<$otino corsano conceptual art new genres$>

Friday, August 20, 2010

Interview with Alistair Magee

copyright Otino Corsano 2010

OC: Your three new circular paintings featured in the "Faithful and Faithless Messengers" exhibition at loop Gallery (August 11 - 22, 2010) are the first works you have produced after a brief hiatus. How are these new tondos progressive from your established aesthetic featuring text as textural intelligence and visual vocabulary?
AM: In terms of imagery, the principal development would be less dependence on writing as motif. I chose documents including stamps or seals as well as the calligraphic marks of handwriting. There is none of the found street detritus I used as source material in earlier paintings. This was a deliberate choice: I wanted these paintings to have a historical underpinning.    

OC: What criteria formed the basis for deciding what material to cull from the British Library Archive for this set?
AM: Well I trawled the internet for stuff I found interesting and was already considering.  I found a series of letters relating to the Swing Riots taking place in England in the 1800s. This event’s documentation was interesting to me since the reasons for the riots seemed to mirror contemporary situations: underemployment, low wages, technology impacting jobs.

OC: Why was the motif of post office stamps selected?

AM: I also used documents I found which were the precursors of passports: essentially letters of introduction with a monarch or government seal. This seemed the perfect symbol. With technology so pervasive, we often think the idea of 'nationhood' or borders has been completely broken down. Still, we still receive boatloads of people from other countries risking their lives to get to Canada for political or spiritual refuge. In the end, my choices were both aesthetic and conceptual.

OC: What relationship do you believe still exists in the paintings referencing back the original source documents?

AM: I suppose there exists a dichotomy. While I place emphasis on choosing the 'right' text or image to use, it is almost subsumed by the overall painting.  I want to make paintings informed by history, politics and other 'big' subjects, yet I have no interest in narrative painting. The paintings come together with veils and veils of paint operating with stenciling and re-stenciling of imagery until I arrive at something I am satisfied with. 

OC: The press release for the show presents the notion of "the dual nature of the artist as both messenger and art historian" to unify the varied works. How do your new works fit this double bill?

AM: I like the work to be open. I have no real interest in limiting the work by making it polemical: before anything it has to work as painting. Clearly there are a number of artists you could say have influenced my paintings: Johns, Twombly, and at a stretch maybe even someone like Thomas Demand. So the art historical aspect is in every painting I do. With any group show there is a tendency to make disparate works or artists 'fit' into a particular discourse to lend coherency to the exhibition. Mark Adair, whose energy and generosity as a curator made this show happen, thought long and hard about a common thread between the works he wanted to include. However, his first criteria was he had to like the work. After that, to a greater or lesser degree, each of the works chosen had to fit the exhibition theme.

OC: Some may find the inherent ambiguity in your mode of abstraction disconcerting only because the traces of a naturally coherent, familiar language are still traceable. Are you trying to pull the viewer away from these default methods of deciphering meaning from text or draw the viewer back into the morsels of knowledge still remaining... or both?

AM: I am interested in language and the uses of letters and words as abstract signifiers and the space between language thought and meaning. However, I am equally interested in writing, the mark, and in the ways these forms are disappearing. Technology has impacted not only the delivery of language but the content. No-one hand-writes letters anymore and with texting we have invented truncated abbreviations of words and new words. So in my paintings I try and set up an arena where these interests are laid out and somehow articulated through this low-tech stenciling process and then they go through another translation by being pulled into the realm of abstraction - a different language.

OC: The colour schemes in the works are spectacular and the all-over techniques are very stable. Are you concerned this picturesque mode will seduce viewers away from more conceptual reads?

AM:  I enjoy trying to make a painting work at fundamental formal levels. There has to be an element of seduction in painting - you have to get people to look. However, I hope the other tropes employed open the work up and encourage the viewer to think about issues other than simply the aesthetic. There are questions of authorship: how the original source is a digital copy of an original - going through processes of stenciling, re-stencilling, enlarging, reducing, new veils of paint added or scrubbed off each time - layers of time, mimicking the subject. Then questions of technology: who is recording our histories in our libraries; who owns these now digitized histories? When an artist builds any work, you bring what you got to it and hope you've made something interesting enough to engage the viewer in doing a wee bit of work too. 

Faithful and Faithless Messengers

Mark Adair
Catherine Daigle
Patrick Jenkins
Alistair Magee
Mary Catherine Newcomb
Rochelle Rubinstein

August 11 - 22, 2010

loop Gallery
1273 Dundas Street West, 
Toronto, Ontario, M6J 1X8 
(3 doors west of Dovercourt)

Gallery Hours: Wed - Fri 1 to 5 pm, Sat 12 to 5 pm and Sun 1 to 4pm.
Artist is in attendance on Sundays.
For more information please contact the gallery director at (416) 516-2581 or


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