How the New York-based Irish Australian artist’s new hyper real paintings are inspired by the dystopian reality of the pandemic …
Currently you are living in New York and were inspired by the pandemic for your current exhibition. Can you tell me more about this?
Covid-19 brought about a heightened awareness of the social, political and economic disparities between races and classes worldwide. The pandemic not only exacerbated the class divide, it changed the way that privilege is recognised and categorised as a social mechanism. We are no longer tolerant of ignorance. Accountability is at the forefront of our social agenda. These new hyper real paintings represent the artistic and civic processes of self-indictment, socio-economic cognisance and communion, all of which are integral to my practice.
How do you define your work?
I capture imagery of the everyday in New York City to highlight the dystopian reality of the Covid-19 pandemic. My practice focuses on the screen as a surface of mediation, protection, isolation, safety and fear. I am currently focusing on the makeshift screens that Uber drivers hastily installed in their cars for protection at the height of the pandemic. I am constantly reminded of the courage of our essential workers during these unprecedented times, and their protection of and service to the community at large. I utilise a hyper realistic approach to my works to render the surrealism of the snapshots I have captured of these silent shared moments with essential workers. I look at the screen as a barrier that also raises questions regarding human desire and fear: the inability to touch during the pandemic and the longing to connect.
Have you got a favourite image from this new series of paintings?
My piece Untitled (07/16/2020) stands out to me as I feel that it perfectly captures the surreal nature of daily life in 2020. The driver can be seen however his face is obscured by the screen. It also functions as a self-portrait in which a reflection of my masked face is seen. It captures the tension of the moment. The painting exhibits the gravity of being an essential worker. In order to serve the community and earn a wage, they are taking any and all measures to protect the community, themselves and their families.
Where and how do you work?
I have a studio in Brooklyn that I can luckily walk to each day – it has been great to avoid the subways during the peak of the health crisis here in New York City. I have spent the last year collecting imagery of the protective screens and essential workers to paint from. I begin by selecting the image I wish to work from and drawing it up onto the panel. I create palettes for each section of the piece and begin to paint.
What have been the themes of your previous works?
My practice has consistently interrogated notions of desire while discussing choice and agency through an investigation of both the real and abstracted body. My work has often considered materiality, mediated corporeality, human intimacy and connection. In my current series it is the abstract reflection of the self in the makeshift plastic Uber screens. Previously, it was considering ways to approach haptic sensations, the embodiment of touch and the body as a site of fragmentation. Through painting I create a space in which self-pleasure, agency, desire and the digital form a correspondence with the real body.
Who have been your muses and mentors on your artistic journey?
There are many artists from whom I get inspiration. Personally, I appreciate artists that abstract and manipulate the body such as Francis Bacon and Christian Rex van Minnen. I am also drawn to artists that focus on materiality such as Marilyn Minter, Harmony Hammond, Bram Bogart and Charles Long.
I have been fortunate to have some incredible mentors on my artistic journey. During my time in New York I have been guided and fostered by multidisciplinary artist Peter Rostovsky, who has helped me push my painting practice; New York sculptor Don Porcaro, who has mentored me through materials. I also have an incredible sounding board of professional artists with whom I can bounce ideas including Alonso Cartú, Zacry Spears and Catherine Fenton Bernath.
How long have you been living in New York and where are some of your favourite haunts?
I moved to New York from Sydney to do my Master of Fine Arts at Parsons in 2016. After I graduated, I was fortunate enough to receive the O1 Artistic Excellence Visa which has allowed me to continue working here. My favourite museum is the New Museum in the Lower East Side and galleries include PPOW Gallery, Lyles and King Gallery and JTT NYC. My favourite area in New York is Nolita, you can stroll up and down the small streets filled with boutiques and coffee shops. There are some gorgeous restaurants in that area such as Two Hands Café, Emporio and Gelso and Grand. www.lisamccleary.com
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