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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wang Dan interviews Peter McDonald

Date: 18/12/2011
Venue: A café near Broadway Market London, UK

Peter McDonald born Tokyo, lives and works in London.
More info here

Dan Wang: Can you tell me more about the idea of the transparent head in your paintings? Where did the idea come from?

Peter McDonald: Well, originally it started with the question 'What to paint?' I tried to find an interesting subject and I also made abstract paintings. I tried everything!
But after about a year, I decided to focus on telling stories, some narratives. I have always been interested in writing poems or stories from a young age.
One of the challenges was how to paint a figure. I tried copying figures from magazines, photos.... I was thinking how my figures could be.
As a basic idea I came across the idea of people on stage performing. In the same way that a musician on stage performs to an audience, as a painter I was trying to develop a language to communicate with my audience.
So I started to paint musicians on stage performing.
But then I began to question how I could paint the figure. I copied images from cd covers, magazines. But I found it a bit boring and limiting, always being tied to a photographic source material.

Then one day I was doing a painting like a 70's funk soul concert. There were two figures singing into one microphone. One figure was white the other black. Where the heads merged in the middle I painted grey.
I looked at it for a while and realised it was an interesting idea.
The image was symbolic and suggested communication between two people.
The more I pursued this idea the more I was interested.
The transparent heads took on any colour and shape. They took on different layers of meanings. Different shapes and colours suggested different feelings.

DW: I feel your works relate to urban life, which are about our experience in everyday life. I just wonder how you use these elements as references. Is it your invisible diary?

PM: Things that I have seen in my daily life give me the triggers. I am always thinking how I can work ideas into my paintings. The reason why I refer to everyday life is because the viewer can also relate to it. It can be someone talking in a restaurant or having a haircut.

DW: But you transformed general contents into your own representation. For instance, your pieces Teaching(2004), the images you presented are a bit different from our daily experience.

PM: My paintings are quite flat looking with a simple looking graphic language. There is not much shading. For me it is logical. The transparent heads can suggest depth on the picture plane. I don't need to create the illusion of depth by shading.

DW: Some of your works relate to memory like memory about particular theme, a person or an event. For example, the series of Matisse (2010) in his late age, about his strong spirit as a painter.

PM: There are different layers in the Matisse paintings. I've been painting him towards the end of his life. When he was in a wheelchair or in bed he was still making collages and drawing with a stick. I think one of the reasons I was drawn to the subject was the contrast between his frail physical body and the incredibly vibrant and colourful work full of vitality he made at the time.It was about the power of the human imagination.

DW: For me, your works are intelligible, and everyone can interpret by their different understanding, but what do you want to bring to the audiences?

PM: Well, I am making works for as many people as possible. I think there are different layers and depths to the work for all ages and interests to enjoy and think about.
I think humour is an important element in my work also. It helps to disarm a viewer so they can spend time with the image and let it 'speak'.
My paintings also suggest how everything is connected: the transparent heads become part of their environment and each other through the mixing of paint. Everything is a part of something else.

DW: As for Art on the Underground Project (2009), I felt the painting was about transition like objects, people and the whole environment. It implied that we were living in a transiting society. I just wonder how do you feel that the surrounding environment affects your works. How does the society relate to your artistic practice?

PM: I am really interested in language. I noticed our life is governed by systems and languages. Everything seems to be a system or a construction. When I sit on a bus and look outside at the street I see how our society is constructed through language. From the traffic lights to the alphabet, it is all language.

DW: There is a back and forth in artists’ works which is between collective and individual. On the one hand. When you make the works, you always consider who you are talking to and also make sure the right context. On the other hand, you have to concern about your own interest and approach, and do not comprise with accessibility. What is your dialogue between individual and collective?

PM: In my paintings I want to communicate visually with people. So I don't really think about changing the way I work for a public context. Hopefully what I find interesting other people find interesting too.

DW: But the language you use is quite approachable, referring to our everyday life.

PM: I think it is quite valuable. When someone can laugh or smile at my images it is a good way in to the painting. Then they can enjoy the aexperience and they are more likely to think about it.

DW: Last time, I discussed how to approach audience, especially in public realm with the Liverpool Biennale curator Lorenzo Fusi. From his experience, some works were banned. Actually the art works were not irritative or violent as we experienced in reality. They were not suitable for the context. In fact, it was not right place to show the works. Have you had this experience before? If you have a commission in the public place, what will you take into consideration?

PM: For me I won't approach this question so directly. I will do it in a more subtle way.

DW: What will your ideal Shanghai residency project (April 2011)? What do you really want to present?

PM: It would be putting lots of images together in a number of light boxes in the metro stations. The images will seem like fragments- different scenes of everyday life all shown together.

DW: Will you do the narration of these paintings?

PM: I will not narrate the 'stories' for these images. Instead, people will look at them and interpret for themselves. The different scenes from everyday life will allow multiple interpretations. People could see them as all connected or separate individual scenes, although there is a common visual language linking them all together.
They all belong to the same world.