Briefly describe the work you do.
My current body of work consists of large uniform square paintings that are inhabited by groups of people in similar dress toiling away at tasks which are impossible to define. These particular images are all based on compositions found in the work of Kasimir Malevich. The figures and the landscape exist in separate perspectives. The scenes are highly staged and ambiguous, they are at once specific yet open ended. They exist as part of a paralytic dream world where we lack the proper knowledge to understand the inner workings of that world or how to change it. The figures exhibit complex relationships to each other and demonstrate varying degrees of confidence and competence in their tasks. These paintings don’t come to a conclusion in the way we expect them to. The narratives are unfinished, open and in constant dialogue with artistic and political history.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in a small isolated area in the southwest of Ireland. Growing up with a very close relationship to nature my connection to a larger world was limited to what I saw through the television. The very hands on immediacy of life in the countryside mixed with a filtered exposure to the larger world have greatly influenced the direction of my work.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I relish the traditional studio setting. My studio is located in my basement and I feel it necessary to live as close to, if not in the studio. I also feel the community inherent in being an artist, such as other artists, my students and other members of the artistic community are as much a part of the studio practice as the time spent in isolation.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Before attending college to study art I was primarily self taught and my concerns were centered on trying to achieve a high level of technical acumen. Many years later I now see the importance of a continuing critical dialogue on the nature of artistic production, what painting is and can be.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The earlier the better, if I can be in the studio before the sun comes up with a cup of tea in hand I’m primed for a good day in the studio. I find that if I am mentally waking up while looking at the work I tend to have better clarity in regards to what the work needs. To feel I have achieved anything in the studio I need at least 8 – 12 uninterrupted hours. This can be difficult to achieve but I try and make the time to do this at least 3 – 4 days a week.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work is no longer so predetermined, in the past I worked primarily from life as an observational painter. Now much of my work is conceived as it is being made. Close inspection of any of my paintings will reveal an abundance of previous incarnations of what the painting is trying to be. The work has become much more intuitive as I seek what the painting needs rather than attempting a purely mimetic exercise.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Some of the most important voices I have in creating work are my peers who are also creating work. I believe that rather than the ability of one artist to speak about what it is to exist at this moment in time it will be the overlapping and contradictory strands of contemporary art that best articulate our time. I have been incredibly lucky in meeting amazing emerging artists who continually amaze and surprise me. That being said I find influence from many different mediums of artistic production. Writers such as Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have been greatly important in my work. I love film and it has always played an important part in my work, especially directors Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick. The painters Michael Borremans, Luc Tuyman, Euan Uglow, Sangram Mujamdar, Alex Kanevsky and Mark Tansey have also been very influential.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
It would have been far easier to do anything other than be an artist but I can’t think of a single other thing I would want to do.
Michael MacMahon is originally from Ireland and now resides in the United States. He is the recipient of numerous awards and has shown his work in various group and solo shows both nationally and internationally. He is currently a Teaching Fellow at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.