India McElroy stumbled into the medium of paint with a curious mixture of fear and talent.
A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who’s comfortable in the world of 3D installations and enamored with texture, McElroy has settled into her studio at Redux, which is bare save for recently spackled walls and a blank canvas. That flat stretch of white holds a host of abstract possibilities. For McElroy, it’s a bit of an enigma. “Once you get into it, it’s like a puzzle you have to solve. I’m searching for an answer to the puzzle, but I’m the only one who can say it’s done. With painting I’m always looking for something,” she says. “If I’m lucky enough to afford several canvases, I’ll work on one, then another. I don’t want to overwork one. If you look at something for too long, you’re not seeing it for what it is.”
Once the artwork is complete, she is quick to move on, showing scarcely any interest in the end result, as evidenced by the painting hanging in the Redux gallery. The gray and green piece, called “Untitled on Panel,” shows her love and understanding of texture. It’s thick, layered, and interesting. She only just discovered it was displayed incorrectly, despite her studio being a mere 30 feet away. When she rights the artwork from vertical to horizontal, the effect wholly changes — the darker colors at the bottom of the canvas now weigh the composition down with a heaviness.
Although texture is an important element in McElroy’s work, it’s not the only thing she focuses on. “I’m looking for some balance in a piece. A harmony to my eye. Painting is fun. I’m free. I’m doing it for me, instead of …” — she pauses as if defending herself. “People don’t like abstract. It’s not for everyone. It’s not a masterpiece.”
Currently, the North Charleston City Gallery has five of her paintings on display. The story behind these works offers a fascinating look into the brain of an artist — the struggle, the fear, and the satisfaction that can come from striving to create.
“I was questioning whether I wanted to paint anymore. I had a hard time with where my work was going and was getting into a corner with oil paint. I had used oil before but not as seriously, doing an entire group in just oil. I was trying to learn and figure it out,” she says. “I panicked and painted over all five of my canvases two weeks before the show. I said, ‘Let’s start from the bottom and hope for a miracle.’ I’m not sure a miracle occurred, but I got them done.”
She describes this group of work as playful and risky, adding that she’s happy with some, not with others. But that doesn’t bother her. “I don’t want to be defined by these paintings. My next group could be completely different,” says McElroy. “I’m not done. I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet.”
As for this next group of paintings she’s about to embark on, she’s excited, and it appears she’s made her peace with the medium. “I’m working with oil again. This is exciting for me as I had to battle with oil paint. Maybe we’re friends now. We’re not going to kill each other just yet.”
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