Sandee McGee – Winston, Oregon

On the vast, deep, mossy bed, a velvet cry Archival Pigment Print 30" x 40" 2014

On the vast, deep, mossy bed, a velvet cry
Archival Pigment Print
30″ x 40″

Briefly describe the work you do.

I primarily work in Photography. I’ve always been interested in the idea of it; how it developed as a technology and the history of it. I think its fascinating how technological developments happen alongside cultural, societal, spiritual, political, philosophical developments and shifts. In my work, I’m asking questions such as; how did we begin to behold the image of the thing, rather than the thing itself? What does it mean in our culture to be a subject? What are the various ways we imagine and rethink subjectivity? Drawing upon memory, place, and domestic life I am exploring these questions through photography, video and sculpture.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I’m a rural artist who came to live in Oregon after having grown up in the suburbs of California. The threshold between these two places is a space in my work that I tend to visit often. There’s often something wild which has happened or is happening within a very controlled space in my work and that combination has much to do with my experience of place and with memory related to domestic life.

I also grew up in the 70’s and I remember watching a lot of TV during my younger years. There was a fantasy show, Land of the Lost, which was a high concept, low budget production. It was pure eye candy for me. The producers created special effects using cheap analog technology and the result was totally bizarre, but I loved this show. I would stare at the characters and was mesmerized by the fact that I was seeing something that seemed so real yet was obviously a total fabrication. I think it was probably that moment in my life where my fascination with images formed. It’s funny when I think about it because it wasn’t like I saw a famous work by one of the many incredible artists working at that time. I saw Land of the Lost in the 70’s. I think what’s wonderful is that they weren’t trying to make everything look perfect, they just wanted to tell a story in the best way possible. I can relate to this approach in my use of media. I sometimes use media I”m not as familiar with for the sake of realizing an idea. This pushes me to expand my vocabulary to break down those boundaries. I give myself a lot of permission to try new things. I have to work extra hard to push the media to the point where the technique kind of disappears and the idea emerges.

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

My studio is the place where the ideas form or come together in a final iteration. I sketch there and I write. I also do lots of post-production work in that space. I went for a very long time without a studio, making work in my living room and kitchen table. I walk into my studio now feeling very grateful to have a space of my own. A place to just think or to stare at nothing in particular. All of these moments help me to formulate ideas and to act on them. It’s the place where I can really experiment and get inspired.

This question though makes me think about an artist I admire, Bruce Nauman, and the notion that if an artist is in the studio than whatever she/he is doing in the studio must be art. This implies that art is an act and not a product. Bruce can get away with that, but I’m not sure that I could manage to convince people, without the product/art object that I’m a real artist! If the above is true though, I’m making art all the time! That said, I have a studio and although you can usually find me working in there, I would say that I’m never not thinking about art. So in a way I kind of bring my studio practice with me everywhere I go. This mentality allows me to really broaden my senses and to continue to ask the question, “what is art?” Every space I find myself in can be an opportunity for discovery. That’s what my studio practice has taught ask questions, to experiment, to look for meaning. This is something I think I bring with me in every life situation.

The Hours We Spent Archival Pigment Print 22" x 34" 2013

The Hours We Spent
Archival Pigment Print
22″ x 34″

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

It took me a while to understand my role as an artist because in some ways the effect that art can have on ones life isn’t made as public as issues regarding surface, formalism and technique. The question has always been, “What medium do you use?, not “What ideas are you thinking about in your work and how does the medium expand the notions within your work?” There’s always something there and I had to learn to look for that and be deeply effected by it to fully understand what my role would be as an artist.

Art has the capacity to facilitate healing because it uses the problem to answer the question. Very much like the idea behind good design or just like homeopathy where the cure exists within the cause. Another aspect of healing is to tell the truth about something and in that way art (thanks to Marcel Duchamp) seeks to level the playing ground in a world built on ideals and hierarchy’s developed during the enlightenment period. Breaking down the barriers between high and low art, between public and private, between male and female, and between nature and culture is part of what I see as my role.

As artists, I think we have to block out the rest of the world at times and find our own language to say what we need to say.

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

I work whenever I can. I have to keep a strict schedule otherwise other things bleed into my studio time and then it just takes longer to work through ideas. Exhibition schedules keep me on track though. Having deadlines really helps and mapping out my time during the week. I know, going into the week, how much time I can spend, so then it’s a matter of managing that time well so that the work gets done. It feels bad to have an idea and not be able to get to it. That’s something that took me a while to figure out. I have always taken the approach of “strike while the iron’s hot!”, but that’s not always realistic, nor is waiting to be inspired. Somedays I don’t know what I’m doing, but I always have to trust that something is percolating and so I go to my studio anyway, to sit there. It’s my calm place.

As far as time of the day goes, the late afternoon has always been a bit of a magical time for me. Something about the light is just right. I go to the kitchen and heat up water in order to press a coffee. I go to my studio, cup in hand, and what happens are some of my own personal perfect moments. Those are the moments when things start to gel in my mind. Let’s face it, half the time I don’t know what I’m doing in there or whether or not it will work out. Lots of things don’t work out, but I suppose those perfect moments happen when I catch that deeper meaning in my work, the love I have for art and for how it works in my little world.

On the vast, deep, mossy bed, a velvet cry Archival Pigment Print 30" x 40" 2014

On the vast, deep, mossy bed, a velvet cry
Archival Pigment Print
30″ x 40″

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

Five years ago I was entering into my Grad Program at the University of Oregon  where I began to discover these underlying themes and questions in my work. I started thinking about hand painted photographic backdrops during that time, which eventually led me to explore the idea of wallpaper in my work. I was fascinated with the female as subject/object using wallpaper as a metaphor. I was photographing still life’s which were highly constructed sets featuring floral or fruit filled wallpaper. I would take that opportunity to identify the flowers and/or fruit in the paper and go to the grocery store to find the varieties I was searching for. I’d create a still life in front of the papered wall because I really wanted to take what would normally be the background and bring it forward, to become the subject. I’ve always been interested in how we construct identities and create norms through the use of media and in particular through photography. This is something that has morphed into different bodies of work over the last five years, but really hasn’t changed. I think I’m just more aware and attuned to the direction of my work.

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

There are a whole list of artists who have had an impact on my work. I’ll mention the ones I continue to look at from an early point in my career up to today: Laurie Simmons, Cindy Sherman, Larry Sultan. These are artists who’ve had prolific careers making conceptual art, centering on issues of domestic life and/or female subjectivity, all of which has had a significant impact on not only my work, but on culture. The French thinkers: Jaques Derrida and Julia Kristeva’s work have also had a major impact on the way I think about my own work and has played a large  part in helping to formulate the way I think about the image as text. Some former professors: Gail Wight , Robin McDowell, Deirdre Visser, Catherine Wagner and the ever brilliant and golden hearted, Dan Powell, have all had major impacts on my life and work.

My family, especially my mom and my grandmother have given me a lot of things to think about in terms of the themes related to identity and subjectivity in my work.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my artist friends who give me honest feedback, helpful thoughts and loving nudges to keep going when things get a little dicey in the studio. I couldn’t really do anything without them.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

A Curator of art exhibitions. I’m so interested in the language of art and how to design exhibitions so that a third or fourth thing gets to happen. I love thinking about the relationships between disparate works and discovering how to put pieces together that help to create complex relationships.


McGee_Headshot_365Sandee McGee was born in San Francisco, California in 1971. She received her BA in Studio Art from Mills College where she was the recipient of the Ralph DuCasse Award for Excellence in Art. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon in 2010. McGee has exhibited across the US including shows at In Site Gallery in Vermont, Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon, 1650 Gallery in Los Angeles and The California Center for the Arts. Her work has been published in an exhibition catalog which has been collected by the Brooklyn Museum Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Thomas J. Watson Library and the Aukland Museum Library in New Zealand. In 2013, McGee received an Individual Artist grant from the Douglas County Cultural Coalition to complete a recent body of work. Sandee McGee lives and works in rural Southern Oregon.

The Studio

The Studio

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.
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1 Response to Sandee McGee – Winston, Oregon

  1. Michael La Bella says:

    Just,,, WOW~!!

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