Oil on mdf unit
18" x 18" x 3.5"OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you evoke the role of the scientist by using words like "clinical" and "dissect" to describe how you deconstruct "romantic, idyllic European painting." Could you say more about this "clinical" approach?
Graham McNamara: I’m quite an analytical person, and I like systems and structures. I’ve always perceived the world in this manner, and so it was a clear step for me to view art in that way, too. Art history fascinates me. By dissecting it, I create an interesting dialogue with truth and idealism both then and now.
OPP: In your series Units, small sections of classical paintings are blown up, painted in monochrome and intersected with paint drips. The paint drips actually come before the reproductions, which get painted in around the drips. Why is this important to the piece? How does it change the final look of the painting?
GM: Within my work I enjoy many subtleties and quiet gestures. The cited paintings are often grand, strong declarations. I counter this with understated actions that have equally powerful declarations, albeit with opposing intentions. The order of the application, subtle as it is, is a key element in my work. It creates a paradox whereby my work, which is undermining an illusionary motif, becomes in itself illusionary.
Oil, pencil, primer on mdf unit
24" x 48" x 4"
OPP: Appropriation of art historical paintings is a staple in your process. How important is it for viewers to know what the original source paintings are?GM: In a way it does not matter if the viewer is able to decipher the original piece. It is either known or not known, and this conveys two different experiences that can be had with my work. I find them both interesting. I don’t really want to make an elitist art only accessible to those who know art history, which is difficult when art is referential. If the work is recognized then the piece takes on quite an academic reading: all the history, stories, and interpretations of the original work feeds into my piece and creates a dialogue about art, art history and the creative drive. It is often quite comical, as I will crop out or ignore a fundamental element of the original work and paint instead the background or less important things, rendering its original concept absent.The other, less informed reading of the work is more abstracted and intangible. Enough of the painting is left to convey a glimpse of a moment. It’s familiar in some way, but in one that cannot be placed. It becomes a sort of vague, shared memory, warmed by the soft, hazy, smoothed-out brushwork. OPP: How do you choose what paintings to appropriate?
GM: A lot of research goes into selecting which paintings to use. I go through a period of a few months of reading and looking at works, which results in a selection of artists and a selection of their works that interests me. I then group these into loose categories to pull from. I reflect over what a piece does, why it speaks to me, and how I can manipulate it. I always seem to know which to use next.
Oil, pencil, primer, Epson print on partical board
12 x 12 x 0.5 inchesOPP: You mention Walter Benjamin's famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in your statement. When did you first read it? How has it influenced how you think about painting or art in general?
GM: I read his text while studying at university, so I was quite young and new to making art. It had a profound effect on me and how I saw the world, especially through the context of the Internet. Generally speaking, I see more art in reference form, whether on my computer, my smart phone, or in a newspaper or magazine, than in reality. My experiences of art become less valuable or unique as a result. Maybe that’s why I feel I can take such liberties with these important works; there is no preciousness to them. They can be dissected. I comment on this with my work, but I also fight against it through elements which cannot be replicated in these modes, such as the subtly and structure.
Epson print on paper, framed
15 x 19 inches (frame)OPP: I know what you mean about how we look at art these days, considering the fact that I’ve never seen your work in person. But I disagree that our experiences of art are less valuable when they are mediated. They are just different than they were before. And in some ways, they are better. For example, I love how I can can a real sense of the breadth of an artist’s work by looking at his/her website. I can’t get that when I see a single piece in a group show. Sometimes, I find individual pieces dull, but when I see them in the context of the artist’s total output, I become really engaged with the work. Admittedly, my bias is that I prefer to understand things in their context. That’s where I find the most pleasure in looking at art. But I’d love to hear more about how your experience looking at art differs from mine.GM: True. Maybe it is just different. For example, my website is a powerful tool to show a much wider audience my work and also show work that has not yet been exhibited in reality. But I think what is interesting is when these mediums shift from being referential to a primary source of absorption on art. The art then becomes the digital or printed reference, and the physical work itself is somewhat secondary in almost a Plato’s cave effect. The concept is paramount, which I love. But when we loose the physical engagement with the presence of a work, we lose the aura as Benjamin says, and that is so important to the understanding. No matter how many books I read and images I saw of Rothko’s paintings, they held nothing compared to when I first visited a collection in person at Tate Modern, London. Before that, I was informed, but I didn’t truly understand.
OPP: Tell me a little about your process. How much is thinking/planning and how much is actually painting?
GM: I usually have my work fully planned out before beginning the actual piece, although there is room for altering from course throughout the process. Most of my creativity is directed before I begin the work through writings and sketches, and the actual creating is more a series of skilled tasks to lead to completion. This helps me think clearly, and the process of making becomes a quiet meditative time. I have to work in a logical manner, almost machine-like in some stages. For instance, when I paint the cited image using the projector, I try only to paint the image projected, not what I see. Too much of my mind is chaotic, and the world is a myriad of complications. My art process grounds me and gives me a structure to realize my ideas.With my Units and IMG_ series I firstly construct a selection of perfect boxes, then sand and seal them. At this point, I do not have a set use for them. While I make these, and for a while after, I research my subject matter and write. I usually have the piece fully planned out before beginning to paint. I use a projector and sketches to make decisions. I try to understand what the piece will become and if it will be successful. During this process, I’ll decide which boxes will be paired with which paintings, and I select a single paint color based on the imagery and the shape of the boxes. Next, the boxes get primed, sanded where necessary, and taped off to leave only the surface to paint on. Then I paint the whole area and brush it smooth, before I apply solvents to create drips with as little regard as possible for what will be painted on the box. This dries for a few months before I painstakingly paint an image around the drips, brushing the strokes smooth as I go.
Resin, drift wood, & rock
8 x 18 x 2 inches
OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio? Any new directions?GM: I have just come out of about 6 months of not making anything. I spent the time evaluating my work and considering its direction. I think it is important to take these moments of reflection when creating art in order to maintain the integrity of your creativity, rather than the integrity of a specific style or technique. Earlier this year I had a residency at The Carriage House in Long Island. This took my practice in an exciting new direction with sculptural works that I’m very pleased with. Photos of these pieces should be uploaded onto my website any day soon(!). Using crude metal brackets and wood supports, I reconstructed a series of trees that had been cut down and moved into my space. I also constructed trees from found fallen branches to create man-made disjointed forms. These works were almost a poetic act of reconstructing trees to a former state using materials and techniques that clearly expose this interaction. My other works were made using resin, at varying degrees of clarity, to turn old lumber and driftwood back into the blocks of wood they once were. These works stoically strive to reclaim their former identity and sense of purpose, but instead they are a futile attempt to correct the forces of nature and of man in a ghostly, exposed manner.