Skip to main content

In the Studio: Atmospheric Echoes

Charis Ammon and Jordan McGroary capture fleeting moments that would otherwise be lost in the day-to-day shuffle.

As we prepare for the 40th M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on April 6, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students! 

Painters Charis Ammon and Jordan McGroary are tuned in to the world around them. They bring an explorer’s eye to their surroundings, looking closely for something extraordinary buried beneath the mundane moments of daily life.

Many of Ammon’s recent paintings reflect large, cavernous spaces that seem to have been forgotten by the rest of the world — an empty movie theatre, a sprawling grocery store’s meat counter. These spaces, rendered in striking detail and devoid of people, feel almost melancholy in her paintings. “They’re like these monuments that are past their primes, that now exist as an echo of the space,” says Ammon. “I think ‘forgotten’ is a good word for a lot of what I paint. I find these somewhat uninteresting things, but approach them with a new curiosity.”

Similarly, McGroary searches for the things that others don’t notice, something unusual hidden in plain sight — a pool’s edge, the crook of an arm, a red lamp, windswept hair. The work in his studio, a mix of paintings, silkscreens, sketches and photographs hung salon-style across the walls, is rich, atmospheric and cinematic. “The feeling is the most important thing to me,” he says, explaining that he looks to connect with the emotional resonance of an image. “It needs to be genuine.”

Learn more about Ammon and McGroary in the Q&As below!

Charis Ammon, M.F.A. Painting ’18

How would you describe your creative process?
I think about the stories behind the objects or scenes, how people would engage with them, while I’m painting. Visually, continuous patterns or grids appear in a lot of my subject matter, and I feel like my paintings rest in this moment where the pattern is disrupted. I think that’s where curiosities come to life. If you’re walking down the sidewalk and you trip on a crack, or if a milk jug is missing. One, it tells a story that something happened for the change to occur, and two, it makes us think outside of our typical pattern of the day.

How else do you incorporate elements of storytelling into your work?
I have this series of tiny paintings about construction sites, where I see these cones and other elements almost like figures. Each one tells a little story. In one, where the cones are all crooked, it's like after the party and everyone is staggering home. This other one looks like workers are lined up waiting at a bus stop. In another one, there are six or seven cones — all different sizes and colors, some severely tattered or sun-bleached — circling this big hole in the ground, and it’s like a town meeting where everyone’s coming together with different ideas.

They’re not necessarily a big narrative, but I like little things like that, where you can bring your own narrative to them.

Jordan McGroary, M.F.A. Painting ’18

Your work is very multidisciplinary. What unites your body of work?
No matter what the form is, whether it’s a photograph or a painting or silkscreen or whatever, it’s about how I see the world, how I see my surroundings. Recently, I’ve just started taking walks. I’m a night person, so I’ll go out at three in the morning with my camera and just explore. It’s about me wandering around, not really looking for anything in particular but being open. Part of it is luck, and part of it is if I’m able to see it, to capture it.

What kinds of things tend to catch your eye?
I’m looking for the things that are between the moments people are paying attention to. I’m a people watcher, so I’ll go out to bars or cafes and watch people’s body language; I’ll look for something unusual. When I took this photo, I was driving past someone’s house and I saw this guy just sitting there in the middle of the night and I liked the feeling of it — the atmosphere, the lighting.

What artists motivate or inspire you?
I look to a lot of filmmakers and photographers. Wong Kar Wai is my favorite, and I like the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama. He’s like a painter in the darkroom; all of his prints are unique. In fact, a lot of the photographers I like, I’ll find out that they went to school for painting. I think there’s something about the way painters look at the world, and I gravitate toward that way of thinking. They tend to be very open and accepting of things, and I admire that. 

As for painters, Gerhard Richter is a major influence, and Luc Tuymans. His paintings are usually created in a day, and that’s how I work, too. I like working quickly, being direct, the immediacy of it.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum Friday, April 6 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 21.