Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Painting: 'House on Marconi'


House on Marconi 2010, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board.

It’s an odd sensation painting something that one walks by everyday. The subject of ‘House on Marconi’ sits only a few yards from our front door.

Over the last few months, during the daily dog walk, I’ve occasionally been tempted to check out details that were unclear in the source photograph but I mostly avoided looking too hard. There’s an awkward creepiness in paying so much furtive attention to someone else’s house. It’s not unlike developing an obsessive crush on the person who makes your soy latte every morning. Not that I would know anything about that.

Being so deeply immersed in a subject, as one is when spending three months painting it, is an unusual experience. All the more unusual given the prosaic nature of the subject. No one in the ‘real’ world ever spends that much time considering such a quotidian scene.

I have a complicated, subconscious response to my subjects that feels almost physical. It may be the sense of desolation or the inherent, sad beauty of the unremarkable facades but I get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when confronted by the scenes that become paintings. They act as clues to some long buried personal mystery, each one giving a sense of bringing me closer to resolution but never delivering a result.

As I sort through my slides looking for the subject of my next painting, I have to constantly remind myself that it’s the pit-of-my-stomach, anxiety-disorder, existential aloneness that I’m painting, not old houses, storefronts, or my neighbourhood. Certain examples of these things can trigger in me the feeling I’m wanting to explore but aren’t, in and of themselves, a reason to paint.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Performance Ritual



Recently, I filmed an entire day of my painting process, my ‘Performance Ritual’. It was an exhausting day. I had a long list of shots I needed to illustrate the typical day in my studio beginning with the first few moments after waking at seven to the final marking of my time sheet and extinguishing of my lamp at five.

Much of what I wanted to record was the cycle of activity outside the walls of my condo-studio. In my isolated art-bubble, the daily routines of the mechanics, the body shop, the commuter train, the school bus depot, embrace me as part of the larger world of work. In our previous neighbourhood, a family filled street of brick duplexes and triplexes whose facades ran unbroken from one end of the block to the other, the daily exodus for work or school left the neighbourhood eerily quiet, the conventional nature of life there only accentuating the isolation that an artist can sometimes feel.

I’ve connected ‘work’ with my art since I quit my job to explore the possibility of painting full time in 1983. A combination of guilt and an overblown presbyterian work ethic ensures that my practice is a sober one. I’ve never owned an easel or a palette or worked with more than one brush although I will admit to wearing a beret in snowstorms in the eighties.

My improbable choice of working surface, a metal, sixties office desk and my lifelong fascination for offices and office supplies and equipment no doubt stems from my Father’s long held job at an insurance company whose offices were a repository of oddballs and cranks that I mostly feared and my Mother’s job in the sixties, cleaning offices from which she’d return, late at night, with the discards of Union Carbide: outdated stationery, Eveready Battery signs, battery testers and odd product labels on sheets.

As a child I endured one or two Christmas parties at my Father’s workplace and one staff picnic of which my only memory is getting lost and tearfully searching for my Father among the drunken adults. While the office discards of reams of paper and other supplies kept me busy as a kid, my Father mostly kept this part of his life separate from his family and bred in me a resentment for this other ‘family’.

I’m always fascinated by how well buried are the roots of our present day actions. My intuitive desire to film a day of work juxtaposed with the routines of the workers outside my studio brought home to me, yet again, the connections between our childhood experiences and the sometimes puzzling choices we make as adults.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Artist's Statement


Rosedale Manor 2007, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper.

The artist statement is an odd document. The bastard child of art and literature, often neither artistic nor literate. It is to art what ‘compulsory figures’ were to nineteen sixties figure skating competitions: an adjudicated series of prescribed moves which relate only marginally to artistic expression.

I’ve always resented and resisted the kind of statement that results in successful grant applications. Not surprisingly, I haven’t had many successful grant applications. When I think of a juror on a grant committee, I transpose, in my mind, an elderly East German figure skating judge: a stooped man in a drab overcoat, peering at the cuts on the ice and marking his card in the manner of the juror checking off the currently acceptable phrases and concepts.

Though I’m convinced no one has ever read any of my statements, I’ve always found them to be a good way to crystalise an explanation of what my subconscious is trying to accomplish in my work. A way of conveying to the average person the intent behind a seemingly nondescript collection of images.

My most recent statement for Jim Kempner Fine Art is marginally more ‘art world’ than usual for me but given my new audience and a burgeoning awareness of some long hidden concepts in my process, it seemed appropriate.

Please forgive me for referring to ontology.

*****

Artist’s Statement:

In 1993 I began using photo based imagery in order to eliminate the identifiable marks I make as an artist. In practice, using a single photographic slide as reference and adhering strictly to the information presented in the image is as close as a realist painter can get to objectivity. By restricting my palette (two reds, two blues, yellow and black) the size of the paintings (5.5 X 8”) and by using a single brush (an inexpensive #6 gold sable) I’ve further eliminated many subjective decisions from my process.

I don’t seek out my subjects. They emerge from the periphery of awareness and are almost entirely buildings which have achieved a level of invisibility in their surroundings. The kind of invisibility that heralds transformation: renovation; destruction. I’m interested in the ontological question of being: If it’s ‘invisible’ to everyone, does it exist?

I see my process as ‘performance ritual’. Monday to Friday I work at an old office desk from 9 am to 5 pm. I begin the day by removing the paints from a drawer on my left and placing them on the desk. I remove the painting from a box in front of the desk. At noon I break for lunch and record my morning’s hours on a time sheet that I keep in a drawer on the right. At 12:30 pm I resume working until 5 pm when I record the afternoon’s hours on the sheet. This ‘performance ritual’ contravenes the notion of the artist as free spirit, presenting instead the artist as worker, toiling to create an article of cultural consumption. The product is a much fetishised image on board: the average 5.5 X 8” painting requiring 280 hours to complete from a slide exposed at 1/60th of a second, a time factor of 60,480,000 to 1.

I’ve come to accept the folly of hoping to eliminate the self through representative imagery but I’ve managed what is, for me, an acceptable level of detachment from my subject and the physical object of the completed painting through the restrictions I’ve imposed on my process.


Neil MacCormick

September, 2010.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recontextualisation: Part 3



Being an artist means sometimes doing what seems most frightening. Normally, the days go by in a pleasant kind of tedium, a feeling that work is getting done. After so many years of refining a process, there’s little to sort out beyond the logistics of how one tackles the next area to be painted. The mind often fixates on other less immediate things like ‘Why is my ankle sore?’ and ‘What the hell is up with my art career?’ The latter question usually precedes a sickly feeling in the stomach and an effort to get back to wondering about the ankle.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my career. Beyond changing the way the paintings are presented in their frames or the desire to call myself something other than ‘photorealist’, I’ve felt a growing urge to find a new audience for my work. It’s either a hazard of my psyche or my trade but the days spent painting while simultaneously deconstructing every decision I’ve ever made sometimes results in finding a question that needs to be answered: “Can I place my work in the larger context of contemporary art and escape the confining clutches of ‘photorealism’?”

Managing one’s art career isn’t something people talk about. I certainly don’t think it’s something anyone teaches, only the individual artist can visualise the path forward. For me, the persistent itch of dissatisfaction for my lot is what drives most of my career decisions. The ‘itch’ is something I feel is crucial to the development of one’s art, never mind one’s career. Complacency and satisfaction toll the death knell for originality.

With this in mind, I made a bold move and in my ever-expanding search for a new context, I ended my six year relationship with O.K. Harris in SoHo and found a new starting point as the only photo-based painter at Jim Kempner Fine Art in Chelsea. The change came quickly when I finally puzzled out what change was needed. Like a tectonic plate, I can sometimes shock myself and those around me by making an unexpected move.

If we’re lucky and if we’re open to it, life can take us to unexpected places. Two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined leaving the security of O.K. Harris. As I walked out of Kempner, having dropped off three paintings to meet their fate in Chelsea, I felt like I had just jumped off a cliff. I’d set in motion something whose outcome was unclear to me. I walked to the end of 23rd street and composed myself on a bench in the park at Chelsea Piers, assuring myself that I’d done the right thing.

Whether or not my work finds its audience at Jim Kempner, I feel now that the important thing, as an artist, was jumping off the cliff.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Painting: 'Oriental(e)'


Oriental(e) 2010, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board.

Oriental(e) is a tofu manufacturer located a short block from our condo/studio. It has that beyond-its-best-before-date look. In our neighbourhood, that means a new condo will rise in place of a freshly razed building and the empty lot next door. The building is, in fact, for sale for less money than we paid for our condo. If not for the intimidating and expensive prospect of converting it to a studio, we’d be buying. Who doesn’t want a garage door entry to their studio? I’m assuming the mice would leave with the dearth of tofu manufacturing but maybe that’s a mistaken assumption on my part. The lot next door might be unavailable to developers as it’s ‘occupied’ by a mysterious person or persons in a tent. In over a year we have yet to figure out what goes on beyond the hoarding that hems in the property. We do indeed live in a curious neighbourhood.

The slide from which I painted ‘Oriental(e)’ was taken after the building’s ‘For Sale’ sign fortuitously blew off in a storm. I hadn’t managed a good photo of the building before the sign went up and I didn’t want a shot of the building with the sign. One of my rules is to use only one slide per painting. The only manipulation I allow to the photo is a subtle cropping to centre the image. I use a slide viewer through which I peer at the small section of the image on which I’m working. The completed image often comes as something of a surprise. Having concentrated for several months on such small parts of it, the whole of the image seems quite fresh to my eyes. I often have to rack my brain to remember which painting I’ve just completed.

‘Oriental(e)’ is a perfect illustration of the transitional building I find so appealing. A nondescript structure just at the edge of its usefulness in a changing neighbourhood. One day no one will remember it was there.

I’ve come to accept that transition is a good thing in ones life. I’m entering year eight in a period of transitions both major and minor in what, I’ve convinced myself, has otherwise been a relatively stable existence. As difficult as it can sometimes be, I think I’ve come to prefer transition’s anxiety, uncertainty and inherent feeling of ‘reality’ to the numbing illusions borne of a desire for stability.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Recontextualisation: Part 2


House on De Brebeuf 2010

As someone who has always lived and worked in a vacuum it’s been an interesting experience letting friends into my life. The fact that most are artists makes it even more interesting. Strange as it sounds, I’ve always avoided artists and have made it a point not to obsess over other people’s opinions on art. I’d rather have my own thoughts and the accompanying illusion of their originality.

I’m glad I developed in this vacuum but I’m also beginning to see the benefits of allowing a discourse.

The second part of my attempt at recontextualising my work is thanks, in a large part, to Montreal artist Randall Anderson. Randall and I met just over a year ago in my old neighbourhood, days before he left for a cross-Canada bike trip and a scant couple of weeks before I left the area for good. At our first meeting we found a lot of common ground despite the apparent dissimilarity of our work.

I now meet Randall every week to talk about art and I think we’ve had a broadening effect on each other’s perceptions of our own work. At one meeting Randall, who at the time was doing a series of hard edge paintings, talked about the sheer joy of peeling off the final piece of tape to reveal the completed painting and asked if I ever have that moment with my work. I said ‘No!’ but then I thought of that moment when I take off the protective paper that surrounds the painting and see the image floating in the white of the board. I get a kind of rush, a feeling of ‘I did that?’ The painting appears to have emerged from the board through some divine process.

Randall suggested that if I painted the images in the middle of a larger sheet, I could frame them without a mat. Float a sheet of glass above the image. Add a white frame.

Cue the angels singing. Instant contemporary context.

The idea of the bare image excited me. I’ve been framing these things like an ancestor’s needlepoint or an old etching torn from a book. The sickly antique white of the always poorly cut mat, the blah black frame. Enough!

I’ve always hated frames and the experience of going to the framer. It can’t be a fun job. Nothing less than perfection is expected but so rarely is it delivered. My first framer in Montreal actually touched the painting with a finger as I tried to convince her that the image was a painting and not a print. This encounter was all the more curious as it was entirely in French. I researched all the words I would need in a dictionary before heading out that day!

The last painting I gave to a framer for the full process was ‘Parkside Bar’, a painting which had consumed just under 700 hours of my life. As I left the framer which, in all honesty, was a perfectly sterile and safe looking environment, I had a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought to myself, ‘What kind of an idiot would leave that with a stranger?’

I assemble the pieces at home now. I order the frame, the glass, the spacers, the backing and put it all together in the safety of my studio. Even so, the spacers are always a little off, there is occasionally a shoe print on the acid free backing board and the odd mark on the white frame. No system is perfect!

I’ve illustrated two recent examples of the new framing method. It seems like a small thing to change but it feels like an important shift in how I present the work. Context is everything.


A.B. Demolition 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Recontextualisation



‘Recontextualisation’ is a word that’s been on my mind for a while. A seemingly simple concept: take something from its normal place in the world and stick it somewhere else. See what happens.

I’ve had a growing feeling that my work needs to be seen in a different way. I don’t feel that I’m doing what other photorealists are doing. I’ve suspected for a long time that my process was more a part of understanding the work than I’ve been giving it credit. I can look back on more than seventeen years of development and finally see some patterns emerging.

I’ve always felt a little uneasy about the ‘photorealism’ moniker. Mention to anyone in the art world, someone who doesn’t know what you do, that you’re a photorealist and watch the look of contempt or pity or disinterest wash over their face. ‘It looks like a photo!’ can be praise or condemnation in equal measure. Non art-world people always love that I paint recognisable images and are happy to share their own version of contempt for the non-objective art forms with me.

I’ve always wanted to paint this way, long before I realised it wouldn’t be a particularly art-world thing to do. I can’t explain my desire, it just always seemed ‘right’ but how does one get people to look past the superficial looks-like-a-photo nature of the work?

It takes me an unfathomably long time to paint a painting. The time commitment has felt more like a burden than a necessary part of the story. Why does it take me twice as long as the next person to paint a similar sized painting? I sometimes feel like an idiot savant, having stumbled upon a process without understanding how it happened.

I’ve finally reached a point where each new painting isn’t taking longer than the one previous. For years the paintings shrank from 12 X 18 inches to 8 X 12 and finally to 5.5 X 8 as I tried to find a way to produce a decent number of paintings in a year. At my last show, Ivan Karp suggested that if I produced more work I could have more shows and wouldn’t that be a good thing? I jokingly said I could produce more if they were smaller. He slowly shook his head and in a quiet voice said ‘No.... don’t make them smaller’.

As I‘ve mentioned in other posts, I record the number of hours I paint every day. I started this as a way of knowing how long it would take to produce work for a show I once had scheduled in Toronto. If I knew how many hours a painting took to paint, I could plot out my work for the upcoming months. Ten years later I still record this information every day. Something in this act relates directly to my practice or I would have stopped. It’s not just a quirk of style that makes my method so laborious.

The other day I made a surprising calculation. If one perceives the average time for the shutter to open and close on my camera as one unit of time then over 62,000,000 of those units are needed to complete the average 5.5 X 8 inch painting of the captured image.

Clearly something strange is going on here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Painting: A.B. Demolition


A.B. Demolition 2010, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board.

My third Montreal painting, A.B. Demolition is part of a trio of derelict buildings on Rue Mont-Royal in our old neighbourhood of the east Plateau. A building so forlorn that even its demolition has faltered.

I didn’t think of the inherent irony in the upside-down ‘Demolition’ sign until I’d finished the painting. In the nineteen-eighties my ex-wife and I used to joke that everything I painted ended up getting knocked down or unsympathetically renovated within weeks of the completion of a painting or drawing.

It seemed uncanny, whether a service station, house or bridge, I had a knack for unconsciously spotting something on the verge of a major transition: a white porceline-enamel skinned Texaco station just before a dumpster heralds its final days; a bungalow which soon finds itself overwhelmed by a cancerous looking addition.

It’s something for which I still have a feeling. I inevitably photograph and paint things which have achieved a certain amount of invisibility in their neighbourhoods. When something becomes so out of step with its surroundings, it will either find itself being revered or destroyed. Sometimes both in quick succession. Incidentally, we do this as well to people who dare to be out of step with the parameters we’ve set for ‘normal’.

No one likes to see the ravages of time these places represent. Nor can we face it in ourselves. We like to move on, renovate and rebuild, not acknowledging our own inevitable decline. Subconsciously thinking that if we do not stay on top of the decay, we’ll soon be overtaken.

The subjects for my paintings are the least likely to be revered. Most will be destroyed in one way or another. They are the architectural wallflowers of the city, representing the unforgiving nature of time. Existing in silence and in their passing unmourned.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Myth Making


Basic Inquiry Studio 2003, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper

It sounds unfathomably naive to me now but in my innocence, or ignorance, I’ve always felt that one day someone, somehow, would become aware of my work and be moved to add me to a volume or article on photorealism, or perhaps review or curate a show of my work.

My art education, such as it is, comes from a meagre selection of books and magazine articles. It never occurred to me that art books could be vehicles for self promotion, a dealer promoting their ‘stable’ or possibly their own holdings of art. I’ve imagined these volumes to be objectively compiled by knowledgeable altruists but they’re actually a product of the highly subjective opinions of a handful of people.

This reality inspired me almost a year ago to start this blog as a way of telling my story. I’ve come to think of it as personal myth making.

It’s taken me a long time to feel that I have a story worth telling or even that I have a story. As the youngest child in my family I believed that life was what happened to other people. An older brother or sister. My mother or father. Surely what ‘happened’ to me was of no consequence. I was the furniture in the room observing other people living lives.

I’ve lived most of my life in isolation. It wasn’t until my life fell apart in 2004 that I realised how isolated I’d been. I found myself, without friends, in a city where I’d lived for almost twenty years. When I forced myself, out of desperation, to leave my house and entertain the idea of connecting with strangers, I found that I had things to share with them. Oddly compelling things. It was easy for me to turn the painful events of my mid-life disasters into entertaining pub conversations. People enjoy knowing some are worse off than they.

I’ve become hyperaware of the stories people tell about themselves. The way we frame our experiences to suit a desired personal narrative. Anyone who is interviewed regularly has concocted a legend which is strengthened in the retelling.

It’s a cruel truth that not everyone wants us to be happy or successful. It’s easy to find oneself being labeled in a way we wouldn’t choose for ourselves by those who, for whatever reason, would like to keep us from fulfilling our goals.

It turns out I really have lived a life. Taking control of one’s own story and giving it an understandable narrative arc is one way of ensuring that no one else decides the narrative for us.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Myth of Sisyphus


A.B. Demolition (in progress, detail 1.25 X 8" 31.5 hours)


Some mornings I can’t face the prospect of yet another day of painting. When I’ve completed a painting and I’m about to start another I often have in mind the myth of Sisyphus. In punishment for innumerable offenses, the gods condemned Sisyphus for eternity to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down as he approached the summit.

I’m not sure for what I’m being punished but some mornings the dream of being a full time artist feels like a bad idea.

Success has a slippery definition. By many accounts I’m a successful artist. I show at a well known New York gallery. I sell most if not all of the paintings I produce. My prices have gone up more than five hundred percent in six years. On the other hand, I earn less than the hourly minimum wage in Quebec and my work is virtually unknown in my own country or much beyond the narrow sub genre of photorealism.

It’s easy to be envious of the prices other artists receive for their work but it’s rarely mentioned that sluggish sales often accompany lofty prices. I remind myself that the main reason for embarking on a painting career so many years ago wasn’t the allure of untold riches but the promise of self realisation and self direction. There are any number of ways to turn a facility for art into a good income but I chose to make paintings.

Albert Camus said in his 1942 essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart’. As I begin my second half-century, on those mornings when I struggle to find a reason to continue to care about painting, I remind myself that Camus died in a car accident at forty-seven and that he doesn’t mention with what the heart is filling.

As evidenced by the above photo, I managed to begin another painting. I made my way back down the hill, took a breath, placed my hands on the rock and braced myself to push.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

'Ghost'


Girl and Fish, 2001 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper

I stopped painting neon signs in or around 2001. My interest in the subject was killed by the ‘Hooray for neon!’ feelings engendered in viewers. In its place, I was tempted for a time by the graffiti I was encountering in Victoria and Vancouver. I took a lot of pictures and made a few paintings.

For years I had been aware of a graffiti artist in Victoria who tagged his work ‘Ghost’ or less frequently ‘Pawz’. His odd elf-like portraits appeared everywhere. Over the course of a year I painted three paintings in which his work featured prominently.

In the comment book for my show ‘Relic’ at Bau-Xi gallery in Toronto in early 2001, someone wrote in a strange script taking up an entire page: “Victoria... a sleepy little town to perfect a skill. And spooky stories of Beacon Hill Park. Nice Ghost shots, Hans would appreciate it.”

I assumed Hans was ‘Ghost’. I did one more painting of Victoria graffiti before I moved on to other subjects and thought nothing more of ‘Ghost’. I’d stopped taking photos of graffiti altogether.

(Bomb, 2002 18 X 12" acrylic on paper)

In 2002 a small article in a local Victoria paper caught my attention. It described a fundraiser being held in memoriam for Hans Fear. A year earlier, not long after my Bau-Xi show, ‘Ghost’ had hanged himself.

The article explained that Hans had been schizophrenic and had made a conscious decision to stay off his medication because it affected his art.

The story marked a bit of a change in how I saw the graffiti paintings I’d been doing. I was unintentionally celebrating the work of another artist in these paintings. Not that he didn’t deserve the recognition but I began to get a similar feeling of the artist hiding behind a subject as I’d had with the neon signs.

I was haunted by the belated news of Ghost’s death for months and found myself compelled to write a poem:

Ghost

You signed
spray-can portraits
on plywood windows –
an impish girl turned
upside-down
by workmen.

Holding the serrated blade of art
over medication’s flaccid flesh –
a black and hollow face
on a hoarding.

You hanged yourself
on a hilltop
in view of
floating mountains
the canvas of the city
receding below -
your spray lines
fading slowly
or abruptly covered.

Graffiti Creatures, 2000 12 X 18" acrylic on paper

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Painting: 'House on De Brebeuf'


House on De Brebeuf, 2010 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board

‘House on De Bebeuf’ took me through the bulk of our second Montreal winter. Three hundred and three hours spread over nine or ten weeks. The little house is the only one I photographed in our old unlamented neighbourhood. An anomalous one story building amongst the rickety exterior staircases of the taller duplexes and triplexes that typify the ‘Plateau’.

Winter was easier this year. Our first one in ‘Petite Italie’. The neighbourhood is less frantic than our last which was an uneasy mixture of older, low income renters and flat-screen-hdtv, stainless-steel-appliance-loving, nouveaux bourgeois. This is a strangely calm part of the city with a remarkable array of people from all social strata quietly going about their business. On the weekend when the car shops and meat packers are closed it’s positively sublime.

For the first time I managed to complete a time-lapse video project of the painting process. I knew I’d have to mount the tripod on my desk in order not to forget to take the photos. I averaged three shots a day. It’s easier to understand why the paintings take so long when the video appears to bog down as the brick areas are painted or when the intricate background railings are being sharpened.

I felt a great sense of relief when this painting was done. The video was an added burden that I tired of quickly but was determined to see through.

Something that would complete my bare-it-all painting process, aside from a 24/7 live video feed, would be little notations on my time sheets to explain why I missed several hours of one day or another day altogether. This would complete the picture of process-as-art. The days that I wanted to crawl into a cave and die are surely not irrelevant to the understanding of the work but this facet only exists if I share it.

I have a fundamental desire to leave a mark of my existence that will extend beyond whatever years I have left. Classic mortality complex. I grew up with a profound feeling of powerlessness and invisibility and have a need to leave some trace or proof of my having existed.

The paintings are seed being sown. The gallery, the blog, the videos, the web-site are the cultivation. The crop being harvested is me.

video

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Q & A: 'Poets and Artists'


I was asked to provide answers to a few interview questions by Poets and Artists magazine recently. While I think all the time about my systems, it’s hard to commit it to words. I rewrote the answers several times before I felt even vaguely satisfied.

I find writing, like art, is a process of getting to one’s truth. In the first draft I embellish, prevaricate and generally hide behind a glib or amusing front. A need for acceptance drives this behaviour but it doesn’t make for good writing.

I present this side to the outside world. The other side, exposed to but a few, is truly cutting and opinionated.

In the second draft, I hack and slash the words that dull the points I’m making or that make what I’m doing seem trivial. The more time that passes between drafts, the easier it is to see the culprits.

Here is the interview as it appears in the magazine. I’ve refrained from doing another round of editing!

Short bio written in third person.

Montreal based painter Neil MacCormick’s obsessively created small scale photorealist works, reflecting the artist’s concerns with identity and alienation, have garnered an eager audience resulting in consecutive sold out shows at the prestigious O.K. Harris Works of Art in New York.

MacCormick, a self taught artist, was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1958. His work has also shown at galleries in Toronto, Vancouver, B.C. and Victoria B.C. where he lived for almost twenty years.

Artist statement.

Photorealism offers me the illusion of objectivity, the removal of self.

In reality, my paintings are a conduit through which I subconsciously express an almost indefinable ache with the unique marks I make.

Do you have a ritual you follow before each new work is started?

I hate to think of it as a ritual, per se, but I often go through a period of listlessness or anxiety between paintings.

This period of a week or so between the end of one painting and the beginning of another has to do with the intense and protracted level of concentration that each piece requires and the absence of a feeling of usefulness that painting gives me.

What do you hope art historians will say about your work 300 years from now?

I try to make the unique experiences of my life into art that transcends the intensely personal to become universally representative of the human condition.

I can honestly say that the opinions of art historians aren’t something I care about.

What are you working on next?

I’m several weeks in to the next project ‘House on De Brebeuf’ a small painting of a small nondescript house in Montreal.

Entering my second year of life in Montreal, I’ve begun focussing on more local subject matter as the city seeps into my veins and I begin to see myself reflected in its brand of structure and roadside iconography.

What is your hidden talent (something not related to art)?

Due to my fanatical desire to uproot the sources of my own issues and ideas I have developed an ability to help people see through the tangle of their own psychological undergrowth. This is something I feel is enormously helpful in creative pursuits.

I also write and cut hair.

What medium have you not used in the past that you may wish to try out?

I live in an area of Montreal which is replete with auto body shops and I’ve begun collecting discarded metal fenders and other painted car panels for a project not entirely unrelated to painting but definitely outside of my normal practice.

It may take years to complete the first piece but I’m not averse to long term goals!

Explain your process.

My process begins with a single slide taken by a 35 mm SLR camera. The slide is projected on to paper or illustration board using a thrift store projector. The image is traced with a 5H pencil in a relatively loose manner. This process usually takes two hours.

The paintings are done with five watered down acrylic colours and one inexpensive #6 gold sable brush, in a modified watercolour/dry-brush technique using only the white of the paper to provide highlights. I adhere as closely as I can to the visual information provided by the slide.

I paint from background to foreground slowly building colour saturation using washes, crosshatches and stipples. I complete each small section before moving on. Aside from the area being painted, the painting is covered by a protective layer of tracing paper.

I refer to the slide in a small hand held daylight viewer. I don’t produce any prints of the slide.

It takes between two to three months for a typical 5.5 X 8” painting, working nine to five, five days a week.

Introspective

My process is based around the notion that if I restrict my materials and set parameters on my methods I’ll hinder the subjective decisions I make while painting.

’Running Man’, painted during a period of intense upheaval in my life, is an illustration of how my subconscious mind tinkers with this notion and makes me choose, without conscious understanding, to photograph and then paint an image that is full of subliminal representations of the experiences I’m living through: the running man in the upper window; the chain link fence surrounding the property.

It’s worth noting that the ‘white’ of the fence isn’t actually painted but is defined by the painted diamond shapes (more than six hundred of them) that define the background. The fence was the most challenging thing I’ve ever painted and more than once I feared I had ruined the painting.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Artifacts


Live Stock Salesmen 2001, 12 X 18" acrylic on paper.

The other morning I woke up with the unmistakable ache of a night spent clenching my teeth in my sleep.

The previous evening I had attended an opening at an art museum in Montreal. A rare event for me but an acquaintance was having his first museum show.

It triggered enough anxiety for a night of gnashing.

Despite the scope and significance of his show, my friend wasn’t the star attraction of the evening. Another young Canadian with an even larger international stamp of approval was the main draw.

The latter was a contrived and clumsily executed mish mash of apparent interest to the indie-hipster community.

As my girlfriend Hayley and I bumped through the crowds and tried to make sense of the exhibits it began to dawn that there was little sense to be made.

I tried to imagine my own work in the grand museum spaces and couldn’t.

Photorealists have become the lamplighters of contemporary art. What began as a serious offshoot of pop art’s light hearted mockery, photorealism has become bogged down by the superficiality that comes from an obsessive interest in technique.

Most photorealists live in a world blindered to the realities of the mainstream art world, weighed down by the notion of craftsmanship, of narrative. The notion of right and wrong. The hierarchy of skill lurking in the psyche.

My night at the museum pointed out for me the depth of the gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Digital photographs printed on canvas and scumbled with glazes or otherwise manipulated by hand in some minor way are de rigeur these days. There is little disclosure made by artists and galleries of the largely mechanical nature of these works.

The question in my mind is, if the art world doesn’t care how an image is made, what does photorealism offer the world of contemporary art?

If it offers only technical proficiency then we’re all in trouble. There has to be more to a painting than a well rendered surface.

Art should speak to people beyond the walls of the compound. What are you saying and why should anyone care?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Show Comments


The Only Seafoods, 1995 11.25 X 17" acrylic on paper.

When I began showing at O.K. Harris in 2004, one of the things that surprised me was the lack of provision for a comment book. With five simultaneous openings they feel, quite rightly, that a space to hold comment books would only get in the way.

It’s something I thought I’d miss but selling paintings turns out to be a good way to make you forget.

When things weren’t selling well at my shows in Canada, the comment book was something to look forward to. The kind comments of friends, relatives and strangers were a balm for the soul.

I’ll admit the comments from people I didn’t know were the most fascinating, here are some of my favourites.

From children:

--These Paintings look real!! (M. Irwin age 10)
--How did you do it? (A. Wilton)
--I. S. P. 2nd 2 big O. (unsigned!)

From the unconvinced:

--Different! (Gisele B.)
--Interesting work (C. McDermott)
--OK OK, But what is the relationship between these images + watercolours of them? (G.A.)
--Photorealism, again. (D. Brierly)

From the supportive:

--Your work is spiritual (L. Ulysses Castellana) written in an elaborate script!
--Save the realism! Great work! (B. Sung)
--WICKED STUFF!! AMAZING Good work! (unsigned)

Finally, from the helpful:

--Keep it Urban- Neon Landscape rools
P.S. Lose the frames (Renel)
--nice imagery- loosen up- (unsigned)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Provenance

It’s not in the least unusual for a child to draw a house. Kids who don’t grow up in houses also draw them. In the young mind its familiar shape evokes thoughts of comfort and safety, the cocoon of the nuclear family.



'House' circa 1963

I found this drawing of mine recently in some papers I’d stuffed away in the chaos of the days following my Father’s death in 2005. He had kept it with other remnants of my childhood drawings as all parents do.

I was struck by the irony in the image: not many children find themselves nearly fifty years later still puzzling out the meaning in these simple shapes.

In the eighties I started painting houses based on the disappearing smaller houses of the North Toronto neighbourhood in which I grew up and in those days still lived. In retrospect, I was yearning for the past and subconsciously fighting off the inevitability of change.

Wishing things were the way they used to be is a good way to distract oneself from wondering if those times were as good as one remembers. What I thought of as ‘the story of my past’ but which was a construct of necessity, the kind of story we tell ourselves to make things feel better, began to fall apart in earnest just as my art career found its legs.

Not surprisingly, and again with considerable retrospective irony, I began to revisit the house as subject in 2006 with ‘Running Man’. This was at the height of my own domestic turmoil which dissolved a marriage and with the death of my Father, ended a sixteen year experiment in intergenerational living.

After dealing with the disposal of the detritus of several lives and the sale of a large home I found myself finishing the painting in my new abode, a 270 square foot studio apartment which was enough to hold what what was left of my life.

The little childhood drawing has made me think about what’s behind the new interest in an old subject.

I feel there is a certain detachment in the newer images. That I’m seeing these structures as the facades they are, no longer representing for me any kind of security or repository of good memories.

I’m still poking at the ashes of the past in my art. To the extent that anyone can relate to these images, I’m content to have this be my contribution to the world.

I’m also beginning to accept and perhaps even enjoy that the paths we’re on never seem to take us to the expected places.



'House with Motorcycle' 2008, 8 X 5.5" Acrylic on paper.