Artist in Profile: Xanda McCagg
By Jordana Zeldin Art Bridge Installations, LLC
August 2009 New York, New York
Xanda McCagg (pronounced zan-da) sites her fascination with “human experience” as the driving force in her work. “I’m interested in how things shift,” she begins. “If I’m standing over there, versus if I come up to you and touch you.” She walks over to me and brushes up against my arm. That she incorporated movement into her explanation makes perfect sense. Her canvases, many of them human-size, project a similar sense of motion - quick, energetic lines, bright colors bumping up against one another (as opposed to sitting passively side by side) give us a sense that something is happening, that interactions are taking place between the various forms and textures. It brings to mind haiku, the distillation of a complex idea into three carefully crafted lines.
If one looks closely, one can still see traces of McCagg’s traditional figurative training from over 20 years ago buried within her recent abstract works. Xanda’s decision to paint expressionistically came after years of classical study (first at Boston University and later at the School of Visual Arts). This shift came not from a flat-out rejection of those modes of working but rather from a “strong curiosity” to push herself further and to explore the full potential of the medium. Abstraction allowed her to break free from the strict techniques that, while invaluable to a deeper understanding of the origins of the painting, limited her ability to fully realize her vision.
More than anything, McCagg wants to stimulate our emotions with her varied compositions. Human interactions have shifted more than ever (thanks to the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and do-it-all-on-the-go mobile devices) and when I ask McCagg if her paintings have changed in response to these shifts, she pauses. Is she aware of what’s going on? Absolutely, but she maintains that there’s a certain “unchanging animal nature about us.” Like her semicircular journey as a painter (from the figurative to the more abstract, to what she calls a period of “total abstraction,” to where she is now - somewhere in between the two extremes), she remains convinced that as human beings, no matter what we dip our toes into or what seemingly far-flung territory we decide to explore, “we often arrive somewhere back at the same place.”