In the fall of 2018, Wellfleet artist Megan Hinton entered Mills College in Oakland, Calif., to get an M.F.A., a fine art degree unlike the master’s she’d gotten years ago at New York University.
“I wanted to get my M.F.A. for a few reasons,” Hinton says, at home in her airy Wellfleet studio, where she completed her courses virtually during the Covid shutdown and graduated. “I wanted to be qualified to teach, and I also wanted to overhaul my painting practice. I wanted to think about how I could be a painter in the 21st century. Not to pooh-pooh the landscape painting or figurative painting around here, but I wanted to find more of a voice through other materials. I had these flashes of assembling material and drawing around this material, using it as a way to push that flat restraint.”
Those flashes have become manifest in a body of new work that Farm Projects in Wellfleet has given a show, “Signal,” opening Saturday and on view through Sept. 10. And as much as a departure as these assemblage paintings appear to be, there’s a definite thread to Hinton’s earlier work, even her paintings of “gatherings,” or masses of people, which were featured in a show at AMP Gallery in Provincetown in 2017. Into the mix of her mixed-media wall hangings are images of crowds of people inked in black and white.
Also in the mix are works of found art and lumber, basketballs, portfolio cases, and images (and cut-outs) of birds and hands. Each piece is full of symbolic motifs with lots of personal meaning for Hinton, and the more one learns about her, the more personal they seem.
“I was born and raised in Ohio, northern Ohio, near Lake Erie, in the ’80s and ’90s,” Hinton says. “I was an athlete, and I quit. I played basketball, softball. It was all about winning and succeeding, and it was very pressurized for me as a young person. I was pretty good at it. There were a lot of expectations of me. And there was a lot of queer repression going on. On the court you’re supposed to be butch and tough, and outside of court you’re supposed to wear dresses and be submissive.”
By the time she got to Ohio Wesleyan University, she no longer had any interest in sports. “My mother was an interior designer,” Hinton says. “She went back to school to study design when I was 10. There were a lot of art history books around. I just immediately started looking at the stuff. To me, they were much more expansive than pop culture images on television. Then she took me to museums. My father, who was a coach and an athlete, wasn’t on that plane, but he never discouraged it. My parents never, ever discouraged me from being interested in art and going into art.”
When Hinton was 19, her mother moved to Nantucket and opened a showroom. “She wanted to live in a beautiful place,” Hinton says. “The ocean, the stars, the quintessential seaside village. I started going there during my summer breaks, and I fell in love with the place. After college, I lived there for a year and worked at an art gallery.”
She met a lesbian artist who knew Sally Nerber, of the fabled Cherry Stone Gallery in Wellfleet, and they came up to the Outer Cape to visit. Nerber’s guest room, where Hinton was staying, was adorned with works by Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns. “I was coming out — it was 1998, ’99 — and we would go to Provincetown. This beautiful place had this long lineage. It’s queer, and there’s all this art.”
She spent a few years looking around for the right artists’ community in which to settle down: first New York City; then Ottawa, Canada, for a relationship. And she ended up at the Cape.
“Provincetown has been incredibly supportive of my work, and my work as an educator,” she says. “I’m not specifically one type of artist, and, in this community, I’ve been able to tap into all different channels.”
Hinton’s assemblages reference the work of other artists, which is natural for her. “I feel like I’m talking to other painters when I’m working,” she says. “I like to put myself in that conversation.”
And it’s reflected in the work. A portfolio case behind the cut-out of a bird. Another cut-out bird based on a Milton Avery painting. Paint that continues off the assemblage onto the wall. Add to that painted hands, alluding to creativity, painted basketballs, alluding to competition, and inked crowds, alluding to community. “I’ve started thinking of my work as components of materials being assembled rather than painted.”
With these new materials, Hinton’s art more deeply expresses who she is and what she sees.
Hanging by a Thread
The event: “Signal,” a show of new assemblage work by Megan Hinton
The time: Opening Saturday, Aug. 29, 4 to 7 p.m., through Sept. 10
The place: Farm Projects, 355 Main St., Wellfleet (617-650-9800)
The cost: Free