Header image: “The Dream of a common language” by Callahan McDonough.
above: “squared abstract” by Callahan McDonoughInterview with Artist and Psychotherapist, Callahan McDonough
1.Who are you, what do you do, and what is your background?I am an artist, a painter and print maker and have been for over the past forty years. I received my Bachelor of Visual Arts from Georgia State University in 1970. It was an exhilarating time for art at GSU and I had some wonderful mentors, teachers and friends. Jim Sitton, Medford Johnston and some amazing fellow students really changed my life and how I thought about my art. Happily, I earned a scholarship for graduate school in the art department at the University of South Florida. Unhappily, my mother fell ill and I left grad school to care for her after completing one year of the two-year program. ‘Reality takes precedence’, another mentor, Pauline Clance, PhD would say to me later. By the way, Mom is doing fine and lives in Florida all these years later. After Mom recovered, I returned to Atlanta and worked as Director of the Techwood Homes Girls Club.
About this time, the Feminist movement was kicking in gear, and I immersed myself in the Feminist Women’s art movement. Along with 30 other women artists, we started the Atlanta Women’s Art Collective, as well as the co-ed Art Workers Coalition. Both of the organizations were pivotal in changing the art scene in Atlanta. We were lucky to have Maynard Jackson in office as Atlanta Mayor. He was a big supporter of the arts and started the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, which gave a sense of camaraderie and unity to a multitude of Atlanta arts organizations. There was a window of about ten years when it felt as if we were experiencing a contemporary version of the Renaissance in Atlanta.
above:” A wrinkle in time” by Callahan McDough
Above: “Inner Vision” by Callahan McDonough
Interview with Callahan McDonough continueAlong the way my life became more complicated; my marriage broke up, but I had a wonderful 2 year old son, Zach. It was clear, however, that selling a few paintings, and writing grants would no longer sustain us financially. I needed an instant way to make a living, be able to be the Mom I wanted to be, and make my art. So like many artists, I created a business (cleaning houses) to pay the bills. It grew into a full-fledged business, which I ran for nearly 25 years. Some of you may have heard of “Sparkle Plenty”; that was my business. I called it my “single mom and artist” survival kit. I was hoping my art would sell consistently, enough to let the business go; or that the business would become less demanding, and support my art career. Despite the fact that I was in the Fay Gold Gallery and selling reasonably well, the money was not enough to support us. I decided to go back to school and get a Masters of Social Work so I could have a private counseling practice and still have flexibility to raise my child and do my art. This career move finally worked; I have been in a rewarding private practice for more than 20 years. Recently I reduced my client load to one day per week and now have the freedom to have the kind of studio time I want. Also, I remarried five years ago and am enjoying the companionship and support of my husband, Bill Pope.
2. What’s integral to your art and art career?
Oftentimes people ask me how psychotherapy and art are related for me. My answer is that both psychotherapy and art are about making the unconscious conscious. One is direct and interactive; the other is studio work, and more reflective and singular. Both contribute to who I am as a woman and an artist. Also integral is my awareness of the work of historical and contemporary artists, as art history has always provided a context for my work.
3. What themes do you pursue and what medium do you use?
My themes seem to fall into two categories. One is Narrative, which includes the Spiritual/Political/Personal aspects of my life,. The other category is more abstract and lyrical. Both are characteristics of my self-expression and artwork. Recently, I have been collaborating with a spiritual writer, Ronna Detrick, in Seattle who is re-defining some of the women from scripture to show them through a Feminist viewpoint — as empowered and empowering, not just pawn’s in a man’s world. I am doing a series of prints that represent these women first as painting, then as a print.
I also intend the work to communicate and connect with all kinds of people, in some way. Of course, one of the wonderful things about art is that interpretation is up to the viewer.
4. What makes you angry, what makes you happy?
My desire is that, by creating more of a sense of community, we will all win. Living in a world that over emphasizes the ‘individual’ (what we call in Social Work, rugged individualism) is opposed to choosing the ‘whole community’ concept that encompasses a world that works for everyone, with no one left out. I believe our current lack of cultural expression has become the source of much suffering, often as reflexive violence, i.e. those who are shut out and cannot join the world will ultimately lash out. We can do better, and that makes me really angry that we have culturally not made that shift.
On the other hand, I feel hope and happiness as I have experienced the capacity for kindness and generosity that so many people have, and I see this tendency growing. For example, some of the organized expressions of hopeful change include: The Feminist movement, Civil Rights, Gay Rights, One percent, Ecological movements to name a few.
5. Who and what inspires you in your work and in your life?
My son is my biggest continuing inspiration, along with my family, close friends and people I love. I have a strong spiritual sense of connection to what I choose to call God. My art colleagues, female artists I know, and friends involved in the arts are wonderfully inspiring. ___
6. What superpower would you like?
I’d like to wave a magic wand that could create World Peace; a world where all are kind and share, and one that works for everyone, including Mother Earth!_____
7. Favorite artists?
Soooo many: Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago, Sonia Delaunay, Guerrilla Girls, Ruth Laxon, Jim Sitton, Med Johnston, David Hockney, Bonnard, Vuillard, Julian Schnabel.
8. What advice would you give to other artists?
First, know that not everyone is going to make a great financial living from their art; it rarely has to do with the quality of the work but myriad variables get between a work of art, and a remunerated work of art.
If you don’t want to be cleaning houses all your life, get another skill that complements doing your work. Lastly, if some limitation won’t allow you to do your work, treat it like an assignment from art school and get it done anyway. Some of my best work came out of those tough circumstances.