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September 15, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Jenny McGee puts an interesting twist on the term “going green.” Expressing her desire to protect the environment, McGee uses eco-friendly materials to create earth-toned mixed-media pieces that range from textural paintings to repurposed doors and windows, which serve as her canvases. Often depicting the intersection of industry and the natural world, McGee explores the environment not only in her subject matter but also through her materials.
“(Jenny’s work) is more about not doing damage than about a love of nature,” says Jennifer Perlow, owner and executive curator of Perlow-Stevens Gallery. “It is about not hurting the environment and not hurting herself.”
Although McGee, 33, enjoys different mediums, she uses natural materials in this area of her work. Having completed more than 100 eco-conscious pieces, she uses clay, mud, milk-based pigments and non-toxic lacquers for her paint and finish. Mixing the clay and mud with pigments, McGee illustrates natural scenes on sustainable forest wood frames and recovered windows and doors. She gets these architectural objects many ways. She finds them in the garbage, on the streets and sometimes from friends. McGee enjoys restoring the beauty of these objects.
“I like the concept of what used to be a window or what used to be a door can completely transform its function and serve as something aesthetically beautiful in somebody’s home,” McGee says.
Photograph by Dak Dillon
One example of McGee’s repurposed doors is the piece “Old Shelter, New Life II.” Inspired by herbs, this charming white door is about 100 years old. In each of its four panes, black silhouettes on earth-toned backgrounds represent herbs made of milk-based paint and clay. The names of the past and present owners of the door’s original home are discretely etched into a stream of consciousness poem in another pane. Like three of her other works, this piece was bought by Boone Hospital and will be hung in the new patient care tower.
McGee first exhibited her eco-artwork at the Perlow-Stevens Gallery in 2011. Other works can be found at City Hall and New York’s World Trade Art Gallery.
This artist’s passion for organic materials began when she lived in El Salvador for seven and a half years. The shock of seeing heavy deforestation and a disregard for the environment inspired her to be more resourceful with her art.
“(El Salvador) motivated me to become more conscious about resources and materials I use,” McGee says. “I am so encouraged to be in the presence of a piece of artwork when there was an effort behind that artwork to take care of our world.”
McGee was also inspired to continue using non-toxic materials after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. Working on this process for two years, McGee discovered the new life she gives her recyclable materials mirrored her own second chance in life as a cancer survivor. Her eco-artwork is a genuine reflection of not only her high regard for nature but also her admiration for the idea of transformation.
“Fine artists climb inside their subject matter,” says Bob Hodgson, Jenny’s father. “It is who they are, and they are who their subject matter is. That fusion takes place in Jenny’s work. What you see in the frame is also what you see in Jenny.”