ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Former Dallasite unveils a celestial new body of work at Galleri Urbane
In the hands of Samantha McCurdy, color and shape are nothing less than out of this world. Having established her practice by developing a series of signature shaped paintings crafted from spandex, concealed objects, and paint, the artist loves to push the limits of what her chosen medium can do.
Returning for her second solo exhibition at Galleri Urbane, McCurdy expands on the unknown she so loves to explore. Where 2018’s Personal Boundaries was all about the human body, Sun Systems interprets all the planets in the solar system (yes, even Pluto), as well as the sun, moons, dwarf planets, and (McCurdy’s faves) black holes.
A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, McCurdy settled in Dallas just after college, turning her live/work space in Fair Park into the That That gallery. Since relocating to Los Angeles three years ago, she’s reinvented That That for a West Coast audience, but her ties to our city run deep, as was evident from the throng of friends and well-wishers who turned up to the recent opening to congratulate her.
We chatted for a moment about art, the universe, and how Pluto has really been disrespected…
For people who haven’t read about your work before, how did you come up with your “snug” concept?
I used to be an oil painter, and I had all these paintings on canvas. My mom would lean them against tables and chairs, and poke a “nipple” through the back, which renders a piece ruined. I was interested in that, like how can I take a piece that’s ruined and make it positive?
So, I started intentionally poking things through my work around 2011. I started with canvas, then stretchier fabrics, then denim… Eventually I thought, what is the stretchiest material I can use to get the most dramatic protrusions? Spandex. I kept going further and further exploring different spaces. I fell in love with circles—for me, it’s all about shape and color. I love minimal work. I think it’s really hard to have self-control and to achieve a powerful work using the least amount of moves possible. It’s important to me to achieve a really simple, sublime shape.
What was your inspiration for this exhibition?
Last year I did a show called Personal Boundaries, which was about the body and the way clothing or a bedsheet can be a boundary between what’s going on inside and outside. That’s my work on a micro-level. This is my work on a macro level—it’s about outer space and the boundary to outer space. The atmosphere functions like a bedsheet separating us from the unknown, so it’s a larger exploration of physical limitation.
The question I get all the time with my work is: “What’s in there, what’s making that shape?” I’m like, I don’t know you’ve got to buy it first. It’s the same thing for outer space. You don’t know the physical makeup of planets or what’s generating the space. There’s a lot of mystery.
How many pieces did you end up creating for the show.
There are 27 pieces in total, but some are multi-panel. Like, Jupiter is five pieces. It’s the sun and all the planets, and Pluto is a planet. Basically, they just discovered three other dwarf planets, and rather than adding them to the curriculum, they took Pluto out so they didn’t have to fucking deal with it. I made my Pluto, and the three dwarf planets are little tiny snugs (McCurdy’s name for her shaped canvases).
Color is a big thing for you, and your last show was all pinks and reds. What influenced your palette this time?
The colors were the hardest part for me; I’m such a color person. For the last show, I had a very specific color palette that was really citrus, but this time I researched each planet and wrote a list of words for the mood of it and tried to assign a color to each mood. I wanted to have all of them fit together cohesively in a collection. I didn’t want them to be random, ‘cause it would be crazy. They had to be strong individually and as a whole.
I started with my base color, red. I used it as an ode to my last show. I always try to repeat one or two colors, so there’s a common thread. Then I needed a real bitching yellow for the sun, as it’s the biggest piece in the show (as it is in the solar system). I did a really good blue, then I did secondary and tertiary palettes where all my greens and oranges come in.
I did a series of black holes as well, but I didn’t use all black as there are so many colors in pictures of black holes, and black is every color. They’re inverted instead of protruding out. There’s a huge one that’s sick; it’s my favorite piece.
When you’re working on a show of this depth, how long does it take you?
For this, six months, but it’s hard to say because I work on a lot of pieces at once. It’s important as a minimalist artist to not overwork each individual piece, so I’m constantly oscillating between five or six at a time.
We miss your gallery space That That! How is it evolving in Los Angeles?
I took a little break from having shows just because I needed time to work on this exhibit, but we’ll have more group shows in 2020. We’ve had solo artist shows, we’ve had group shows, film screenings… We had a zine fair that was a lot of fun. It’s a great way for me to get to know artists, and it’s helped to connect me to the whole art scene in L.A. Just like any city, no matter how vast, the art world is still relatively small.
Do you think you’ll ever move away from the snugs?
I think I’ll make this work forever! I do watercolors and oil painting portraits because that‘s fun for me, but I’ll probably never show it. But this type of work, I’m in love with it. There’s significant possibility because it deals with space. I get more complex internally in order to create these simple, beautiful shapes. I don’t see the light at the end of that tunnel. —Kendall Morgan
The Details: Galleri Urbane, 2277 Monitor Street. Sun Systems is on view through November 16.