One of the great things about having a blog is that the people you write about will occasionally drop you a line thanking you for the support. Such was the case when I posted about Lucy Mckenna’s paintings at the Toronto International Art Fair.
Amongst the hundreds of works displayed, the vibrant colours of McKenna’s work initially drew me in for a closer look… but once the gallery rep told me she had synaesthesia – a condition that connects objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people's names with a sensory perception such as color - I was even more intrigued.
Just 26 years old, McKenna lives in a rural town in Ireland in an apartment above her studio. She has previously done work in costume for short film, theatre and television, which was her initial training, but she currently paints full time. She was even commissioned by Irish President Mary McAleese and will be completing a residency in Iceland next February.
Lucy was king enough to answer five questions about her craft:
1. You use such vibrant colour- it's so refreshing! Do you think synaesthesia gives you an advantage as a visual artist?
Well my synaesthesia definitely inspires me, and to a degree I don’t have any control on what colours the paintings are going to take. My memories are what decide the colours really. Each memory of a place/ name/ word has a particular colour already assigned to it, so the vibrancy is the result of that. I have been using more neons in my work lately though, and I think those are just a natural development of my mood and how I feel emotionally. As for Syanesthesia being an advantage, I don’t know! I suppose I can't imagine painting without it, it works for me.
2. Your training is in fashion and textiles - does fashion influence your painting and vice versa?
I would say that both painting and fashion/costume/textiles are equal outlets for my creativity, albeit quite different ones. I think that my training in textiles has definitely influenced my painting, as it has given me a really natural ability with mixing media and being very aware of textures. Tactile surfaces and texture are a major element in my painting, and I use all sorts of mixed media, painting techniques and collected objects in my work to attain this, I think thanks to my textiles background. I will often use fabrics in my work, and I do hand-embroider my finished canvases, and make handmade buttons for the surfaces. In my fashion and costume design, I would say that my experience in painting would definitely be an influence on my designs, rather than the other way around. I try to create silhouettes that are unusual, and some of the shapes I can find in my painting!
3. How do you approach starting a new work? Do you have a set methodology or are your paintings spontaneous creations of the moment?
I will often work on a number of pieces at the same time, but I do have to be in the mood to paint. If my mood is not right, they just don’t turn out well! If I get in the mood to paint they often turn out quite energetic and explosive looking :) I start by working with textures on a white canvas, and will put down a lot of different media and work with placement, line and form. The colour follows that, and is the most enjoyable part of the work :) When this is finished I finally hand-embroider the canvas with more details, or will apply hand-made buttons before heavy varnishing. I enjoy doing work that is personal to me. Commissions can be tricky as you are trying to tease out the image that the client has already formed in their own mind.
4. Art is so subjective so I'm interested to ask what makes a piece of art "good" to you? What are the qualities you look for in a piece and do you think there should be a message or intent behind it?
Well art is so subjective, but I do find it important that the artist is trying to express something which is very meaningful to them personally. Whether it is events/ emotions which personally happened to them, or an ideology that they are trying to promote, they should feel passionate about it. If the artist doesn’t really believe in what they are painting about, it does show. For me, a piece of art should have a message or intent, it makes the work all the more meaningful and is what will make the art timeless, and universal to any viewer.
5. Do you have a career goal - a project, commission or showing that will let you know you've arrived in the art world?
Well I don’t know if I have one major goal! I believe in working on what is making me happy, and keeping my work honest and true to who I am. Eventually I will get there! And things have been extremely promising for me this year. I think to have high goals and aims can be daunting, and can set you back if you don’t achieve within your deadlines. The one thing I have learned is that life is completely unpredictable, and rather than spend my time chasing something I need to attain to make myself a success, I am going to just live my life, paint, enjoy it and savour the things that make me happy! If it shows in my work, success will surely follow :)
Thanks to Lucy for sharing her personal insight into such an interesting industry! You can visit Lucy’s webpage at http://www.lucymckenna.com/ for more information.