When you click on the art website of Margaret Groton ’21, “Yellow Sun” is the first work you’ll see:
Check your watch; you’ve just spent an hour analyzing it. As foreign as the proportions and contortions are, the body on display is too human to be otherworldly. There’s an assurance in the stroke that helps ground the picture’s more abstract elements.
Perusing through more of her artwork, it is evident that for Groton, her commitment to balancing the abstract and the real is a defining feature of her work. “It is always figurative, sometimes abstract, sometimes closer to reality, but always made in the name of portraying the energy of the spirit through marks that make up the body, speaking truth to the union of the two when our existence is one of pure freedom/expression,” Groton writes on her “About” page; you could imagine her concocting the words effortlessly in one-take. Her focus is on “Black female figures as bodies that are too grand for the confines of the page, that dare to jump off and out.” Indeed, the bodies she displays are grandiose, full of nuance and life. The aforementioned “Yellow (Sun)” and “Lexapro Venus I” below are paragons of this commitment:
To hear Groton write about her style and conviction with such confidence is refreshing, especially in this time of great disruption. For artists in particular, Covid was a trial by fire for what habits and skills one could transfer when the daily rhythms of life changed drastically: Dorm rooms became places of music creation and theater festivals went online (to name a few changes).
Where could you find Groton in the midst of this? In her room, probably rereading The Bluest Eye, occasionally taking a break to peruse through a collection of African Mythology, while Nina Simone, Digable Planets and Funkadelic played in the background. While disruption has become the soil for new patterns and rhythms to take form, Groton paints, sketches and draws as if nothing’s changed; like the famous lo-fi hip-hop girl animated by Juan Pablo Machado who writes endlessly in spite of everything going on around her.
“I honestly don’t feel disrupted at all, I could never stop creating, I draw constantly,” she shares, “but I certainly am not working as big as I had been…but I am a bit grateful for the excuse not to work large, it’s a lot of pressure sometimes, it’s a lot more serious work to me and I’m enjoying the fast pace, personal work I’m doing right now.”
In addition to her latest series, Millennial Madness (more on that in a moment), she continues to press into the day to day for inspiration. “My subjects are the faces in front of me, the conversations between them and the space they constantly alter — so in a way I’ve been working more collaboratively than ever with my daily surroundings such as intimate gatherings with friends I consider family.”
Knowing Groton’s origin story of how she started her artistic endeavors, it is no surprise that she is more unfazed than most. While some use the arts as a way to escape from the world by crafting realities through which to find solace, Groton has used her art as a way to understand the beauty and chaos around her. That required pressing further into her surroundings even when she may have wanted to retreat. “I have drawn and painted since before I could read and write, drawing is something I did all day in class growing up because I couldn’t stand being passive — it actually helped me pay attention, it’d help me stay in the moment rather than floating in some non reality in my head.” Understandably, it’s fair to say most teachers didn’t quite get this precocious level of processing at that age “I mean it was definitely a distraction at times. But yeah, I was born an artist” she says matter of factly.
Even in her set-up, she’s crafted her creative space to be a vessel to catch all of her ideas as they come to her; she has a sort of optical hunger that seeks to transcribe even as she interprets. “I’ll often be working on two pieces at a time,” she says, “I have my books around me, There are blank pieces of paper around to write ideas and revelations that come to mind, my music blasting, and if I’m at home I like to have incense burning.”
Her most ambitious project to date is the aforementioned Millennial Madness, a series that collects her personal interests with fervent relevance. The art series will feature “29 faces of [her] peers belonging to various identities that will operate as a commentary on race and (the common enemy) capitalism in the country.” Right now, Groton is highlighting her Black friends in honor of their collective strength and survival against historical odds. “I started this project the week of the BLM protests following the murder of George Floyd in a state of rage. I put this project on hold for the summer because I had no space to work on it when I moved back to Ithaca for the summer, but I will be picking it up again shortly. It’s a project about race, pride, shame and the one role we play that unites us all — this I’ll leave as a surprise. The faces will coincide with a statement that (at the moment) is 29 words long so that’s the reason for the number,” she explains.
For Groton, this project ties back to the creation of her mission statement. Art is less of a recapitulation of what we see, hear, experience, and interact with but about transporting oneself into a space that we might otherwise overlook or never experience. “I believe the mission of art is to represent reality as it feels as well as how we see it with our eyes, when I draw a body I draw what it feels like to live in a body, when I draw an arm I draw what it feels like to have something half the size of your body protruding from either side of you,” she writes.
For Groton, she continues to redefine what it means to be present; while for some this means being caught up in the bustle and being forced to adapt, she sticks to her passions as a form of quiet defiance. “By embracing drawing I have been able to capture wonderful moments of vulnerability and youth,” she says. “I am at the age where my friends are falling in life bonds with each other, in which we are caring for each other like kin, it’s the most wonderful experience.”
Zachary Lee ’20 is a recent graduate of Cornell and of the Sun arts department. He can be reached at [email protected]