Friday, December 26, 2008

Featured Artist: Nick McPhail

There's plenty of eye candy in Los Angeles when you're a boy from Laingsburg, Michigan (as a girl from Wisconsin, I should know). The seedy shops of Hollywood Boulevard, the seemingly endless parade of strangers, the homeless, and the hookers are notorious fixtures within this city of angels, but 26-year-old McPhail, a painting/ceramics graduate from Michigan State University, ignored such staples of good ol' LA in his juxtaposingly desolate urban landscapes of the place he now calls home. The eroding hillsides dotted with candy-colored, ranch-style homes, murals of graffiti, and wildly overgrown brush are just some of the things you could expect to see among the young artist's large, oil-on-wood works.

Taking a cue from action painters like Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock, Mc Phail's painterly scenes of Los Angeles' eastside (his home and studio are located in its Silver Lake neighborhood) explore the properties and possibilities of his medium du jour: oil paint. Decidedly more representational than his mentor Richard Diebenkorn, yet often more expressionist than David Hockney, McPhail's work fits snuggly into the category of California painters, yet the artist aims for his canvases to transcend the locale. In his own words, he describes his compositions as "both intimate and barren; places that are out of the way or might lie in-between what is noteworthy...I am interested in conveying a sense of place an time, not only my neighborhood...but a reflection of America; vast and unpopulated."

For the very first installment of I Make Picture's artist Q&A, McPhail answered our soon-to-be-imfamous "12 Questions" to give a little more insight to his life and work.

12 Questions: Nick McPhail

Q: At what moment did you first feel like an artist?
A: I guess it was probably when I stopped being embarrassed and stopped making excuses about my work. I think when someone is ready own it, and not worry about other people's reaction to the work, they really become an artist. This was only a couple years ago for me. I started getting very serious about my art and my paintings just got a lot more interesting. I didn't really care if people liked it or not... to a certain degree. Franz KIine had a quote where he said "You know what creating really is? To have the capacity to be embarrassed." That's what being an artist is to me.

Q: What has been your biggest art faux pas?
A: I think I had quite a few social blunders in college. In the foundation classes the professors would only critique a few people's work in front of the class, so I would always make these insane projects just to try and get noticed (and for no other reason). One project that stands out is when I made an American Flag out of cigarette butts. That's embarrassing. So I guess I would say my first couple years of college was a faux pas for me.

Q: Whose style do you most admire?
A: I'm really jealous of the freedom in Peter Doig's work. Any artist that can use a whole range of subject matter, references, and styles... and make it all seem like one body of work, has got my respect. That's where I would like to get to someday. He also really pushes color interaction and different ways paint can be applied. It always seems fresh.

Q: If your work had a soundtrack, what might it be?
A: Probably Regina Spektor. I listen to her constantly in the studio.

Q: What is your trademark?
A: People always comment on my palm trees and my "drips." I guess it's become a trademark by default.

Q: Name your dream collaborative team.
A: Phillip Guston, Charles Bukowski, and John Cage. I just want to hang out with them.

Q: How does where you live affect the art you make?
A: As a landscape painter it's a pretty direct relationship. I really try to respond to my environment so it's important for me to live in an area that I'm interested in. When I lived in Michigan my work was very rural and open. Now it's a lot more clustered, dirty, and urban. Where I live also affects me because there is so much art being created around here. It's really great to have the chance to see so many shows and meet so many creative people. I see a lot of artwork by local artists that makes me rethink my own work.

Q: If you could travel back to any era for its art and lifestyle, what time would you visit?
A: I'm really into Beat culture. 40's and 50's in America I think would be my era of choice. I think we are living in a pretty interesting era right now though. I think America is kind of being forced to reinvent itself, and nobody really knows what's going to happen over the next few years. There's a lot of potential. Also, there is a lot of amazing art and music right now. I like living in Los Angeles because I feel like it's just as important as New York, London, Paris, etc.

Q: Sum up your aesthetic in 3 adjectives.
A: Architectural, gestural, sad

Q: What's your must-have when you're at work in the studio?
A: Caffeine and music.

Q: If money was no object, what major project might you take on?
A: I really want to get into doing murals in public spaces... like inside of parking garages. I don't think it would be that expensive but I just don't really know where to start. I've also been dying to get back into ceramics, but it's insanely expensive and not feasible for me right now. If I was really dreaming big I would start a residency/gallery project. A space downtown to bring creative people together, and give them a place to work and show their work.

Q: What work of art that you've personally seen has most moved you?
A: This is a tough one. The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at MOCA and the David Hockney retrospective at LACMA were both really moving experiences. As far as one single work of art... maybe "Measuring Your Own Grave" by Marlene Dumas. It's just one of those paintings that I couldn't stop looking at. Maybe when I get unlimited funding for my residency/gallery space downtown, I'll buy it.

Nick McPhail's work will be included in the upcoming exhibition at LACMA's Art Rental and Sales Gallery, which opens January 16th with a reception from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. View more of Nick's work on his website

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1 comment:


Big fan. Can't wait for LACMA.