“One thing I have learnt is that sometimes life doesn’t have or even need to have greater meaning it is just a series of random events. Sometimes embracing that and working with that is just as fulfilling as finding high concepts or high art or higher meaning.”
– Fintan Magee
Fintan Magee is often referred to as a ‘social realist’ painter recognised for his ability to communicate unique perspectives on global issues through his visual language of merging references and painting techniques from historical and contemporary art. Magee refers to his canvases as mirrors, used to reflect his emotional reactions to the world around him. This ability to offer a distinctive reflection through which to view divisive and complex issues, such as identity, migration, loss, social justice and the environment, has been one of the driving factors behind the universal appeal of his large-scale public murals and studio-based works.
A glance at Magee’s family history uncovers the source of his keen interest in a broad range of socio-political issues. Magee’s immediate and extended family were heavily involved in the Northern Ireland civil rights movement of the 1960s, migrating to Australia during the Thatcher era of the 1980s to avoid the shifting political climate in the United Kingdom. The development of a social and political awareness was an unavoidable part of Magee’s upbringing.
Personal experiences gained from regular international travel for gallery shows and public mural projects are often the catalytic inspiration behind Magee’s concepts. Predominantly an artist that carefully considers and clearly defines narratives through each of his series, the works in this exhibition began as “a bit of a hodgepodge of emotional reactions to our current situation,” says Magee.
Lockdowns and travel restrictions were announced, leaving Magee confined to making work in his Sydney studio for an extended period; consuming current discourse solely through the lens of broadcast and digital news media. Unable to travel, converse with a wider audience, photograph models for narrative works, or visit museums for reference and inspiration, Magee’s usual ability to settle on a central narrative or theme was stifled. This sudden change and the impact of isolation and distance left Magee feeling “incredibly stuck and deprived of inspiration.”
Magee began to search for inspiration and references in the world around him, his studio. A pot plant become his subject, and remaining true to his methodology, it was photographed, becoming the ‘still life’ of a daily ritualistic act of painting one work a day. The inspiration being simply to focus on the techniques of painting. This practice
became a means to occupy the time during lockdown. A series of 32 works simply titled Lockdown, each representing one day in lockdown, was the final result. Painting and keeping a pot plant alive became a meditation for Magee. The shift in focus to the physical act of painting over concept development lead Magee to begin to make sense of the state of chaos and isolation that he and the world were experiencing.
Unconsciously this gave Magee space to contemplate a central narrative to connect the “hodgepodge” series of work. “This year has just been chaos… it’s felt like a series of random events which have been really difficult to make sense of… or string together any kind of common narrative around… maybe chaos is the common narrative,” says Magee. This realisation inspired both the exhibition title and Magee’s acceptance of chaos as the central theme to describe his “emotional reactions to our current situation.”
The resulting series of works are visually complex, conceptually nuanced compositions that cover a wide range of current issues. Airport Line #1 is a commentary on the dehumanisation of refugees by blurring their faces in news
broadcasts. Chaos Theory is an observation of the shifting political climate in the USA and Headlock and Stampede – the Black Lives Matter protests and Indigenous Australian deaths in custody. Window, a larger than life canvas depicting Magee’s partner, the only available model during lockdown, behind a pane of tempered glass discusses isolation.
Balancing Act, Long Ride Home and the Lockdown series, each cover reactions to different aspects of the coronavirus pandemic and Broken Water Cooler, a response to the Australian bushfire crisis. 5 Men Holding a Column is a vertical canvas depicting five young men of various cultural backgrounds standing in a circle facing the viewer. Collectively, the group is holding up a Greco-Roman column behind their backs. Historically a symbol of industrial progress and architectural prowess, in this composition it’s used as a symbol of contemporary opulence and wealth. The work was initially inspired during a trip to Dubai where Magee noted the incredible monumental structures that make up modern cities are predominantly built by migrant workers. The five figures represent these working-class people who simultaneously build the physical structures and the wealth of the people who own them.
Watching the Flood, a large square canvas, depicts a young girl standing at the edge of an expansive ocean, with her back to the viewer, watching on as a pile of people helplessly struggle against a raging tide and each other. Desperate hands reaching upwards grasping for something unseen, a reference to depictions of religious rapture. The subjects appear frenetic, confused and helpless, reflecting the struggle against climate change; a devastating yet unseen force that younger generations feel helpless against, standing by as others grapple with its complexities and are overwhelmed by its consequences.
Within the collection of works exhibited in Nothing Makes Sense Anymore, Magee unconsciously applied a conceptual order to the internal and external chaos created through the crises of this year. Retroactively weaving together a conceptual narrative to make what began as a “hodgepodge” into a well-considered, refined series that addresses the challenges, disparities and issues of our time.
– Backwoods Gallery
25 Easey St Collingwood, Victoria, Australia