By Laurie Barron
Megan Rooney's blushing paintings permeate tactile, bodily histories. Her gestural works are known to spread beyond the confines of the canvas. Like murals, they often envelop the walls of the architectural structures housing her exhibitions, creating immersive environments.
The artist is soon to receive her first solo exhibition in London in five years at Thaddaeus Ropac, entitled BONES ROOTS FRUITS (6 September–4 October 2021).
Born in Canada in 1985, Rooney moved between South Africa, Brazil, and Canada, before completing her BA at the University of Toronto, followed by an MFA at Goldsmiths in London in 2011, where she is now based.
Rooney's work could be interpreted as a contemporary reinvigoration of action painting, or gestural abstraction—the mid-century, male-dominated movement associated with Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline.
She uses the canvas as a site of intense physical encounter, explaining, 'I work in rapid concentrated bursts, moving across the canvas and establishing pathways with my body.'
Notably, Rooney's painting method is also highly intuitive. She doesn't preconceive her works or utilise preliminary sketches. As she elucidates, 'I don't arrive at abstraction via a direct route. My process is long, idiosyncratic and often erratic. What appears on the surface is not predetermined'.
Many of her canvases are designed to reflect the wingspan of the average woman, measuring around 200 by 150 centimetres, and the colours Rooney uses—pastel pinks, pale yellows, and sky blues—reference how her mother painted her suburban childhood home.
Rooney's exhibitions are also often utilised as sites of performance. At the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 2019, she worked with choreographers and dancers—some donning floating, painted gowns—to transpose her poetry into a physical happening; where the figures both merged into, and clashed with, an exquisite mural painting situated behind them.
Alongside a similarly vast and newly commissioned wall-based work, Ropac's show also includes a display of more intimately scaled works on paper, titled 'Old Baggy Root', some of which have previously been shown at Bonner Kunstverein.
This ongoing series of surreal portraits are made from observing figures in public spaces, and more nightmarish works in the series incorporate therianthropic representations of human and animal faces simultaneously; evoking the laden violence of society rooted in the body.
Rooney's work is in intense curatorial demand. BONES ROOTS FRUITS follows recent major institutional shows at Salzburger Kunstverein, Austria; Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Canada (both 2020) and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany (2019) in addition to prominent group exhibitions including the Lyon Biennale (2019); Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2019 and 2017); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018); and the Venice Biennale (2017).
Enthusing on her work, Artistic Director of Serpentine Galleries, Hans Ulrich Obrist, has noted, 'Rooney's fascinating ability to tell stories and create a narrative is felt through the various media of her multidisciplinary approach. Always in flux, recurring characters speak to a narrative that is never fixed, the artist addresses urgent subjects of our time and presents each iteration of her work as part of her Gesamtkunstwerk.' —[O]