Artist Spotlights Series:
Peggy Sue McRae

Welcome to the Artist Spotlights Series, a collection of interviews with local artists. I am pleased to introduce you to Peggy Sue McRae, an artist currently living and working on San Juan Island Washington. Read on to learn about Peggy Sue's thoughts on making artwork, creativity, and artists she admires. Thanks for visiting!

Please share a brief biography, including where you’re from and how you got started as an artist.

I grew up in Seattle but spent all of my summers on San Juan Island and have lived here most of my adult life. I graduated from High School in 1970 so, you know, I’m a citizen of Woodstock Nation. “We are stardust. We are golden. And we’ve got to get back to the garden.” I’m still trying to get back to the garden.

I liked to draw and paint as a kid. My Mom always encouraged me maybe in part because it was a good way to keep me busy and out of mischief.

Maui Valley, Peggy Sue McRae

Why do you do what you do?

My most recent paintings were done on a trip I took to Maui this winter. I like watercolor if I’m traveling because it’s easy to carry and you just add water. I did have some ideas. I thought I might do some paintings inspired by traditional Hawaiian fiber arts. But I was on vacation so I just let the palm trees seduce me. Their long graceful verticals before the ever-repeating horizontal lines of incoming surf just seemed to bring the universe into balance.

What jobs have you done, other than being an artist?

I was 15 when I got my first job waiting tables at the Friday Harbor Café. I was a waitress at The Wild Pig, The Chowder House, The Turnagain, The Springtree, and Café Harry. I also worked in the Salmon Cannery, the Convalescent Center, the Whale Museum and Garden House day-care. Off Island I worked in a candy factory bending candy canes and was part of the editorial collective at the Earth First! Journal. Now I’m working for The Whale Museum and I’m the Recording Secretary for Friday Harbor’s Historic Preservation Board.

What role, if any, does an artist play in society?

I’ll have Bertolt Brecht answer this one, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” All you have to do is look at the advertising industry to see the imagery we are getting hammered with all the time. Capitalists would not pay for it if it was not effective in shaping what we buy. Pop Art was a movement that responded to the imagery produced by Madison Avenue. On the other hand I remember reading about a judge who was presiding over war crimes trials in the world court in the Hagg. When asked how he could stand going over the horrific details of genocide day after day, he said that what kept him sane was after work he would go look at paintings by Vermeer. More recently Vice President Biden beat President Obama to the punch by publicly approving gay marriage. What Biden said was that the TV show Will and Grace changed society as much or more than anything. The arts are a reliable precursor to societal trends. I think it would be fair to say if you have no art you have no society.

Moon Mandala, Peggy Sue McRae

What do you like/dislike about the art world?

I hate all the phony, snooty, bullshit and don’t care much for art if shock value is all it has going for it. I also hate messy installations that just look like a big spaghetti fight.

What is “creativity”?

People can and do write whole books on creativity but briefly, I think it’s that spark when you get a brilliant idea. It may be something as simple as putting together a flyer for some event and you are wondering how to express visually what someone has given you a few words about. Then you see something, or remember something, and it gives you an idea. It may be combining diverse elements to come up with something new like when the Irish and the Africans in New York City came together and invented American Tap Dancing. Or it could be stripping away the frills to find the essence of something like a Brancusi egg.

Work in progress

What motivates you to begin a new project, and what keeps you going?

Uninterrupted time and a brilliant idea.

How do you describe your style?

Calm and geometric. Color.

How much time do you spend doing your work every week?

I can’t paint now. I don’t have much time and its too frustrating to start something if I can’t stay with it. It will be great though to start again. When I have not painted for a while it’s always exciting to find myself as an artist again. I’ve been taking care of my Mom and I’ve been doing things like photographing her hands possibly for future inspiration... so I might not be doing it but I’m always thinking about it.

I wrote that a while ago. Since then I did paint my Mother’s Hands.

Mom Hands, Peggy Sue McRae

Has your work changed over time? How?

When I was in grade school I liked drawing trees with lots of branches and lots and lots of leaves. I still get mesmerized by details. Sometimes I see common themes in my work (like triangles) even in very different subject matter or material. I also like soft geometric shapes and now I’m more likely to try to fight the urge to fill space with detail.

What artist(s) would you most like to be compared to?

Morris Graves, Kazamir Malevitch, the fresco painters of the ancient Agean, Medieval manuscript illuminatosr, and Russian constructivists.

If there was no chance of ever being paid, would you still do your work?

What? You mean people get paid? (yes)

Bird sketch, Florence "Flossie" McRae

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Opinionated hippy recluse

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Living a contemplative creative life in a yurt out in the woods. (I hope and pray...)

Any advice for aspiring artists?

Study the art you really love.

Maui Palms, Peggy Sue McRae

This interview with Peggy Sue McRae for the Artist Spotlights Series was completed in October, 2012. For more information about Peggy Sue and her work, please visit her blog, Blackfish Art.

Read more Artist Spotlights! Check out Robin Atkins, Patti Barker, Yvonne Buijs-Mancuso, Cinda Sue Dow, Beth Hetrick, Jan Murphy, Kevin Roth, Tom Small, Lewis Spaulding, Nancy Spaulding, Margaret ThorsonVirginia Van Camp, or Paula West.

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