Each summer during Molly McGuire’s childhood in Ontario, a traveling carnival would unfurl its tents in a lot right behind her family’s home. The annual spectacle made a lasting impression, but she never did run away with the circus.
Instead, it was rock ‘n’ roll that put her on the road – first to New Orleans and then to Los Angeles and all points on a touring band’s compass and finally, in 2008, back to New Orleans.
“The first time I came here, everything clicked,” McGuire says. “New Orleans was one-stop shopping for me. It was the first place where I didn’t feel like an outcast. After 20 years of straight touring, now I’m back where I can concentrate on my first love, which is art.”
She works under the name Magwire, and her art today is a little bit carnival and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, informed along the way by a nomadic lifestyle and dashes of her past gigs painting business signs and movie sets.
It’s also as varied as this artist is prolific. McGuire manages the Bywater Art Lofts, and her work stretches across the common areas and offices of this garment-factory-turned-artist-apartments. From wall to wall, her art takes the form of large circus banners, which are by turns retro, mysterious and satiric; papier-mâché portraits of quirky midway characters; and collages exploring the portability and durability of the notion of home. There are paintings of mellow New Orleans scenes and darkly whimsical dollhouse sculptures based on the famous sporting houses of Storyville. Fittingly, a recent exhibit at 3 Ring Circus’ Big Top Gallery showing a range of representative pieces was titled Splintered Personalities.
“It looked like 17 different artists had contributed to the show,” McGuire says with a laugh.
“In order to excel at something, I think you need to be able to walk away from it for a while,” she says. “Every time I take on a new medium, I learn something I can apply back to my other work.”
McGuire has been on quite a roll lately. Commissioned work appears in the nine27 Apartments in the Warehouse District and the Standard Life Building in Jackson, Miss., and you’ll find McGuire’s tent of circus banners at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Prints are available at Antieau Gallery on Royal Street, and you can see more of her work online at magwireart.com.