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 burnout by traveling for a year in my car, landed after that 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 the Sheridan College illustration program in the early 1990s we were trained in all media like little art factories – don’t think, just DO. Two years of joy that felt for me 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 pop out of me like potatoes from a cannon.
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, all on canvas. My practice, to work in series from a central conceptual anchor is a way 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 (2019) expands my understanding and love for interactive community arts work. Could it be this desire for interaction and connection flows naturally from the long and largely unremarked practice of women painters who were not, after all, working for public recognition and glory, but for something more inter-relational? Just a theory. Interesting to see if it holds as I make my way through The Story of Art Without Men (Katy Hessel, 2022).
To balance the concrete and noise of the GTA I have a beautiful off-grid cabin at the shore of my beloved Georgian Bay – another little place that heals like a poem.
It is September 2022, and I’m at work on a December show at Hamilton’s Centre3. This is a joint show with the marvelous Eileen Earnshaw, who is at work expanding her professional theatre set and costume work into a gallery setting. My part of the show is focused on our collective human response to this upside-down, increasingly unsettled world now that we are released from the long months of isolation, and is called “After Lockdown”. I’ve been making pigments from trees and berries, and collecting responses to the question, What has changed for you, since Lockdown?. I’m getting everything from ‘I discovered I really dislike grocery stores’ to ‘I figured out I’m an extrovert, am doing stand up comedy now’, to ‘I started dating’, and more. Feel free to write to me with yours – I’d love to hear from you.
These responses will merge with three large paintings and two installations which will all go up at Centre3 on December 3 (Opening December 9 – DO COME!!).
Short Biography (190 words)
An artist whose practice is to make connective things from art, story, performance, improvised collaboration, McArthur’s work invites participants to stretch their awarenesses and engage in possibility. She plays with the traditional divisions between artist and audience, as in IN PLACE (2021) where the audience performed the forest sounds of tree frogs; ‘Artist’ for #Selfie (2014) – about creative blocks amd breakthrough that engages the audience in dance and Seven Swans (2019) – where the audience makes the sound of wingbeats through a performed story. Curious to explore the places where art, language, sound, social media and performance can meet, McArthur’s artistic practice holds space for co-creation in community and environment.
McArthur’s visual work is a response to lived experience – The internal, communal after-effects of isolation in “After Lockdown”(2022); an exploration of how we move through and in spaces in IN PLACE (2021); pandemic isolation in Conversation Pieces (2021), and a compassionate exploration of the ubiquitous Selfie phenomenon in #Selfie, (2014). Her deep love for the land, lake and trees around her Hamilton studio and her Georgian Bay Cabin are a constant source of fascination and joy. She writes regularly at keiramcarthur.ca.
firstname.lastname@example.org; @KeiraMcArthur; keiramcarthur.ca; insta: keiramcarthur