How Dallas Painter Aralyn McGregor Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Art

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"It's okay, I don't get art either," Aralyn McGregor claims when asked about her line of work.

After receiving her BFA in studio painting from UNT in 2009, McGregor worked for a while as a middle school and high school art teacher before "retir[ing] at the ripe old age of 25 to pursue painting full-time." One thing she found most humbling about her experiences teaching was a consistent refrain -- even her youngest students frequently doubted their understanding of art and their creative abilities.

"I find that most adults never outgrow this insecurity," she says, "'I don't get art,' or, 'I'm not good at art,' is the most common response I get when someone finds out I paint for a living."

McGregor began showing her work publicly while in college, and most recently her solo exhibition, Muse, opened at the Magnolia Theater Gallery in West Village. Based on McGregor's response to the poetry of Sylvia Plath -- which she quite humbly claims to "not understand" either -- the exhibition combines two distinct, but symbiotic, artistic media to expose and celebrate the act of interpretation -- not from the critical perspective of an arts scholar, but in a way suitable for anyone who finds herself in a moment of inexplicable artistic arrest.

McGregor says that reading poetry -- the "muse" that jump-starts the majority of her creativity -- is a method she uses to tap into an artistic mindset for painting, but she doesn't claim some gnostic understanding of the work that she found overwhelmingly intimidating as a student.

"I still probably miss the big, beautiful statement the poet was trying to make," she says, "but parts of the poem that makes sense to me lead to some pretty interesting paintings."

For Muse, McGregor excised sections of poems that directly inspired paintings and placed them in conversation with her work, creating a textual bridge between her own moment of inspiration and a viewer's reception of her work. Rather than posting Plath's poems in full, McGregor chose particular lines, forcing viewers to do a close-reading of small and palatable utterances.

This is rain now, this big hush. And this is the fruit of it: tin-white, like arsenic.

From Elm, 1962, by Sylvia Plath

But don't worry: There's no pop quiz awaiting on the other side of Muse. McGregor is, however, open to response and dialogue.

"I'm interesting in making artwork that encourages interpretation. I'm all for letting people know it's okay to not fully understand or like art at all, and you shouldn't be intimidated by it," she says. "If my work makes sense to someone in a way that's completely different from what I intended, I'd love to hear about it."

Because for McGregor's Muse, art is a collaborative experience between painter and poet, viewer and reader. And while McGregor is far too grounded to claim herself on par with a literary heavyweight such as Plath, the painter's work does validate the experience of art, for all of us -- legendary poet, emerging painter, aspiring creatives and even newcomers to the art world. An "artistic moment," whether literary, visual, musical or otherwise, is simply about being caught by something that rips a viewer, listener or reader from her routine, snapping her into the present. Those moments are life-affirming, and not the exclusive purview of artistic professionals.

I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets. Scorched to the root My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.

From Elm, 1962, by Sylvia Plath

"It's my goal to make art that offers a pause in the daily routine," McGregor says, and she specifically likes to produce work that encourages interaction. Her 2009 solo show, A Thousand Words or Less, allowed viewers to utilize magnetic strips -- think of the refrigerator poetry game -- to create ephemeral titles for her drawings. She sees this democratizing mode as a way of exposing people to new art forms and breaking down the emotional barriers we form as a way of apologizing for "not understanding art."

"The rise in amateur photography," she goes on, "including the overused Instagram, forces people to consider composition, style, purpose, story and other aspects of art making, [and as a result] I think people are becoming more familiar, and therefore more comfortable, with art, without intending to."

Aralyn McGregor's Muse is on exhibition at the Magnolia Theater Gallery through September 19. Visit magnoliagallerydallas.com for more details.

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