Written by Neal Breton / Photographed by Richard Fusillo

Meg Nilson wants you to take it personal. She’s reaching deep inside herself to create, so whether your reaction is gushing or ill at ease it’s important that you show it. Originally a product of Bakersfield, her parents used their only shred of decency and moved her at an early age. The central coast has been her home for over 20 years. She has a degree in Psychology which influences her work, which is a mixed bag of pen & ink drawings, detailed etchings and rich, swirling figures in oil paint. She took some time away from hiding amongst the film canisters at her job with the Palm Theater to talk to us.

THIRD GREY: What do you want the viewer to take away from your show and your body of work in general?

MEG NILSON: So much of what I’m making is about trying to be in touch with different parts myself or access emotions that I can’t get to any other way so I guess I hope when people look at it they have the same experience I had when I make it which is to feel something different, or even to like be confused. I think I really want people to feel weird. I want people to have an authentic experience, when I make things I make them with honesty, total honesty to myself to my vision of what i want things to look like. The act of doing something honestly creates a space for people to also be honest and exist with themselves honestly.

At first I hung a little painting behind the beaded curtain because I thought people were going to be weirded out because it had a vagina on it. But then I thought “no I fucking made this painting I’m going to own it and put it out with all the other paintings for everybody to see” If I’m going to make something, if I’m going to make the thing that makes people uncomfortable, then I have to be ok putting it out there. It also makes it ok for other people to put their pussy paintings out-- if that’s the only thing I’m doing with my work, then I think I’m doing something good, you know? Put your pussy paintings out there too!


TG: Is creating a personal experience and can you explain the emotional attachment you have with your work?

MN: I’m incredibly emotionally attached to my work because a lot of it I’m doing unconsciously. I never start with a plan, like, “I’m gonna draw a picture of a lady laying down and there’s going to be a skeleton”-- even sketching, when I sit down to do something, and I’m just sitting down by myself with my feelings, I’m dredging stuff up, so whatever ends up happening I’m almost deciphering it later and learning about how it’s done.

TG: Is the process lyrical?

MN: I’m just riffing. I don’t ever have an idea of what I’m going to make and then I’m like oh yeah that’s about how I’m upset right now. I can decide later what its about or what it means to me, but it’s all super emotional

TG: Do you ever get stuck and draw inspiration from other artists?

MN: I do get stuck, I’ve been stuck sometimes for an uncomfortably long time. Sometimes I stop working. I think when I feel stuck I just need to live and have experiences and digest those experiences and have something to pull from. I try and push through that by just sketching. I have a sketchbook just for those times. I’ve deemed (the sketchbook) “this is where you put awful, bad drawings” and give myself permission to make shitty work because it’s part of doing it. Not everything I make is going to be amazing, and sometimes I go back and look and I say ‘this isn’t even that bad’ it’s just my mindset was bad.

It would be stupid to think that I’m not influenced by other people or don’t draw inspiration from it; there’s tons of people right now. There’s a contemporary Spanish artist Herbert Baglione, I have a tattoo of his work on my arm, he did the Thousand Shadows project, you should check him out. I don’t ever think if I’m stuck i never look at peoples work and think id copy it, i think i just wait. I think being in classes helps and having assignments and being forced to show up helps me keep a rhythm. I’m just going to be in fucking junior college for the rest of my life.

TG: Would you say gender plays a big role in your work? Do you care if people look at your work and identify you as a female artist?

MN: I think I don’t really care whether or not people look at my work and know that i am a woman. I don’t think I ever think in those terms when I’m creating. I don’t think “ I’m situated as a woman, how does a woman make art?” I just make art like everyone else does, with my two dumb hands chugging a bottle of red wine. I do think I am more attracted to painting females and I don’t know if that’s traditional but I don’t think my own gender has anything to do with it. I think in some subconscious way painting women is subversive for me as a woman because its so often assigned to the “rich” tradition of white male artists painting naked women, designed for the male gaze, and I have just as much right to do that.

TG: Do you ever create something that means nothing?

MN: I think everything I make has meaning because I made it. Everything that comes out of that has an emotion and a meeting. I think that’s the thing about it that even I can appreciate. Even when I start out wanting to make a bullshit nothing, like “I’m just going to sketch for the sake of sketching”, I end up making something emotional and revealing.

TG: How does aesthetic play into your work?

MN: Its important. I want things to look a certain way. I have an idea of what pleases me aesthetically and I use that as a “vocabulary”. A teacher explained it that way to me, and suddenly my work made so much more sense to me. Everything you make you have a visual alphabet and the way you make things tells a story. There are similar themes that show up in my work--skeletons, naked women, weird hands--there’s a lot of it that’s repetitive, but it’s also expressing something. The aesthetics are part of the things that I’m naturally attracted to. I like things that are weird and off kilter, and make me feel weird and off kilter so I’m looking for those things in my work. I’d like to be grosser. If I’m really striving for something, it’s to be more grotesque.

TG: Are you concerned at all with making work deemed more sellable, less offensive, to a larger audience?

MN: No. I never have. I never have made anything ever with the idea that it would be for commercial purpose. That’s not why I work. I should care more about that part, and I think that I’m just now starting to see that has some kind of value of completing the circuit of making stuff and selling it.  Part of my artistic integrity is to never make something I didn’t feel good about, that I was making to be commercially successful. I think that negates being an artist. If I wanted to sell stuff to a hotel chain, I wouldn’t put pussies all over my work. But that’s not the kind of artist I want to be. I want people to buy the paintings with the pussies on them! Up until this point in my life I have never worried about it, I almost don’t like showing people things because they are really personal and revealing about me and it’s kind of embarrassing. I felt like if I had a show, people would definitely be weirded out by my stuff and know how weird I am and then… all hell would break loose or something? I don’t know. But the response to my work was so good, I was like “oh, what was I thinking about any of that, none of that is true, it’s a story I made up in my head as if I’m too weird to exist”.


The Palmies Group Show was November 4th for one night only at Mee Heng Low Noodle House. If you weren’t there, you missed it, man.

Ruby Villalobos