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Natural Hallucinations abound “When Two Worlds Collide”

It’s always great to see fresh takes on traditional painting formats and approaches. Something interesting happens when classically artists like Alan and Carolynda Macdonald, who have the painting fundamentals mastered, decide to subvert expectations and perplex a viewer’s expectations conceptually. Nowadays, many contemporary artists do this; fucking with the tropes of the Old Masters, often with a flair for shock. When it’s applied thoughtlessly, the result can border on gimmickry. But these two married painters, utilizing their expertise, communicate a real love for their Scottish terrain, their subject matter, and the sense of humor that weaves them together in a genuine way. In their oil paintings, the natural and realistic is given the same respect as the dream-like elements in their latest show “When Two Worlds Collide”. We had a chance to interview the two artists below.

Your show was titled “When Two Worlds Collide”. I’m sure that this is an obvious question with an obvious answer, but was it titled this because this is a duo show?

Alan and Carolynda: Yes it was, but we felt that it also referred to collisions within the work. 

Between the two of you, there seems to be a similar color palette, and a solid interest in the Old Masters. How much of an influence are you on each other’s work?

A & C: We obviously spend a lot of time talking about our work to each other and both share a love of the old masters, but in other ways we are very different with regards to our individual approach to painting.

Both of your approaches seem to tap into a presentation from another time, yet with a perspective/elements from present day…

Alan, modern ephemera like beer bottle caps and SPAM seem to pop up in your paintings..

Alan: I think these elements in my paintings go back to my upbringing in Malawi, Central Africa. I loved how my African friends made fantastically imaginative toys out of wire and old tin cans and so I learnt how to make them for myself. I’m very particular about what products I allow myself to paint, but SPAM is a regular in my work, probably since Monty Python lifted it up from it’s humble status. When used well, the products for me add a spark of energy and friction between the old and new.

These birds have became vehicles for me to express my feelings and experience of what it is to be human.

-Carolynda MacDonald

Carolynda, your paintings often contain atypical elements in them, be it an unexpected use of scale or bird shapes being used as vignettes; where figures peer out from the darkness in a bird’s stomach…In “The Bird that Swallowed The Sea”, two very different settings and feelings are presented at the same time. One, a beautifully painted realistic portrait of a rooster-like bird and a romantic scenario os chirps and opulent deity-like figures sporting flowing garments and flower wrapped tridents! I love that you can get two simultaneous impressions in one space depending on what your eye focuses on. Can you delve a bit into why you find a fascination with such juxtapositions?

Carolynda: I have included birds in my paintings for some time now and have always sought ways to remove them from normality in appearance or behaviour. I have rendered them with Delft-like patterned plumage, surrounded them with jewels, flowers, fruit etc and got them to interact with these objects in unusual ways. I love the work of the old masters, particularly those with a mythological theme. These are so free and imaginative, full of movement, colour and otherworldliness. I have found a way to incorporate these figurative elements into the bodies of birds, to create surprising juxtapositions which then imbue the birds with human emotions. These birds have became vehicles for me to express my feelings and experience of what it is to be human. On another level I am finding a way to repurpose and keep the old masters alive and aspire to create exciting paintings that engage a contemporary audience. 

Nothing pleases me more than when someone laughs out loud whilst looking at one of my paintings.                – Alan MacDonald

Alan, there’s a prevailing sense of humor found in your new work, not just in the elements , but in the titles. “The Future Doge” and “A King With No Bling”. Do you want to discuss that a bit? Do titles like these become a sort of secret joke between the viewer and/or the collector?

Alan: Nothing pleases me more than when someone laughs out loud whilst looking at one of my paintings. As comedians are aware, humour is a subversive thing, breaking down barriers and making others more receptive to your message or point of view. Years ago, a particularly tired, world-weary man came into my exhibition, with an, ‘impress me if you can’ expression on his face. He trudged from painting to painting, unimpressed… that is, until he came to a painting of a man covered in tattoos with a row of pins in his forehead, called ‘Masochist’. It caused him to burst out laughing! He then went back and looked again at all the paintings he had previously virtually ignored, now taking his time and responding to them all. It confirmed for me the importance of humour in art. 

AI technologies have recently created otherworldly images (using artists’s work without opt in, permission or compensation), but creating unexpected surreal-like imagery. As painters who spend many hours to  create one of a kind works with fantastical unexpected elements, we’re curious to hear your take on the use of this technology. We have heard and seen several artists feed their own paintings into MidJourney to ideate their preliminary concepts, then paint them as final paintings, often without transparency. What are your thoughts on this technology and should fine artists disclose when they use it as a tool (or crutch?)?

Alan: AI images do tend to initially look very impressive, but quickly become a bit samey and cold. My paintings are an exciting journey of discovery for me, so the idea of copying out a computer generated version onto the canvas would be arduous and dull in comparison. However, if it can be used to help produce what is otherwise impossible, I can see how that could be an exciting way to develop painting in the future. As to disclosing when artists use it… I suppose artists ought to, but I suspect few will!

Carolynda: I haven’t actually delved too much into this conversation, but it’s particularly topical with the recent conference here in the UK! As an artist’s tool, it strikes me that if the creative process is partially handed over to computer software it could easily become a crutch and could dull the artist’s own imagination. Disclosing its use, I guess would be up the artist and I’m not sure how important it is as long as the painting works. 

See more of “When Two Worlds Collide,” an exhibition of recent works by husband and wife painters Carolynda Macdonald and Alan Macdonald at KP Projects by clicking their names.

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