A brief preamble: after 35 years of study and work in art-making and presenting I believe we are finally at a turning point in our understanding of artists in the world. There is less Art-Speak and more direct engagement; less ego and more authenticity; less talk about genius and more about the honest work of showing up every day to craft something useful in the world – a story, a painting, a poem, a song, a performance. It’s less about competition between artists now than it is about sharing resources and supporting one another as we navigate the changing seas, together.
Art is less about the narrow pathways of the ‘industry’, and more about the billions of people who have no desire to learn art-speak, but love art, nonetheless. It’s in this spirit that I offer my story as an artist. (Bio for publications is at the bottom of the page, links to both Music and Art CVs below this title).
I was raised in a conservative but musical town of twenty-two thousand souls, from age seven until seventeen. At twelve I learned to paint watercolour landscapes at the Mary Schneider School of Art in Madoc with my Dad, and traded my little violin for a cello which I played at International Music Camp, and in the local community orchestra. At seventeen I was living in Toronto and enrolled at York University as a fine art Studio Major. I was also managing, writing music for and performing with an a cappella band that played throughout Southern Ontario and had a few stints in New York. After York U I worked in the advertising industry, the insurance industry and then the music touring industry – the latter a burn-out job with a little company whose owners had bad cocaine habits and went bankrupt several times over (oh, the ’80s).
I recovered from the burnout by traveling for a year in my car, finally landing in a little off-grid hut I built on my parent’s farm. Imagine a twenty-five acre field over which the sun rises in full splendour every morning and the stars shine down every night, lined with cherry trees whose blossoms carpet the ground every spring. It was in this poem of a place where I first felt the spinning of the earth in my belly, the orbit of the moon, and the orbit of our planet around the sun – a universal dance, soaring and spinning in my bones. What a generous, healing time, when I so needed healing. We played a lot of music in those years too, and laughed a lot.
At Sheridan College in the excellent illustration program in the early 1990s we were trained like little art factories – don’t think, just respond and DO, in all media. Two years of joy that felt like the title for Henry Miller’s 1968 book, Too Paint is to Love again. After I graduated, I had a dream of an egg timer ticking down from one minute, and a large voice that said: CHOOSE. I chose Georgian Bay and moved back to the Hut, where my beautiful daughter was conceived – and thus began twenty five years of single but joint custody motherhood in a small conservative town. I was thirty-two.
Through the first decade I produced an exhibition every two years or so – in cafes, theatre lobbies, libraries and any venue I could think of. Each one had live music and a talk, each one resulted in sales but of course not enough to bring my income anywhere near the poverty line. I worked in cafes, as a graphic designer, wrote articles, played classical music for weddings and events, taught cello and art and took on contract work for City Hall, with titles like “Cultural Capital Co-ordinator”, and “Festival of Northern Lights Co-ordinator”.
Exhausted by going it alone and yearning for secure and steady, I threw up my hands and got married in 2005. Not a good reason to marry, I must say, but marriage of any kind is lived experience, and I have no regrets; oftentimes getting lost is a good way to get found. We built a beautiful cordwood house over eight years, but I stopped making art as the softness between my partner and I dissolved into trauma. By the sixth year there was no joy left in me; I couldn’t find myself in any mirror and by 2013 I’d moved out and into my factory studio, where paintings began to burst out of me like once-stuck seeds blown out of a straw.
Hand Tools, #Selfie and The Bells that Still Can Ring all flowed from that point. In this work and the work from 1998 to 2005 I explored layers of colour, texture and form, symbols and images in larger and larger formats, after 2014 all on canvas. My practice is to work in series from a central conceptual anchor – perhaps to satisfy my love for research, but also to write about process in real-time as I work. I’ve used my blog posts like scratch pads for process and development this way since 2010. A Master of Arts in Community Music later and I have a beautiful off-grid cabin at the shore of my beloved Georgian Bay – another place that heals like a living poem.
In 2019, the first year of my self-directed residency in Hamilton I quite deliberately took my work into deep and thorough deconstruction, stretched myself into new media and emerged in 2021 year with a new series of pieces on paper that delight and surprise me (see Artist Talk for Conversation Pieces on this site). There’s new series of canvas paintings in progress in my studio that will explore my Scottish settler roots – through the trees, since celtic cultures were (are) forest cultures. On my studio tables there are new works on paper with ink I have made from the bark, heartwood and flowers of trees – these explore the idea of PLACE, in collaboration with the natural world that is my generous teacher at the cabin. This was a direction I began almost thirty years ago at my Hut beside the big morning field; it is deeply satisfying to come full circle and return here.
It is 2022, and we are collectively navigating a world permanently shifting after a Global Pandemic, and in the midst of further change brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Feels like dark times, and yet the light is brighter than I can ever remember. More than ever, Art must be for all of us. I have built this site to make it super easy for you to purchase a painted piece of this story – which is one version of all our stories – and hang it on your wall. That’s what I make this work for – it’s deepest function is to connect us and our personal stories into one: the challenge, joy and courage of our shared human experience.
Short Biography (212 words)
An artist who likes to make connective things out of art, story, performances, exhibitions, music, McArthur invites participants to stretch their understandings and engage. She loves to play with the traditional divisions between artist and audience, as in Bridges 1996 – a performance art piece that explores the artistic process with the audience; ‘Artist’ for #Selfie 2014 – about creative blocks amd breakthrough that engages the audience in dance; Seven Swans 2019 – the audience makes the sound of wingbeats, and her ongoing solstice production, Wassail!, a collaborative community mix-up of story, song and celebration. Curious to explore the places where art, language, sound, social media and performance can meet, McArthur’s studio practice aims to amplify an idea into a conversation, a new level of collective awareness
McArthur’s visual work explores and shares her own lived experience – music, sound and performance in Sea Hear (2001), house building in her Hand Tools series (2007 and ongoing); a compassionate exploration of the Selfie phenomenon in #Selfie, (2014), and pandemic isolation in Conversation Pieces, Comes in Waves (2021). In early 2019 she moved her life and work to Hamilton Ontario and invested herself in a three year, self-directed artist residency there, which is informed and grounded by explorations at her Georgian Bay cabin studio.