“The Adjacent”

Everyday objects create remarkable images

Iris+Johnson+%28%E2%80%9820%29+appreciates+Phoebe+Jan-McMahon%E2%80%99s+%28%E2%80%9813%29+use+of+everyday+items+within+her+artwork%2C+such+as+the+bags+of+rice+featured+in+this+painting.
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“The Adjacent”

Iris Johnson (‘20) appreciates Phoebe Jan-McMahon’s (‘13) use of everyday items within her artwork, such as the bags of rice featured in this painting.

Iris Johnson (‘20) appreciates Phoebe Jan-McMahon’s (‘13) use of everyday items within her artwork, such as the bags of rice featured in this painting.

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips

Iris Johnson (‘20) appreciates Phoebe Jan-McMahon’s (‘13) use of everyday items within her artwork, such as the bags of rice featured in this painting.

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips

Iris Johnson (‘20) appreciates Phoebe Jan-McMahon’s (‘13) use of everyday items within her artwork, such as the bags of rice featured in this painting.

Grace Onsrud, Staff Writer

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In her collection of still life paintings titled “The Adjacent,” Phoebe Jan-McMahon (‘13) asks viewers to take a closer look at everyday objects we might otherwise take for granted. Her paintings of quiet scenes and items from the interior of her apartment have been on display in the Wigley-Fleming Gallery in the Center for the Arts since Aug. 21.

Since graduating from Luther, Jan-McMahon has worked on expanding her painting portfolio and attended graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is now the Art Instructor at Clinton Community College in Clinton, Iowa. Through teaching, Jan-McMahon enjoys showing her students how they can use a variety of materials to create their own individual styles.

Jan-McMahon began working on still life paintings as a way to recharge from public life in the midst of stressful times.

“I needed a way to find a moment of peace, to order my thoughts, and prepare for the next day,” Jan-McMahon said.

The result is a group of unexpected still life paintings of objects such as a doorknob, a refrigerator, and some bags of rice. Jan-McMahon began incorporating the still life style into her work almost by accident, as she was focusing on portraiture.

“I did one large self portrait standing in my apartment and three-fourths of the way through the painting I realized I was more interested in painting the things around me than I was in painting myself,” Jan-McMahon said.

For about a year and a half, she continued to focus on the beauty of the mundane, culminating in “The Adjacent.” The title refers to an alternate and private space that is adjacent to the loudness of reality, which she tried to capture in the simple subjects of her paintings.

“Like the ‘Upside Down’ from ‘Stranger Things’ but benevolent,” Jan-McMahon said. “I felt like as I painted, I was transported away from the cacophony to someplace quiet.”

Art major and Student Gallery Tech Iris Johnson (‘20) said that the paintings portray beauty and peace in a surprising way.

“[Jan-McMahon’s paintings] make you comfortable and they’re just pleasing to look at,” Johnson said. “Whereas if you saw those objects any other time in real life, you’d just think ‘those are just bags, whatever.’”

As an art student, Johnson the exhibit reminded her of the versatility of still life painting.

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips
Iris Johnson (‘20) admires the light and how it interacts within the rest of the painting.

“This is a nice show because usually people are painting still lifes that have been set up to be painted or drawn whereas these things are just random everyday stuff,” Johnson said. “And I think some artists, because I know myself, forget that a still life can be literally anything.”

Jan-McMahon hopes members of the Luther community can find peace in her art.

“I know not everyone needs to process things visually, but I think paying attention to the beauty in mundane things can help balance the negative things we experience,” Jan-McMahon said.

Art student Morgan Seemann (‘20) appreciates the way Jan-McMahon uses commonplace items to contrast intimacy with solitude.

“What strikes me about [Jan-McMahon’s] work is how familiar yet distant I feel from her scenes of domesticity,” Seemann said. “There’s an interesting sense of creating a lonesome atmosphere of an empty house while also finding the beauty in objects we encounter everyday.”

“The Adjacent” will be on display in the Wigley-Fleming Gallery through Oct. 27.

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