Meet the Artist

Meghan Boody

By

Meghan Boody
Meghan Boody

Fascinated by the romantic and the eclectic, artist Meghan Boody constructs photographs from the perspective of a storyteller, exploring journeys of transformation and discovery. Pushing the boundaries of the "civilized mind” further in each of her works, she delves into fantasy by dramatizing natural elements in imagined scenarios, marked by vibrant colors and stark landscapes. Her surrealistic aesthetic extends beyond her work to encompass her surroundings, from her wonderland-like loft in Tribeca to her collection of Victorian-era artwork. Read on for insight into Boody's mystical world.

What made you want to become an artist?

As a child I often was left to my own devices and I made things constantly. I was able to shut the door to my room and delve into a world of fantasy. Making things was a way of bringing my fantasies into real life, and providing me with a ready portal back into my special places. I was obsessed with fairy tales and make-believe and I am still very interested in exploring notions of different levels of reality and the blurring of fantasy with our known world.

Your work has a strong sense of narrative. How much do you delve into the narrative before you begin a piece of work? Or do the artistic and narrative processes coincide?

These days I usually write out the story as a list of shots, imagining a sequence of key images that will drive the narrative. Then I’ll cast my characters, research locations, and hone in on costumes and props. Often what I unearth, be it a fabulous dress, unusual prop, or inspiring model, informs the twists and turns of the plot. And of course there’s the on-set energy and collaboration between myself and the models which affects everything.

Some of my stories/series spontaneously morph and lend themselves to a spontaneous create-as-you-go approach. The Lighthouse and How She Got There began with a very basic “lost girl finds a home” storyline. This then spawned subplots and different endings as my child heroine grew into a young woman and I realized what she was capable of during the five years I took to create it.

Psyche and Smut and Psyche and the Beast started out with a more complicated structure with a larger cast of characters and their own choreographed developments that play out in relation to each other, so I am more apt to stick to my script to maintain the symmetry and balance of my characters' behaviors. Otherwise they would crash into each other and it would make for narrative goobledygook.

Given your propensity toward creating a story, have you ever wanted to venture into a more narrative-driven art form such as film or writing?

I live and die for movies but up to now I have resisted working with the moving image. What I find most arresting about film is the immediate, almost out-of-body identification with the characters that is often triggered. The ultimate challenge for me is to achieve that kind of intense emotional connection between protagonist and viewer through the still image.

While your art has many fantastical elements to it, series such as Henry’s Wives clearly display historically influenced visuals and narratives. How do you relate fantasy and history?

I like to use historical fact as an armature on which to drape my fantasies. And I like orienting and grounding my viewers with a recognizable historic personage (or mythic character) before inviting them into my flight of fancy.

Is your aesthetic influenced by historical elements? For example, you frame some pieces in ovals, such as The feeding of her private fire, Ma Griffe, and Of her delights she unto him betrayed. Is this a nod to historical portraiture, or just a personal preference?

Oval or fan-shaped framing formats, classic poses in portraiture, archetypal symbols and creatures, these kind of art-historical references excite me. By incorporating such elements, I connect myself to another era, my way of meaningfully communicating with the past. I also mix in science fiction imagery and use current techniques like digital compositing. This merging of time zones reflects my interest in far out theories like the simultaneity of time and the possibility of time travel. And if someone comes across my work in 200 years, I would hate it if they said, “That’s so 2012!”

You have an amazing home, full of art and personality. What art do you collect?

I gravitate towards work that has a purpose beyond being wonderful to look at. Some of my favorites: 19th century thumbnail photographs of nude woman and children (used as guides by Victorian artists to render putti and madonnas), NASA reconnaissance photographs of the moon, and Best & Co. design sketches of little girls in smocked dresses. And I try to snag as much work as possible from my boyfriend, the sculptor Randy Polumbo, who makes hand-blown glass blossoms whose petals have a distinct resemblance to various lubricous objects one might use in the boudoir!

In your artist statement for the series Incident at the Reformatory you quote Georges Bataille: “Nothing is more closed to us than animal life from which we are descended.” How does this quote reflect your work, which explores otherworldly nature and life in juxtaposition to domestic humans? Where does your desire to understand the relationship between animals and humans stem from?

You’ve hit upon one of my favorite subjects! By definition, non-human animals are always completely themselves and that is something I admire and envy. Us humans have to spend our whole lives working at that. Turning our overly civilized mind off or at least turning it down enough to hear what our primal instincts are telling us—I find it very hard to calibrate the power struggle between these two opposing forces. This delicate procedure is the subject of just about every character-transforming quest you will find in myth and literature, and is the subject of my work! While the pathway towards the grail, nirvana or self knowledge (or whatever you want to call it) is barbed and pitted and full of deadly cavernous traps, I believe that linking up with our animal nature will provide the vital force necessary to survive the journey.

All my work is a love affair with and an ode to the Beauty and the Beast story. Each series looks at different strategies of aligning with one’s inner beast, giving me step-by-step instructions on how to approach this savage creature in my own challenging life! Fascinated by the processes of psychoanalysis and other healing modalities, I use my work as a playing field where I focus on and hopefully tap into different mythic archetypes of the unconscious. As I make art, I try to change myself and my life.

What do you hope that others will take from your art?

A lot of my work and especially Psyche and the Beast is influenced by Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, his 1,000-page-long sixteenth century epic poem. In the intro, he calls the whole thing a “darke conceit” and unabashedly proclaims “the generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” This charming idea of a simple code of best behavior appeals to me. Partly because what follows in Spenser’s book is more a riot of mythic adventures and extravagant, haunting images of romances, escapades, and feasts—anything but a clear directive about proper comportment. But somehow I am able to walk away from his allegorical hubbub feeling ready to meet the next dragon that crosses my path. Which is a long-winded way to say that I hope that my viewers will look at the work and glean a kernel of meaning or a navigation coordinate or a clue in their scavenger hunt.

How has your work changed over the course of your career?

Whenever I embark on a new body of work, it feels like I am heading out into unchartered territory. I will say to myself things like, “This time I have really hit on something!” But looking back, I realize I am telling the same story again and again. Maybe with different characters and with different tools, but always a variation on the same theme. Over time the story becomes more distilled, clearer, and this clarity is the exciting part.

Is there any other art-historical period that you wish you could experienced?

The Renaissance would be right up my alley. It would be incredible to lavish years on a single work as a matter of course. I work very slowly and that would suit me perfectly! And of course being part of the visual innovations of perspective and realistic rendering would be mind-blowing and especially liberating. Breathing life and volume into what had been two-dimensional and flat, what a truly magical, through-the-looking-glass experience.

Where is your favorite place to see art?

Hands down in the studio of the artist. It’s always illuminating to see several bodies of work together and to learn about the artist’s process and to see his or her stuff scattered about. And of course hearing the artist speak about the work is always inspiring, even if I don’t like the work!

If you could get any artist to do your portrait, who would you choose?

Wow, that would be hard to choose. Holbein, Dürer, or Rogier van der Weyden from the Renaissance. The Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, or the Symbolist Arnold Bocklin, or Henry Fuseli, who paved the way for the Victorian Fairy Painters. Or the nineteenth century Pictorialist photographer Oscar Rejlander, who pieced together intricate tableaux from scores of cut-up negatives in the enlarger.

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