Curator Jeanette Gunnarsson talks to artist Robin Megannity about the exhibition ferme la fenêtre
JG: “ferme la fenêtre”, close the window- what does the title of the exhibition mean to you? And why french?
RM: I chose the title because it provides some links between things that have been guiding recent work, without, I hope, being too heavy-handed or theatrically obtuse. I wanted the connotations to be accessible - windows are constantly referenced in painting history in regards to surface flatness, illusion, framing and the borders between private and public. The linked references to screens and operating systems are equally conspicuous….Painting regenerates itself through contested thoughts about privacy and performance, interior and exterior. Closing the window has associations with privacy and comfort as well as with the opposites, detachment and remoteness.
Using French opened up a handful of new associations, it is a sentence I remember from school language lessons - so the title could escape into nostalgia or impressions of education as well as into expressly naive, clumsy or tactless notions of romance or refinement.
JG: Your previous paintings, and this is going back quite a few years, used to feature the human figure, often with objects in hand- the figures have disappeared, whilst some of the objects have remained, for example in the painting ‘People are private (II), 2020’. I find this shift in your practice interesting- how did this change come about and do you feel this was an important moment in your practice?
RM: My work is always shifting and I am becoming more confident to allow that restlessness and the conflicts of styles or approaches be an important concern. There is a conventional pressure to always be seeking a definition, a style, or a consistency that can be owned. This mindset can be difficult to escape and it is one that deserves some serious reflection. The works you mention from 5 or 6 years ago were my first significant attempts at oil painting. There have definitely been some changes in that time and plenty of other works in between, but there are also lines of thought and practice that link them. Naturally, I continually reflect on the usefulness and value of painting and its greatest personal value has to be as a vehicle for learning, and this implies change - sometimes gradual, sometimes abrupt.
As you mention, there are some motifs that have returned, like the swan balloon. Certain subjects seem to provide a useful convergence of characteristics, associations, and conflicts. The swan balloon for instance is weirdly melancholy, tense, and synthetic but also kind of camp or harmless. The mix of animate and inanimate has a satisfying parallel with painterly problems like presence and absence, or earnestness and irreverence.
People are private (II), 2020
oil and airbrush ink on canvas
50 x 75 cm
JG: I think we, as human society, have a very new, relatively speaking, and constantly evolving relationship with imagery through screens. Your practice has a very clear relationship with the digital- how do you source the imagery for your paintings?
RM: A significant number of my paintings from the last few years have involved reference images made using 3D rendering software. Sometimes the models are found as files online, which I am able to manipulate and make images from. Whilst others I have attempted to make myself, like the swan balloon, the aerosol can and a few others. These digital tools offer up some very intriguing sociological and phenomenological questions to do with perception, engagement, misdirection and artificiality. It has been very interesting to attempt to understand which of these questions painting is capable of dealing with. Ultimately these technologies are normalised, and as alienating or novel as they may regularly seem, they are of course extensions of very basic desires.
eating alone, 2019
oil and airbrush ink on canvas
130 x 100 cm
JG: The paintings contain a tension in them, the gestural backdrops, the ‘specs’ of paint that find their way into the meticulously rendered squares of imagery, in works like ‘finger to finger, 2019’. The paintings aren’t shying away, or hiding that they are painted, but they contain several different, sometimes conflicting modes of making within them. How does this tension play into the way you think about and make the paintings?
RM: There are a number of reasons why these different modes started coming together in paintings. Like most developments, they began quite intuitively by allowing things to confront frustrations I had with the work I was making. The digital images were quite dominant for a while and achieving a slickness to their painted surface was an important acknowledgment of their artificiality and illusion. The focus required to make these was important too. I began to interrupt these surfaces in order to change the conversation and promote other thoughts about indexicality, presence, and ‘imageness’. It was also an attempt to get a different kind of activity into making them, see how it felt to bring other types of movement or attention back in. Some of the paintings, like ‘finger to finger’ have a background, or frame, that was made with an airbrush directly onto raw canvas. Because the ink bleeds into the canvas it looks printed and the airbrush negates the type of touch so historically important to paintings value. This apparent depersonalisation is in conflict with the active way the marks were made but simultaneously relates to the depersonalising affect of the digital images. Tension, is a helpful way of describing these different procedures, although I recognise ways in which they are compatible as well as contradictory. I hope to make things that communicate a complex, unstable and nuanced experience.
finger to finger, 2019
oil and airbrush ink on canvas
110 x 80 cm
JG: Could you tell us a bit more about your process- how long does it take for you to complete a painting, do you work on them as a body of work or individually- do the paintings play off each other? In the exhibition you have hung ‘BMW, 2020’ with ‘Toys, 2020’, and I was curious to find out if the paintings are created with certain relationships in mind or if this happens organically at a later stage?
RM: This varies a lot, I always have work at various stages and things enter or leave as they become more or less useful. There are times when I need to focus and be strict to see things through and there are other times when I fall apart. Both of these states are necessary and they follow the moods, anxieties or convictions of living. There have been points where I have worked on only one or two paintings for 6 months and there are other times when I have ten or twenty in my eyeline.
Bodies of work have not necessarily been held together by intended conclusions or parameters but on reflection, the dynamic or preoccupations of a few months can come together quite clearly. The paintings do play off each other - sometimes an idea, a method or a sensitivity needs to be extended into the next painting and sometimes it needs to be undone or challenged. In this way small groups of works in the studio might develop closely considered relationships or internal battles.
oil, wax and airbrush ink on canvas
86 x 61 cm
JG: To me, the titles of your work feel quite playful, like clues to a puzzle, titles like ‘eating alone, 2019’. How do the titles of your paintings play into the work?
RM: The titles are related in a tangential way to things that are driving the painting, like thoughts about intimacy, sensitivity, romance or bravado in recent works. I hope their ambiguity, or lack of, allows for some emotional resonance and doesn’t come across as affected or glib. There is a delicate line between sensitivity and contrivance. I pay careful attention to the titles and their effect on the work, there are successes and failures, the relationship between language and painting is fascinating.
JG: Thanks so much for speaking with me.