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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

November 18, 2022 5:51 PM


For Abigail McGinley, painting is the truest and most direct expression to communicate her feelings. It’s about laying a range of intense emotions: melancholy, intimacy, and eroticism, into the painting. In its turn, the painting by itself radiates these emotions back into the world. She captures expressive faces that show a unique kind of raw emotion, intimacy and honesty by painting fluid, elongated lines in fleshlike colours and cool tones Looking to show the universality of inhabiting a body, Abigail looks at her experiences of queerness and femmes as a person living in her own body.

Doing what feels good and right is a driving force in how Abigail’s paintings come into being. Although it might seem like she depicts overly indulgent, almost theatrical compositions, the essence is honesty. It’s grounded in pure emotions. ‘For me, painting is one of the prime modes of communication. Just like there are other modes of communication that people authentically gravitate to, such as writing. Painting is best suited to me. I approach it as a mode of communication.’ 

‘I’m interested in conveying the intimacy of touch through the bodily medium of oil paint, in fact it’s a driving force of the work.’

In her paintings, bodily forms are melting into each other, interlacing elongated limbs, fingers gripping bodily flesh. Abigail thinks about the universality of bodies as how everyone’s body is made out of flesh and how that’s interlinked to sensations that are more grounded in the psyche. ‘I feel like they are interlinked; they both feed into the whole; one cannot exist without the other. I find it interesting to use the sensation of the body, to express what’s going on internally.’ 

As her work communicates ideas about the universality of bodies, she doesn’t see it as a straightforward reality, with no definitive restricted idea of what it should be like, she expresses a certain kind of femininity. ‘I’m drawn to expressing things about femininity, with a certain hardness to it, but I’m looking right back at you.’ 

Honesty is one of the most important qualities in Abigail’s practice, even though her visual world is made up of stylised forms and shapes. ‘True reflection on reality does not make it honest. The act of honesty is in the act of painting. Through the act of committing to paint, you’re doing an honest act. You want to communicate something which is an honest intention.’ The way Abigails sees it, the paintings are made up of different pieces of visual information, that, as a collection, make the whole idea. Instead of speaking the truth, she paints it.  

For her, one of the ways sensuality manifests itself is in what she calls ‘the bodily quality of paint’. ‘The act of painting is very erotic. The squeezing of a tube of paint, it’s like I could eat it, it’s so flesh-like that I can feel it. It engorges all your senses.’ 

The flesh-like colours and cool tones are always very striking in her paintings. Before Abigail starts to paint, she doesn’t have a preconceived idea of what she’s going to use. She doesn’t mix colours as she starts with painting straight from the tube. ‘I approach colour in a tonal way. Each section is built monochromatically. The painting is made up of compartmentalised similar tones, awkwardly laid over each other.’

Sexuality, however, is depicted in a way that goes beyond the usual way of how objectifying the depicted person and gives a certain power to the viewer. She does it in a more theatrical way that makes space to poke fun at it. ‘Everything can be eroticised,’ she explains. ‘I find the theatrics of it very appealing. I want to normalise the eroticised body and play with how that overlaps perversion.’ 

One of the other recurring emotions that are expressed on the canvas is melancholy. Faces, often her own, staring into a void. Giving off a feeling of sad contemplation. But again, it’s done in an almost theatrical way. ‘I make a joke of it. It’s so overly indulgent and self-aware that it’s almost funny.’ 

Viewers are often inclined to jump to the conclusion that women depicting women are actively defying the male gaze, but that’s not the case in her practice. How men would interact with it is not taken into account. ‘The idea of the male gaze doesn’t enter my decision-making process. How I visually depict women or hard femininity, I’m making no comment on it. I do what feels good.’ The way she visualises women and situations does include certain kinds of references not everyone can recognise. She explains how ‘The way in which I present women or interpersonal interactions, queer people can pick up on it. The general public can completely miss some parts of it. I’m playing within that space, nodding to things, some people don’t pick up on it, but that’s fine.’ 

You can follow Abigail on instagram.

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