Saturday, February 20, 2010
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.
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.
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
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?