I met up with Megan Wolfe at Cup O' Joe's coffee in Lower Nob Hill, where we discussed the appropriate amounts of caffeine intake and how she got to her latest works at the Bucheon Gallery.
Growing up in northern Mississippi, in a small town suburb of Memphis, Megan Wolfe was accostomed to having various lifeforms circulating through her environment:
"My dad was always fishing turtles out of the swimming pool, so we'd always have critters around us. I grew up going out[side] and playing with the spiders"
Drawing from an early age, Wolfe began taking art classes when she was nine. Despite a limited local art scene, Wolfe's parents did what they could to support their daughter's interests:
"My parents did try to take me to museums and things like that [...] My mom would drive me an hour to [art classes in Memphis…] They were always very positive and 'Go for your dreams, and do what you want to do, and live your dreams' "
Meanwhile, Wolfe was being home-schooled and craved more interactions with lifeforms beyond those in the backyard. Finding networks of illustrators online piqued her interest socially as well as creatively:
"I was kind of looking for a community to get involved in [and] the internet was this big, new, shiny thing. There was this online community of illustrators. They were high school students and college students and I thought it was really cool because they were giving feedback on each others work and helping each other. I thought it was a good way to grow and moving myself forward because the classes I was taking weren't pushing me enough, so it was kind of this challenge"
But Wolfe didn't have any experience with illustration. Nonetheless, her diligence and determination led her to develop her skills:
" I would go through anatomy books and just pour over and memorize everything"
Wolfe then came out to pursue illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, where she met her future husband in a painting class. After a couple years, Wolfe began to have second thoughts about a career in illustration after observing her boyfriend go through the process of launching his professional illustration career:
"There would be times when he would come home and he wouldn't be happy at all with what he was doing. After that I kind of thought about it and [realized that] the stuff that my teachers [were] getting me to do, I don't really like either"
Meanwhile, Wolfe noticed some other emerging artists in the Bay Area were transcending the academically strict separation between illustration and fine art:
"[These artists] kind of do a little bit of both. They kind of do a bit of illustration and turn around and do the fine art and be in galleries [...] I thought that was very interesting [...] We have a lot of flexibility in this community"
Switching from illustration to fine art, Wolfe began with portraiture and figure work - in some ways a natural shift from the character-focused content in illustration. But eventually she began to explore inanimate subjects:
"I got onto still lifes because I thought, there's more to people and their lives than the face or the figure. There's also the stuff that they have, the stuff that they cherish, and the stuff that collects and builds up in your apartment"
The elements of nostalgia and sentimentality apparent in her series, "It Meant Something To Me", are also reflected in the style of Wolfe's pencil drawing. She discovered that using the paper's texture gave the right emotive sense:
"There's something about the grain that I felt was more interesting and more unique. I really have an affection for photography and there are some old photographs that have that film grain look to them. It gives it an old classical feel and I wanted to also incorporate that into the drawings"
Wolfe then expanded on the notion of the familiar, but ignored elements of the urban dweller's environment. She returned her focus from inanimate objects to lifeforms, but this time weeds and pigeons:
"Like with the still lifes, I sort of look for things that people don't pay much attention to […] People in the city compete with other living things [...] weeds in the sidewalk - it's kind of the same thing - It's life trying to live along side us and we kind of hate it. We want to pull it up and get rid of it and don't want to deal with it"
Now surrounded by people and with no shortage of community in the urban landscape of San Francisco, Wolfe contemplates the struggle of these other lifeforms and the very creatures themselves:
"[Mississippi] birds are actually birds. They don't walk around next to you - they fly away. In regards to the pigeons, it really fascinated me was how they just walk around. I'd never seen a bird do that before! You walk down the sidewalk and you get right next to it and it just doesn't move. It kind of looks at you. I think that's what I like about them. [...] It's the only animal that can kind of co-exist with us"
See some of Megan Wolfe's new works at Bucheon Gallery through February.