MEREDITH PARDUE CAN’T REMEMBER A TIME WHEN SHE WASN’T PAINTING. BORN AND RAISED IN MONROE, SHE MOVED FROM ONE COAST TO ANOTHER AND NOW CALLS AUSTIN HOME. PARDUE IS A CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED ARTIST WITH WORKS IN PRIVATE AND NOTEWORTHY CORPORATE COLLECTIONS.
ARTICLE BY APRIL CLARK HONAKER AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARTIN G MEYERS
FOR SOME ARTISTS, inspiration must be experienced through the senses. They must touch, see, hear, smell or taste it. Inspiration could come in the layered warmth of a sunset or the vibrant coolness of a moss-covered stone. It could come from anywhere. Although Meredith Pardue finds inspiration in the world around her, the most reliable source of inspiration for her as an artist comes from within. “At the end of the day, I think inspiration is intrinsic. Making art is a part of what makes me tick. It’s very natural to me,” she said. “I don’t need motivation to go in my studio, because I belong there. You are who you are.”
Meredith can’t remember a time when she wasn’t painting. “I’ve been interested in art, since I could hold a paintbrush or a pencil,” she said. When she was old enough to begin formal art lessons, her mom signed her up. As she got older, continuing to grow as an artist and taking her skills and knowledge to the highest level were natural choices for her.
Meredith was born and raised in Monroe, Louisiana, but moved to Savannah, Georgia, to earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design. Afterward, she spent several years as a self-proclaimed gypsy, living in New York, Portland, Austin and Monroe. In the middle of these gypsy years, she paused in New York City long enough to earn her Master of Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design.
Looking back, one of the things she has noticed about her work is that it’s always been affected by her physical environment. Not only has she lived in multiple places; she has also spent extensive time in Paris and the Caribbean. While both of these places have strongly influenced the color, light and movement in her work, the landscapes of the cities she’s lived in have played out in subtle, subconscious ways as well. Meredith said she’s noticed that her color palette was more natural, and her paintings were more organic and loose when she was painting in her courtyard studio in Savannah. When she lived in New York, her work became more grid-like, which reflected the grid-like infrastructure of the cities, and when she lived in Portland, she saw more diagonal movement in her paintings, which reflected the mountains she could see through her window.
Living in Austin is having an effect on her work as well. “One of the reasons I immediately fell in love with Austin is the landscape,” she said. Seeing it for the first time made her feel at home. She said the skies are almost always blue, and the hills are almost always green because of the junipers. She loves the hills, the lakes, the aquifers and the sense of history inherent in the geography. “The nature here just speaks to me,” she said. According to Meredith, there are all sorts of ways an artist can be influenced. “Making art is a fluid and ongoing evolution, and it will continue to be as long as you’re making it. If you’re just living your life, it’s inevitable your work will evolve.”
At the same time, certain elements of her work inevitably reappear. It might be a certain mark, and it might be exactly the same or slightly different than one she made years ago, but these cycles are part of the process. Having one brain filled with unique memories, she expects certain elements to weave in and out of her work over time in various ways. “I would imagine that would be part of the evolution that would remain in place forever,” she said just as places, memories and personalities can influence an artist, people can as well. One person that was especially instrumental in Meredith’s development as an artist was the late Pam Baker of Monroe, a woman Meredith called her first mentor. “She was quite a force,” Meredith said. “She was good at engaging and rallying the community to purchase fine art, so she not only educated me but also the community.” After teaching film at New York University, Pam moved back to Monroe where she taught literature at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, and opened the original Levee Gallery in an old home near Forsythe Park. She gave Meredith a solo exhibition there and continued building on the education Meredith had received in Savannah and encouraging her to continue her education at Parsons.
Today, 15 years after completing her M.F.A., Meredith’s work is continually lauded by critics and has become part of numerous private and noteworthy corporate collections, including the ExxonMobil Houston Headquarters, J. Crew Corporate Headquarters and The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. However, her success hasn’t come without struggle. Fortunately, she has the tenacity and work ethic to power through the struggles and learn from her failures. “Be prepared to fail and let it go and keep trying new things,” she said, “and really do what you want to do, because the whole purpose is to create what you’re called to create.”
As a successful artist, one thing she has repeatedly faced is pressure to create more of the same type of work, but growth is important to her. As a result, she’s consciously resisted that pressure. “You don’t ask people what they want,” she said. “You give it to them. You’ve got to go out and do your own thing.” She believes art is all about risk-taking and trying new things, even if the risks lead to failure. “Growth is impossible without failure,” she said. “It’s about pushing yourself.”
Meredith also admits to being a perfectionist, but for her, being a perfectionist doesn’t necessarily mean having a single, ideal vision that she works toward in each piece. In the moment she begins a piece, it could have multiple perfect endings. “In art, there are infinite ways one could create a problem,” she said. “The minute you put down marks, you’re creating a problem.” But at the same time, she said, “When you’re creating a problem, there are infinite ways to solve it. It’s about the path you choose to go down.” Like the speaker in Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” the artist must continually choose one path over another, even if the paths appear equal. Meredith said her favorite thing about creating art is getting in the zone in the early stages of a painting when those paths lay sprawling before her and anything is possible. This stage is far more fun than the later editing stages when the essence of the painting has been established and tweaks are made to bring the painting closer to perfection.
Although striving for perfection can enhance an artist’s growth, Meredith said, “You don’t want your perfectionism to become crippling.” For Meredith, a change in perspective can help counter her perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes that change literally means trying to see her work as another person might. A painting she isn’t happy with could be the perfect painting for someone else, which she said has happened plenty of times. Meredith believes her work should be experienced in person and said, “It’s about the relationship between the viewer and the artwork. That is the most important thing. The minute I release a painting into the universe, it’s no longer mine, and different people are going to take away different things.”
Another way Meredith changes her perspective is by looking for the perfection in imperfection. “I find there is a great deal of beauty in imperfection,” she said. “In nature, there’s this perfect expression of beauty with imperfection.” She sees this perfect imperfection everywhere, from the microcosmic scale of a DNA sequence to the macrocosmic scale of the universe as a whole. “When you make a conscious effort to study the aesthetics of things,” she said, “you become hyper aware of beauty.” But one side effect of this aesthetic hyper-awareness is also a sensitivity to things that are visually disturbing or chaotic. For this reason, Meredith said she needs complete clarity in her living space.
The natural complement of a clear living space is a clear mind. “You have to have an open mind when you’re constantly creating something out of nothing,” she said. “Being an artist keeps me open-minded. It also keeps me from doing what everyone else is doing and allows me to be accustomed to thinking for myself. It enriches my life by allowing me to be open to things that may not be in the mainstream.” Over time, this openness has also shaped Meredith’s internal compass and brought her into sync with her personal values and beliefs.
One of the most important things to her is having the freedom to fully express these and all other aspects of herself, whether it’s by choosing an unconventional path in a particular painting or in life as a whole. “I really hate being constrained or being told what to do,” she said. For this reason, she chooses to work on a large scale, no smaller than 48 by 48 inches, and said the relationship between the size of the canvas and her body makes her feel more free and less self-conscious. According to Meredith, “The most important thing is having freedom, because if you’re painting something with rules attached, the question is, ‘How much are you really creating?’” She is happiest and most productive if she has total freedom—no rules, no deadlines, no expectations. “I enjoy doing work that is calling itself into being,” she said, “that feels destined to be made, and I enjoy the freedom of being able to change things.” Change also helps Meredith keep her brain busy and her perspective fresh, which is why she chooses to work on multiple pieces at once.
In an ideal world, Meredith imagines that her process might consist of having time to plan her work, having a productive conversation with the canvas and coming back for final editing. In reality, her process is much more fragmented, which she attributes partly to her ADD and partly to the season of life she’s in. “My kids are everywhere,” she said, “so I try to get it done when I can, and there’s a great deal of multitasking.” Although being a working artist and having a family require effort to maintain a balance, Meredith would never have chosen one over the other. “It’s not a choice,” she said. “It’s just a matter of managing it and making it work.” Meredith does her best to stick to a schedule and said, “Having the freedom to create whatever I want whenever I want is always a gift, but there are these rare gift moments, and that’s where the magic happens.”
In the end, Meredith hopes to create work that has a positive impact on people’s lives. “Through my work, I strive to create things that add beauty and peace to the world we live in. I feel like I’m doing my calling. I feel like I was created to do this work. This is who I am, and I strive to use it for good.”