SPOTLIGHT ON NICOLA McCARTNEY
Updated: Jan 20, 2019
We talk drippy paint, overhyped artists and feminism with this prolific local creative, whose work spans paintings, installations and a recently published book
Tell us about your background and your work?
I went to the Slade School of Fine Art, followed by a Masters in Art History at Oxford. I then did a stint in the commercial art world with private galleries, art PR, helping run art fairs and more… I juggled this latterly with a PhD in Art History but I never stopped making art and exhibiting throughout. Basically, I've always done art-related work and hustled to make this happen. I've now settled a little and have a permanent lectureship at Central Saint Martins in Cultural Studies.
What made you decide to write a book?
The book is an accessible version of my PhD. While I was writing the PhD I was always battling with the tension between academic language and the audience I had in mind: the gallery-goer, art student and like-mined, liberal feminists. Those that might resent hifalutin language!
Could you tell us a little bit about you book?
The book exposes the myth of 'artistic genius', wrapped up in concepts of masculinity, melancholy and patriarchal infrastructures that the art world still supports. These infrastructures and narratives of 'artiness' aren't good for younger artists who think they need to 'suffer' for their art, for women who have been historically denied access to art education, and for artists non-White, who are continuously marginalised by art history. The book asks us to read art works without the biographical model. It also provides artists that attempt to do this by working anonymously or using pseudonyms, such as Bob and Roberta Smith and the Guerrilla Girls. These artists tend to be feminist and political. Hopefully the book asks us to question the model of the artistic canon.
How would you describe your style?
When I paint, it is loose, a little gross looking and awkward, and drippy, but always colourful and hopefully emotive and respectful. If the budget or space affords, I use these paintings as starting points to create larger works - like a wallpaper installation or video montage and large vinyl texts.
Where do you find inspiration for your art and your writing?
I'm constantly frustrated by the endless exhibitions heralding the 'greats'. Can we really keep touring the same Picasso's and Monet's around? When are we going to admit that Gauguin was a sex-pest and Orientalist? There's so many exciting young artists that need greater attention, so that's my inspiration for my writing and the research. My art has always been inspired by women perceived as tragic or inspirational, sometimes both - from an installation I made in homage to Susan Boyle, through to a video loop on Liza Minnelli and her mother, Judy Garland.
What have been the highs and lows so far?
The highs are probably only defined by the lows! In 2016 I was awarded a residency at Yinka Shonibare studio. I had the space for a month to create, make and show what I wanted, and I was awarded a residency in South America later that year… Unfortunately that year I became very ill and was unable to travel and it's since been a little fraught juggling health and securely paid work…
On a daily basis - my highs are when my students tell me I gave a good lecture, that I supported their dyslexia, or have enabled them to reposition themselves in a world where concepts of gender, race, appropriation are all up for debate. My students are fantastic. They teach me!
Best nugget of wisdom?
Try not to care too much what others think. I try that every day!