Interview with Artist Carmen McNall
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Carmen McNall understood the power in creating and, "making something from nothing,"
early on. "This was something that fueled me and motivated me throughout my childhood, exploring the creative space and world that I made for myself."
Sanctuary #19, 30" x40", acrylic on hand carved wood panel, 2021.
Combining printing and painting with wood carving techniques, she composes visual iterations that are rich in color and carry within them a sense of mystery, or perhaps, it's mysticism. The hand touch is at the center of her creations. The subjects of her pieces include rock shapes, vases, plants and women, exquisitely crafted in their environments. Carmen's color palette ranges from bright yellows and pinks to dimmed reds and blues. She offers us a closer perspective to her subjects by zooming in on them and bringing the hands to the center, while the face is rarely seen.
Enfold in a Greater Space #1, 60” x 72” acrylic on hand carved wood panel, 2022.
"I was drawn to the process based work of printmaking and the community aspect of a printmaking studio, a shared space that many artists would come together to create in," says Carmen about her artistic journey. "I felt most connected to the woodblock printing process. It felt intuitive and I taught myself to hand carve, falling in love with this technique that I have now incorporated into my paintings, combining both printmaking and painting to create a unique textural aspect to the work."
In Good Hands #1, 60" x 60", acrylic on hand carved wood panel, 2021.
"Growing up I spent a lot of time immersed in nature, going on trips to the desert and mountains. I remember grinding colorful rocks I found and using the pigment to paint the landscape with. I spent a lot of time wondering off on my own, absorbed in the details surrounding me, inspired by the independence and solitude.
Vessels and Universes #1, 60" x 72", acrylic on hard carved wood panel, 2022.
"Being able to explore these landscapes alone at such a young age taught me to try hard things and to not limit my beliefs in my abilities and what’s possible; to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone. This allowed me to work large scale and push myself to try things I’ve never done before. When I hit a challenge and things get difficult, I always remember to trust the process and push through," says Carmen about her approach to art and some of the early influences that helped shape her outlook on life.
Vessels and Universes #2, 60" x 72", acrylic on hand carved wood panel, 2022.
"There are so many obstacles and challenges to overcome as an artist, no matter what kind of artist you are, you are putting yourself out there, your heart is exposed and it can feel lonely at times. I think one of the biggest challenges is seeing and knowing your value as an artist and not compromising your work for what is being asked of you by others. Staying true to yourself and your vision of your work and pushing aside that self doubt. "
Sanctuary #15, 30" x40", acrylic on hand carved wood panel, 2021.
"My work is very planned out because of the nature of wood carving, every mark is permanent and therefore must be intentional. A lot of the process is in the concept and vision for each piece. I spend quite a bit of time sketching the composition, the colors and pattern designs. I like to work on a body of work simultaneously, having multiple paintings in progress at once. This way I can step back and see the work all together, the way I feel it’s meant to be viewed."
In Good Hands #2, 60" x 60", acrylic on hand carved wood panel, 2021.
"Once the work gets to a certain stage it starts to communicate with me and we have an alternating dialogue where elements are changed and adjusted as it feels needed. This part is very intuitive and there is a flow to this stage of the process, which I didn’t always feel comfortable with and I am starting to understand and trust.
Once I finish painting, I carve into the pieces using woodcut gouges, creating texture within the patterns. This is a very raw part of the process, no mark you make can be undone so it’s about accepting each mark and the handmade quality it creates. This is what I love so much about the woodcut process. It’s very honest and reveals each moment in time that went into the making of the piece, learning to work with the wood and letting the grain of the wood determine the mark making."
Installation view from solo show, "Enfold in a Greater Space," 2022.
Carmen just completed a new body of work for her Solo Show, “Enfold in a Greater Space,” that was up in the month of August, 2022, at Glass Rice Gallery in San Francisco, a result of two months of intensive studio time with the artist immersing herself in large figurative works. She is now planning a new body of work that will be available at Uprise Art in New York City in November. "I’m really excited to share the new work soon, as I’m exploring some new ideas and bringing them to life," Carmen McNall. You can visit Carmen McNall's website here.
Interview by Manar Harb for Oakland Artists Gallery, Fall 2022.
Photos are courtesy of the artist.