For me, the Australia based painter and muralist Fintan Magee is one of the preeminent social realist painters working today, so I’ve been very curious about what might be up his sleeve this year. Our August 2017 cover artist always delves into mural and each painting exhibitions, mining for historical facts and anecdotes, telling long-forgotten stories of enliven places while he  humanizes and pays tribute to forgotten history. “When I started painting murals, I saw that as an opportunity to just reconnect with people who don't have “capital A” art as part of their daily lives in a way that feels natural,” Magee told us. “I feel like that disconnect is kind of intentional, particularly in Australia and Britain, and reinforces the class system.”

As Magee prepared to open his newest solo show at Backwoods Gallery in Melbourne on December 4, 2020 (and we chatted with him earlier this year), I had been thinking a lot about his distinct social realist approach, and then came his title, Nothing Makes Sense Anymore. It became clear. Magee was about to explore a different kind of realism for this exhibition and series of works, something more personal and unique for him. As opposed to dedicating his practice to highlight others, he decided to turn inward and focus on his perception of how people were using public space, especially amid a world of pandemic.

At first, it wasn’t the most comfortable transition. Much of this is captured in the new short film by Selina Miles (director of the wonderful Martha Cooper documentary last year), who finds Magee in flux as he seeks inspiration for his new body of work. Miles captures the monotony and personal confusion that Magee was feeling about the process of creating. When I’m used to telling other people’s stories, how do I tell my own? Through a daily practice of painting the same potted plant to, then, opening his scope to larger themes of confinement, a sort of powerful randomness emerges in Nothing Makes Sense Anymore that literally creates a metaphor for our collective experience. 

At the end of the film, Magee tellingly remarks, “There is too much chaos this year to string any common narratives, or maybe just chaos is the common narrative.” That Miles focuses so much of the film on the mundane flourishes of painting alone in the studio and Magee’s more experimental side coming to the forefront, perhaps nothing makes sense is the creative gut-punch that fits the bill. —Evan Pricco