Phoenix Artist Constance McBride on How Aging and Her Mother's Alzheimer's Influence Her Work

What happens in the studio shouldn’t always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Phoenix artist Constance McBride.

Constance McBride is an artist who's most well-known through the clay world and her membership at Roosevelt Row gallery and collective Eye Lounge, where she currently serves as co-president. Her first solo exhibition, “Timescapes,” took place there last year. Now, McBride is working towards her second solo exhibition with Eye Lounge set for October. We sat down and chatted in her Phoenix home studio and discussed her work.

McBride started off in art school, but ended up with a business degree. While working in her field, she took art classes here and there and eventually, after living in Phoenix for several years, decided to leave her career to pursue art. She recalls looking out the window of her desert home and wondering what was even out there in terms of art. She searched online and found the Arizona Clay Association and contacted Mishy Katz about taking some classes. It turned out that Katz was actually McBride’s neighbor.

From there, McBride took as many classes as she could in ceramics and sculpture at Paradise Valley Community College and honed her skills before joining Eye Lounge. Much of her work up to this point has a lot to do with the body and aging. In 2012, she started a body of work specifically about her late mother, who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. For McBride, the work was as much about her personal experience with this as it was about the issue of aging and death on a cultural level.

It’s a disease that doesn’t get as much attention and is sometimes dismissed as simply a part of growing old. McBride thinks that this and other aspects of aging need to be looked at more seriously. “If you have your mind, you can communicate somehow, and [with] this you can’t communicate,” McBride says. In a culture that treasures youth, how do you begin to deal with aging? This complicated question is what lies at the core of McBride’s work.

For her upcoming exhibition at Eye Lounge, which will take place during the International Sculpture Conference, McBride is venturing away from her typical pastel palette and beginning to fragment and stack parts of the body. The new works will be coated in powdered graphite, simulating an industrial sheen similar to metal. This hardened look clashes with the soft aspects of clay in her aging forms. “I want it to go wherever it’s gonna go, but I don’t wanna be pushed into something that I’m not good at or not representing well,” McBride says. Her experimentation is taking her in a new direction, but she’s going to stick with what feels authentic to her as an artist. 

Tell us about your work in haiku format.
lost time
just move on death
we are all fugitives art of losing self

What artist(s) are you really into right now?
Christina Cordova, Bailey Doogan, Arthur Gonzalez, Takahiro Kondo, Ron Mueck, Jenny Saville, Joan Semmel, and Tip Toland.

What are you reading?
The Art of Not Sitting Pretty; a biography of Alice Neel by Phoebe Hoban, The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, and Chase Us: Stories by Sean Ennis.

What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched?
I just watched the Nurse Jackie series finale on Showtime, and I watch Charlie Rose’s talk show on PBS at least a few days each week. I watch some junk TV too, need an escape sometimes. I just watched several films on a plane back from Europe but the two I remember are Big Eyes and Still Alice. I have a video clip from the documentary Pina (on the dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch) by Wim Wenders on my phone; I’ve watched it many times. The energy she exuded from her dancers is fantastically captured by the director. I will watch anything by Wim Wenders, he’s been a longtime favorite director of mine.

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I don’t know, this is a tough one; I would jump at a chance to collaborate with many of the artists I am into right now but if I actually had the opportunity, I think it would have to be Ron Mueck or Tip Toland, in order to attempt a really large scale piece with someone who has a lot of experience with making it happen.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
Outside of the current eye lounge exhibitions, I saw was an exhibition of Antonella da Messina’s work, including his painting The Annunciation, at the Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo, in Ortigia, Sicily. The gallery had many works of unknown Sicilian artists on display too; a lot of the religious scenes were presented and typically, the more I saw of them, the less interesting they became. But one really stood out; it was a small 3D piece of a corpse hanging suspended over a pile of skulls and bones set in an open wooden box. It was one that could easily be missed; it was in a far back corner room on the second floor of the gallery. It was the most intriguing piece in the gallery to me but I guess the curator doesn’t agree. 

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic? and why?
Hands down Marina Abramovic; she is her work. I am not so thrilled about Koons.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Just don’t stop working; it’s got to be about the work.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on pieces for my second solo at eye lounge; opening on third Friday in October and for a one night only show that is scheduled at the Icehouse for first Friday in December. I just got word that I'll be participating in the 2016 ASU/CRC Self Guided Ceramic Studio Tour in February so I've started working on some pieces for that too. And, as co-president of eye lounge this year, there is always something to work on in relation to the collective.

What's your most valued tool as an artist?
Determination and focus to keep making my work regardless of what’s happening or trending in the art world at large.

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Mikey Estes
Contact: Mikey Estes