|March 16, 2011 | ART||Posted by James Watkins||
Fintan Magee sits cigarette in hand, whilst the smoke trails off into the studio, mixing with his air of contentment. Macbook open- just hanging alone on a Friday evening like any normal young dude. But Magee is not just a regular Joe – he is one of Australia’s most talented and renowned street, mural and installation artists.
We are introduced as we all crack open the beer and ciders. He talks about his show and I about my writing. We speak of books and things, digress on Quentin Tarantino and laugh comparing our memories of the Cohen Brothers (see Brad Pitt’s amazing performance in Burn After Reading).
Magee gives us a sneak peak at some of the works for his latest exhibition. I feel honoured and inspired….and then guilty for my giggle when a friend accidentally kicks a canvas on our way out of the space, but ever relaxed, he isn’t the type to mind…
I am stuck between my need to rant and the integrity of the interview to come. So knowing Fintan to be from Brisbane, I start in on my hate of the Gold Coast. Luckily he is a welcomed adversary to my ranting ways and this tides us over until my friend steps in and saves the day by offering to butcher my locks…for fun.
And so to end a long story, still kind of long…my hair is now a beautiful mess and below is the untarnished interview with one of my favourite Australian artists, Fintan Magee.
Words: Grace Brosnan.
I asked you, how your parents would respond if I was to sit down with them and enquire “what was Fintan’s first showing of artistic expression? You thought they’d say drawing Batman and Ninja Turtles as a kid then moving on to airplanes and trains, I think it was, and that your Mumma, like any good Mumma, still has all your drawing books from way back then! Are they still supportive of your artistic endeavours and how far you’ve come?
Yeah. Both my parents are creative. My Dad’s an artist and my Mum’s an architect, so they have always encouraged me and never really stopped me from sneaking out at night to paint.
Reflecting on your early years, do you believe, or what are your thoughts on the idea that we never let go of our childhood, and that the best, worst, most influential streams of that consciousness remains within us, forever affecting our expressions thereafter? How often does your past live again in your art?
My work has become pretty child like lately and I am exploring images that remind me of my own childhood. People seem to enjoy my more playful works which is good. It’s hard to remember how simple things were when you were younger and didn’t have any responsibilities, so I like to remind people to chill a little. I think most artists avoid growing up in some way or another and I am no exception, street art and graffiti has kept me in a suspended age of 21 for the last 5 years.
Your works have wonderfully strong themes to them, with a visual originality that instinctively tells us it’s a Magee. It’s always a curiosity with any artist where their ideas have grown from and how their processes has changed over time. Coming from being a graffiti teen, was picking up the brushes instead of, or as well as the cans, like Dylan going electric? Was it a conscious decision to leave that behind for specific reasons or just an evolution of yourself as an artist?
I think it was a pretty natural progression. I was always a train bomber when I was younger and as I moved onto painting walls, traditional letterforms started to seem pointless to me, so I began to incorporate new ideas. I still work with spray paint a lot but now I like to incorporate more mediums and experiment with different subject matter.
Your technical skill and execution are immaculate, without being overly clean or too perfect to relate and connect to. Your work has so much life and energy and you maintain that amazing balance so well, with both the content and aesthetics of the pieces. You are far too personable to be one of those “Shine” like savants, have you some formal training or study of the arts?
Thank you, yeah I have some formal training, I studied at the Queensland College of art for three years but I am not sure if I graduated as I still haven’t checked the grades for my final semester. I think artists generally learn a lot more through their peers and hard work than they learn from their teachers anyway.
Can you tell us what growing up in the sunshine state was like? And for those who are without the inside track, what is the street and general art scene like in Brissy, in comparison to other cities? Who are some of the major players?
Brisbane is pretty redneck and is still a police state in many ways. It’s a tough place to be an artist in general but street art and graffiti has been suppressed heavily through constant buffing and propaganda. Even if you get permission to paint a site there is a good chance the council will paint over it anyways. In many ways it has made the scene in Brisbane stronger and some heads work really hard to get their work out there. There is some serious emerging talent coming out of Brisbane now, Sofles, Shida, Guido Van Helten, Andy Harwood, the list goes on.
Being a professional artist, exhibiting all over the country, travelling and working all the time, I’m sure it can get really hectic. Creative people especially need time to process and regenerate. I used to have this tree across the road from me and there was this one big leaning branch that I would sit in, way up high and kind of meditate, it was amongst the hustle and bustle but it was my form of peace. Do you have a place, figuratively or literally, that you go to regroup?
I will regroup when I die, haha.. but I think I need to find somewhere soon, my studio is near the river so I am sure I can find somewhere. To be honest though, I generally find painting pretty relaxing, it’s just all the other stuff that comes with maintaining your career that can be draining: traveling, tax time, grant applications, invoicing etc.
Chefs don’t usually cook at home, comedians save all their best jokes for the road and gardener’s gardens are often over grown. When times are slower, between exhibitions, do you shy away from the art scene or can you not help but be at it 24/7? What else does Magee enjoy in his spare time?
I do a little fitness, running pushups and all that, I have just started break dancing again for fun. I used to be pretty good and I am slowly getting it back. I am also a seasoned binge drinker and smoker, it’s all about balance I guess.
I have noticed there is a little you in some of your pieces, not just as the artist but as the subject, which I have now dubbed the “Where’s Magee Phenomenon”. Give us a little insight into your sneaky self portrait incorporation, what’s the deal?
I don’t know I had never really painted a self-portrait before I came to Melbourne, I think every artist goes through a self portrait period of some kind. It’s important to incorporate yourself into your work I guess, some artists just do it in different ways.
Now on to the main attraction and source of all the current attention around your work: you’re upcoming Solo Exhibition “Paper Plains” at Rtist Gallery in Prahran, on the 19th of November. This one looks just as awesome as your previous gigs and again involves installation as well as works on canvas.
Described as adding “an unexpected magic to the mundane and forgotten objects of everyday life” and with the tag line “The world may be round, but a box can still provide hours of entertainment to those with a little imagination” – we get a feel for the sense of this show. Can you elaborate a little on your inspiration for the name and theme? What do you hope people will take away from the exhibition (apart from an art purchase) and what you will be up to next?
I really liked the ring of ‘paper plains’ and it was the best out of about five titles that I came up with. I guess it relates to the way my work has developed, I have really stripped back my subject matter since the last show and my paintings have become pretty simple. Not many street artists have worked around still life paintings so I am looking for ways I can incorporate day to day objects, particularly disposable ones. It shows the beauty in objects and highlights how much of a throw away society we have become. But most importantly I want to make paintings that intrigue people a little and keep them guessing. Maybe people will leave a little confused, I don’t know
Lastly, and most importantly, I have a few easy ones for you:
What is your favourite word?
When was the last time you climbed a tree?
A couple of weeks ago I climbed a tree to access a rooftop.
What is your position on cheese?
I love cheese, the more expensive the better, I heist around $30 worth a week. Camembert is generally my favourite but, Gouda, Brie, Haloumi, Goat’s cheese, Feta, Swiss, Edam and even Tasty is awesome. I don’t like blue vein though.