Discovery: Alison Mackay

Issue 33 Discovery artist, Alison Mackay explores the madness behind the magic of her artistic practice.

My paintings are largely object-based and, while they reference some of the traditions of still-life painting, they have a less decorative and distinctly more contemporary approach. The practice of still-life painting has morphed from the symbol-rich formality of 17th-century memento mori, where objects from skulls to dying candles and fruit and flowers were all stern reminders of mortality, into a contemporary range of subjects and styles where objects are painted largely for their pleasing visual qualities.

Although this visual aesthetic is important to me, my work deals more with obsession than decoration. Repeated studies of objects – a particular cut of meat, fine china teacups, a metal food grater, dead birds, cutlery, the pattern in a carpet – all show a compulsion to decipher their structure and fabric, to translate their being into paint. They’re observed remorselessly, then abandoned as a new obsession moves into my focus.

Unusual juxtapositions of objects in my paintings create deliberate tension – plastic soldiers in bottles, meat in glasses or upturned fish in jars. At other times, there are unequivocal symbols – souvenir teaspoons evoking time, place and memory, or discarded pill packets and cardboard drug packaging, reminders to me of pain and limitation – a result of breaking my back in a horse-riding accident a decade or so ago. My subjects are those things that surround me, the stuff of life – my life – in its random complexity, transience and, often, ordinariness.

My practice is based almost entirely on direct observation in the studio, where objects are arranged on a prepared surface and painted largely using available light. I enjoy the brushmarks and the celebration of oil paint itself – its substance and artefact. It seems that somewhere in the process of making the painting, the original subject matter becomes subservient to the paint itself.

Although my work has an unassuming quality and a simplicity of subject matter, it is not intended to be simple. Rather, it is a distillation of important elements of my life, achieved through objects observed, explored and, quite often, celebrated.

‘After Olley’
Shoalhaven City Arts Centre, Nowra, NSW
28 November 2015 – 30 January 2016

Alison Mackay solo show
Weswal Gallery, Tamworth, NSW
April/May 2016

Courtesy the artist. 

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