Art In Uncertain Times: A Report From Australia with Fintan Magee
"The city became eerily quiet most days with almost everything around my studio shut," our friend Fintan Magee reported for Art In Uncertain Times. After five months and over 65accounts from around the world, we had yet to check in with our friends in Australia, which is currently experiencing another surge of new cases.
"The first lockdowns in Australia started in April," the Juxtapoz cover artist, recalling his most recent outdoor mural project. "I was working on a mural in a small town called Dubbo in regional New South Wales at the time. So it all turned into a bit of a panic with me trying to complete the mural before the lockdown started. I finished the wall on the last Sunday evening of March before driving for 5 hours to make it home before it started at midnight. When I woke up Monday morning everything was in lockdown." Known primarily for painting large scale murals engaging in social discourse, Magee was forced to pivot from a worldwide practice to a consistent, though equally expressive, studio routine in recent months.
"The level of transmission in Australia has been relatively low and we only went to level 3 restrictions, and I was still able to visit my studio and work alone during the pandemic," the Sydney-based artist tells us. "I basically just shut myself off for 8 weeks and worked on paintings almost every day. " Used to frequent traveling for mural projects as well as international gallery shows, Magee was effectively grounded, and like the rest of us, without a remote idea when life might take the next turn. "I was set to open an exhibition in May in Paris with Gallery Mathgoth,but that fell through. Also, a string of public projects in Europe collapsed as Australia has pretty much suspended all travel overseas. It became completely impossible to plan for anything."
Like so many artists who have found escape and therapy in their studio practice, He admits,"To be honest, I was incredibly lucky to be able to work in the studio during this period. Painting became the only way to keep my mind off things and I would find myself in the studio even on my days off. The works became a kind of reaction to the chaos I felt around me. Just simple allegorical reactions to how the world looked outside."
During this time Magee worked on what was for him an unusual series of work that he decided to release as a limited edition print, marking this personally significant and historically important moment in time. "The work that made me happiest during the lockdown period was the most simple. The time I was in lockdown alone in the studio presented a challenge to me as I was no longer able to photograph models for paintings. This put my figurative work on the back burner, and I needed another subject to paint. Every day while in the lockdown, I photographed and painted two small plants that I had recently repotted and was keeping on my balcony. The work documents the simple act of keeping the plants alive during the lockdown. Each work took 5 to 7 hours to make and allowed me to discard building concepts and focus primarily on the painting process making each work a daily meditation, allowing reflection on physical space and the passing of time while marking a day of the crisis. Throughout this period, I created 32 small still life works, with each small painting becoming like a tally mark representing a day during the lockdown." These prints, limited to an edition of 60 examples, are now available through FintanMagee.com.
Like so many artists with whom we spoke, he wraps his report on a positive note "All in all, I think we have been incredibly lucky in Australia. Our public health system has generally held up during the pandemic and our geographic isolation gave us a bit of a head start with lockdowns. "Things have been flaring up again in Australia, and Melbourne is now in the second wave of cases and back in lockdown. I am incredibly grateful that nobody close to me has caught the disease or passed away and it's been distressing watching the cases overseas."
"It's been an utterly strange and uncertain year that has been incredibly challenging creatively, I am hoping that something good comes out of all this shit and we learn to treat each other a little better. I have never been a very optimistic person though so let’s just wait and see. Stay safe out there people!" Fintan Magee concludes... and we can't agree more.