Updated: Mar 27
This month I caught up with visual artist Megan Connelly, a Philadelphia-based visual artist, to chat about her work, her spirituality, and the creative process.
Self-described as bouncing between "chaotic and methodical" as she explores multiple ideas at one time, Megan works primarily with acrylic, spray paint, ink, gold leaf, and resin to make large-scale paintings, as well as smaller sculptural & mixed media works.
Megan's artwork has been featured in the likes of Architectural Digest and Home and Gardens, and was most notably collected by actor Blake Lively. She is currently represented by Gallery Orange in New Orleans, LA.
『』 View & Collect Megan's work here『』
CS: I always ask everyone to share how we know each other… So! How did we “meet”?
MC: We both felt compelled to join Dr. Kate Tomas' Spiritual Life Upgrade.
CS: I won't go too far into it, but for those who don't know, it's basically a yearlong spiritual mentorship based in theosophy and... possibly even some magickal practices.
MC: I can confirm that there's magick involved. Among other things. It's an incredible program that kind of re-wires your brain to understand yourself and the universe just a little bit better.
CS: Can you tell me about how you came to this spiritual work? Was it something you were doing before embarking on this program, or was this a new moment of exploration?
MC: Well, for the last six years I've been engaging with spirit and my own relationship to archetypal energies through my artwork, particularly the Hail Mary series. I had leaned into experiences of prayer from my childhood after the passing of my grandmother. When she passed, I was a new mother myself. As the years of early parenthood passed and the series continued, my focus evolved from acts of meditation and devotion through repetition in imagery, to a deeper reflection of motherhood and Mary's symbolism as that icon.
CS: One thing that I’m especially interested in is how creative process and spiritual process can intersect and overlap. There’s a correlation between what the brain is doing when we achieve flow state while creating, for example, and when we meditate or have other kinds of spiritual experiences. Do you find that these pursuits feel related in your life? How so (or how not)?
MC: For me, painting is as an act of meditation. And my work itself is begging the viewer to slow down and soak up your present. I rely on my spirit a lot for direction in the paintings to feel out when they feel "right" or "finished." I sometimes see an image form in meditation that I then look to incorporate or reflect through whatever pieces I'm currently working on.
CS: You create a lot of BIG works – big in every sense of the word. Your paintings are big in that they are bold, both with color and form. There’s lots of movement even when you’re addressing solitary subjects. Many of your works trend towards large-scale, and even your smaller sculptural pieces go big with color.
If we were to look at your style and intuition, craft-wise, through a more spiritual lens, what does that look like? Where do you feel like you’re channeling this big and bold essence from? Is it YOU, essentially, or some other kind of energy (or energies) coming through you?
MC: Big works have a physical component in their creation. I love knowing my whole body has to stretch to move the paint around. In that sense it can become a dance of creation. I reflect on how BIG works command attention. Pair that with a BIG icon and just call me an attention hog. I want these works to be seen. I want them to stop you. I want you to hold conversation with them and around them. Why can't subjects of the spirit stop you in your tracks? Christians mostly see Mary as their own, and that other interpretations of her perverse their faith. But Mary, as a universal icon, is so much more. She is respected by multiple cultures and faiths worldwide. She is called upon by witches, and followers of Islam, and others to power and charge their experiences of Motherhood.
CS: You also create big collections – variations on a theme. Tell us a little more about the merit in sinking into a subject and returning to it again and again. Is there a spiritual level to this approach?
MC: I began working in repetition around the same time these paintings came to be. I love how they flow through me. It felt right that they couldn't just be one-off works. The paintings need to be revisited just as I need to meditate on them. They are my meditation which is why continuing to create them is still enjoyable to me. Motherhood constantly evolves and I am constantly reflecting on my role as a Mother, and reflecting on Mary as a Mother as well.
CS: Do you have a religious background?
MC: I grew up in the Catholic Church – my family went every Sunday. We used to see our extended family there as well. I went to a novena as a child with my mother and grandmother on Tuesday evenings. We prayed the rosary. I attended Catholic school. As a child I was disappointed when I realized I couldn't be a priest. I was convinced my homilies would be a hit. Being a nun didn't seem as much fun. I would draw angels. I was thrilled in 8th grade when I was cast as Mary in the school Christmas pageant. When I traveled to Italy in college my favorite sightseeing opportunities always involved visiting the churches and cathedrals. This dedication to art and faith stayed with me in my studies.
CS: And does the Mary you paint represent the Virgin Mary that we all know from religious doctrine? Who is she, to you?
MC: She is my Motherhood beacon at the moment. She was a young woman given this huge weight of knowing her son's destiny. Her ability to relinquish control due to her son's knowledge and future symbolizes the destiny all Mother's share. Hoping we have done enough to prepare them to be strong enough to be themselves and do what they must. Jesus hung with the "undesirables" of society. I'm sure as a mother Mary wasn't exactly thrilled, but she trusted her son. My children are nearly six and this growth period is tough. Seeing who they are becoming even at a small age is inevitable. And you hope and hope and hope you're able to keep them safe.
CS: How do your collectors tend to relate to Mary as a subject?
MC: I find a good amount of my collectors have a similar upbringing to me. They see themselves in the same way I've described my process of coming to paint these collections – open to the evolving nature of devotion. They see their family, their Mothers, in these artworks.
CS: Is there a religious or spiritual meaning to the other series you’ve created? I’ve seen works that focus on rainbows, and even on ice cream. How did you “find” your subjects and what do you get from this extended kind of meditation-through-painting?
MC: Man, how religious is it to eat an ice cream cone sometimes? Just lapping it up before it melts away. In a weird way, my other work is a revisit of childhood. I reflect on experiences that felt religious and magical. Eating ice cream in the summer... how can I capture that? How can I capture that fleeting feeling? The same can be echoed in the rainbows and cloud paintings. I am capturing those fleeting moments.
CS: In daily life, especially as a mom, there’s a lot of code-switching between the artist self and the mom self and the working self and all the selves we need to get through the day. How do you channel your creative self through a full day where you have to wear a lot of hats? What sacred spaces do you carve out to create? And why is this necessary?
MC: I feel like I'm finally in a place now with parenting where I can actually speak to this! HAHAHA. Ok, so really. I have a VERY flexible routine. I have my artistic processes down to a routine for the most part, which is nice, and there's also room for that part to get more complicated when there's something new I want to try. I structure my "work day" mostly in two-hour blocks. Sometime less. I need things to sit, dry, contemplate, interact.
I am also drawn to spending more time in nature – just being outdoors, going on nearby hikes. The most important thing I've figured out at this point is how to be deliberate in carving out time for me. I used to ignore the need for my own space or time, or if that did happen it would be kind of random. Now it's a priority and worked into my day. I set my daily chores up and allow for a mess when I need to. Things will get done. They will always have to get done. Delegating certain tasks has helped. I have someone help with social media. We get our bathrooms cleaned twice a month. Sometimes investing in yourself looks like that.
CS: I can certainly relate. So what are you excited about that you’re working on these days? And where can we find your work?
MC: I just purchased poles, a roll of canvas and a grommet / punch maker thing. I'm planning to spend the spring and summer outside painting large works. Maybe landscapes, maybe florals, maybe Marys. Probably all of it. Why not. Spirit is calling me to bring everything outdoors!
You can find my work online at www.megancoonelly.com, on Instagram (@megancoonellyart), or in person at Gallery Orange in New Orleans. If you are local to the Philadelphia, PA area, my studio is open for you.
CS: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Megan. Your work is so unique and so gorgeous. Any last parting words for anyone navigating their own spiritual and creative journey?
MC: Thanks so much for having me. My advice is keep working. Keep creating. Keep dreaming. Write your ideas down and carve out time for play. Space is so important. Space to let work rest, space to let your children play. Space to roll around in nature.
MEGAN COONELLY ART