Cynthia MacCollum: Only Natural

Text by Susan Kleinman Photography by Christopher Gardner

Cynthia MacCollum grew up with a paintbrush in her hand, dreaming of becoming a painter. When her practical-minded father put the kibosh on a fine-arts degree, she earned a B.A. in art history, then took a job in the Macy’s training program in Atlanta.

But a true artist will always find a way to make art, and in 1993, MacCollum used her fashion-industry knowledge to launch a company selling hand-painted silk scarves that she designed. For a while, the combination of creativity and commerce satisfied her, but when she found herself managing more than she was designing, she closed the business. By this time, she was living in New Canaan, and she signed up for a class at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in nearby Norwalk.

While printmaking captured her imagination, she didn’t abandon painting altogether; her early works included many pieces for which inks
were applied to their plates with paintbrushes. Collagraph monoprint, which combines painting and collage, soon became her method of choice, later to be joined by stenciling and—most recently—cyanotype, which entails painting or placing objects on chemical-infused paper and setting the image in the sun to develop like a photograph. The resulting images are predominantly blue, as in the blue leaves on white that comprise her Ephemera series.

Although her techniques and materials are ever-changing, MacCollum’s inspiration remains rooted in the natural world. “I’m concerned with the interconnectedness of all life on earth,” she says, “…a sense of place and the passage of time.” She visits the New Canaan Nature Center, across the street from her home almost daily, and currently features New England flora in her work.

“I’m using a lot of joe-pye weed,” she says, “and printing them life-size or larger, so that they really feel important—monumental.” Her use of invasive plants isn’t accidental, she says; she spends a lot of time wondering why some plants are revered while others are despised, and contemplating the notion of overlooked beauty. “The natural world is an amazing and magical place to me,” she says, “and I celebrate it—or some select part of it—in almost all of my work.”

Her concern with nature is apparent not only in the motifs she features but, lately, also in her choice of base papers. “I’ve been printing on pages from The New York Times,” she says, “overlaying images on articles about climate change.”

As to whether viewers sense the deep thought and concern for the planet behind MacCollum’s work, the artist says she doesn’t really worry about that. “I create art that has what is important to me at its heart,” she says. “A viewer may or may not recognize this—and that’s okay.”

But she does hope that, on some level, her work inspires people to respect the natural world. “Revere it,” she urges. “Hold it sacred and take care of it.”

Editor’s note: Cynthia McCollum is represented by Elisa Contemporary Art in Fairfield and Riverdale, N.Y., elisacontemporaryart.com. To see more of her work, visit cynthiamaccollumn.com.

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