractions. Then I heard Denk play them live in concert at the Ojai Music Festival, in June 2014. An indelible impression, almost, a neurologic imprint…Elements of surprise, hurling passages, glissandos, rushes and stillnesses, darknesses leaching into light, shapes tumbling and subsisting in secret rhythms— these formal and performance incidents translate a code for a kinetic action through the instrument of the body onto the radiant surface.

Transliteration of painting about painting via the percussive: as the piano resonates sound by the striking of keys, so may these paintings record and store the memory of the percussive touch.

Painting as percussion…Skin-like layers articulate thresholds of shape via drawing in oil pigment, stand oil, linseed oil, spray enamel, dye and ink. The object as it’s made is in the process of depleting layers. As a conveyance for shards, or flaying skin, the surface is scar tissue. Occlusions, jams and glitch make up the scars. Scar edges refer lines, as thresholds. Shapes tumble and transgress boundaries of mapping functions. Elements refine to illuminated clarity at minute points. Ricochets touch on translucent ground. The ground remains exposed in fragments. The paintings start as oil sketch on a shop table, and finish, with glaze, on studio walls. Sometimes the work names itself early, in the first graphites; sometime late, up against the wall.

The devices of title play for and against the abstract=/-material. Drawing’s relative dialects with scoring—-allusions to landscape or possible elementals—-surrealist presences litter the paths. Ligeti’s titles refer to the sorcerer’s apprentice, the rainbow, or autumn in Warsaw. I have stolen a few. Associative logics let fly. Structural cuts ramify scores. Is performance for terrain, is the terrain for the performance? Lines of flight…

Learn more about Christine and her work >>