Meridith McNeal, Things That Happen installation in progress

“Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!”

~ Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1871


Earlier this year my father and I met up in Philadelphia. He brought a gift for me, an old handbill for a production of his play Things That Almost Happen at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street in Manhattan. Over several cups of coffee and pancakes, he told me tales from that time before I was born, stories of actors, Greenwich Village, reviewers, being an artist. This flyer now has a new life. It has become a talisman, painted lying on a blue tablecloth in my Brooklyn kitchen. This is also the story behind the title of this exhibition. Everything on view in this exhibition really did happen.


The big paintings I call Windowphilia—life-sized paintings on paper that play with reflection and layers of external and internal space. I think of them like this: Windows invite a multiplicity of meanings. Add a reflective surface, so light can work its magic, and you bring a sort of graceful confusion. What is on one side can coexist with what is on the other, the space behind and before the viewer overlaid. Where you have been shows itself side by side with where you are, or where you may yet be going.


The small pieces are Magical Things, an ongoing series of watercolors that venerate the easily overlooked objects of everyday life. Mundane objects become totems, milagros—charms of mindfulness, imbued with a power greater than the sum of their parts.


Without knowing what she might find in the looking-glass world, Alice decided to explore. She grew taller and smaller, listened to poetry, swam in her own tears, met fascinating creatures, played chess, and more. I would like to suggest that as you look at my paintings you let yourself get a little lost.


I wholeheartedly concur with Olivia Laing in Funny Weather: Art in the Time of Emergency (2020) “We’re so often told that art can’t really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility. It makes plain inequalities, and it offers other ways of living.”


Things That Happened could be said to be a training ground for possibility. Perhaps, like Alice, you might find that looking at these paintings fills your head with ideas. I certainly hope so.


Meridith McNeal

Brooklyn, NY