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A Paper in Which I Try to Explain Why I Make Paintings

Thesis by: Neil Maguire

Student #: 3150143

Advisor: Anda Kubis

Date of Conception: 3/17/19

Date of Completion: N/A

Narrating Who I Am, With Paintings


It has to be said, I love painting. I think about painting all the time. It is my primary form of communicating with the world around me. That being said, since I have to communicate what my paintings are about through written word, I must stay as true to myself, and by extension my paintings, as possible. I am going to be breaking down my work into separate components, allowing for detailed explanation of each part, giving a clearer view of the bigger picture. Much like the actual paintings.

Phase I: Environment

I grew up in the suburbs of Mississauga and Oakville. It was shitty, and I knew there was more out there for me. I mean obviously, I had this deep connection to the city that I didn’t even think about, but it was still there. My mother worked on the island school, and my dad worked for the City of Toronto. Before my memory allows, I was taking the ferry across the water and sitting in my dad’s office @ City Hall. My dad kept working for the city, now in Oakville but that’s a different story, and my mom started working at a school in Etobicoke. I was now doing homework in the city during PA days, or when I got suspended I would have to go into work with one of my parents. That was just the way it was for me. Having access to the city in such a familiar way, but at the same time not living there, allowed me to soak it all in and then reflect both consciously and subconsciously.

Fast forward to middle school, I’m still in Mississauga and Oakville but a little older, abler and willing to determine what I like. I was not at the why yet, but we will get there. Graffiti was really starting to interest me. I mean that was the first drawing I did where I felt like I could take it somewhere. Going out of my way to draw something I like, critically thinking about it and then executing. What a liberating feeling!

My mom’s best friend Kim lives across the street from OCAD. During Christmas time my sisters and I would get money, we would come to the city to stay at Kim’s and do some shopping on Queen Street. I thought I was so cool, being in grade 8 and allowed to wander a section of the city, spending my own (Christmas) money. I was drawing graffiti, but this was my first time being exposed to it in all its forms. Big beautiful commissioned pieces, shitty tags all over the place, stickers, throw-ups half way up a building, it was all so much and it all came together so wonderfully for me.

The end of high school, I had to think about what I wanted to do with my life! Art was the only thing I had fun doing, and my grades sucked because I just could not give a shit about trying to please teachers. So I started taking classes at the AGO, under the instruction of Morgan Mavis. This gave me a chance to take the GO Train into the city all by myself, experience the nooks and crannies of an urban environment in a completely new way. I was out of Mississauga, away from all of that bullshit, and I could be in a space I felt at home. I could be my full self for the first time, and I didn’t even know it yet.

Morgan gave us incredible freedom. She was so fun! She made me realize making things, making art is about doing what you want to do. Having a vision and executing it however you can, and having a fucking blast doing it. It wasn’t about perfection, we could learn through the act of making, trying new things and failing, or maybe even succeeding. That really changed my perception, and part of my drive to keep on making to this very day.

I keep saying in my artist statement and to every single person I talk to that my work abstracts the chaos and order of the city. Chaos to me is when I walk through an alley and there is all sorts of bits of wood and metal and signs and cars and broken glass and garbage and dead rats and unknown liquid, it’s a crazy chaotic jumble of crap! However, the order comes knowing that it was all put there for a reason. SOME one at SOME point in time put that thing there for SOME reason. That rat died because of something. It isn’t random, and that is such a beautiful thought to me. That duality and balance is something that is inherently present in the city, and within me, so like, no shit its going to be present in my work.

Phase 2: Making

I will never stop making things. I get interested in a thing, I see something that is inspiring and it makes me want to make something! And I have no doubt that will continue. A major influence on why I think this way is Adam Savage, who I watched as a kid on Mythbusters, and continue to watch on YouTube. Adam Savage was a model maker at Industrial Light and Magic before Mythbusters, and carried his attitude of making forward. Savage has fun making things! It is exciting, and figuring out how to make something work cannot be beat by anything.

Watching Adam Savage make things and listening to him talk about it allowed me to draw so many parallels to my work. I grew up watching the guy make shit, so it is such an obvious influence.

Savage talks about having a vision for what you are about to make, making sure you go through the actual making of the thing first, and then collecting or purchasing the proper materials required.[i]Now that that is done, making sure you know what your materials are actually capable of is the next step.[ii]That way, you can be pleasantly surprised by something your desired material can do it, or you can bend it to your will! Which is super important for my practise, or all my paintings would look like shit! Another thing Savage stresses a lot is using the leftovers, or at least keeping them.[iii]I can never know if that scrap of paper will be the exact thing I need in my next painting, or that little bit of plastic will fit into a composition perfectly. Having a back-log of materials I can access and know I have will allow for continuous making!

Vincent van Gogh. I guess I like his paintings, but after watching Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh I was blown away by the way in which he talks about painting and the parallels I can draw to mine own work. In his letters to Theo, his brother, van Gogh had such beautifully detailed descriptions of what he was painting, how he was painting it, the colours involved, and the atmosphere of the setting.[iv]I try to do that as much as possible. I want to be able answer peoples questions about why or how I did something, so I am always thinking about. For my own sake, because it just happens, and for the sake of others. Van Gogh felt excited about painting, there was an urgency to making that he had, it was a way for him to express his emotions and get all those un-say able things out into the world.[v]This is how I feel. When I heard those words being read from van Gogh’s own writing I felt so validated. I took the classes, I have been in lectures where it is talked about, but watching a movie and having that experience really made those words stick. When I go to the studio I am excited. The idea of creating something new is like taking drugs. It is an opportunity for me to forget about all the bullshit in the world and channel that energy towards the creation of a paintings!

Phase 3: Materiality

In first year my required painting classes were with Scott Everingham. He is awesome, and he was very open and honest about the art world and navigating an institution. He would talk about the art world in relation to himself and his own work. The way he uses tools and materials as well as dealing with galleries and shipping work. As a first year it was such a well rounded experience that no doubt carried forward. Also, first year as a whole made me want to continue a long the artists path.

In later years I took classes that would make me think more about materials, and had professors that would push me in the right direction. One of those professors was Spencer Harrison. He got me to think about why I used what I did in my paintings. Making sure I understood the impact of each individual aspect and how they came together as a whole. Andrew Rucklidge was another professor that got me to experiment and try out my already existing visual language, and to push it even further! To never be stagnant, and allow for even the most insignificant thing to show its full potential.

Throughout these years, specifically in second year, I discovered the power of collage. I cannot actually tell you what drove me to it but all I know is that I need it. I need to be able to grabs things from my disparate interests and mash them all together to create something interesting. Or to get my point across. It was not until later that I read about the inherently punk aspects of collage[vi], how that knowledge broadened my understanding of what I am doing, giving me the chance to push how and what I collage forward.

Phase 4: Narration

To start I am going to bring up a conversation I had with Jason Baerg. I told him about my desire to have my paintings be about narrative in abstract painting. He talked to me about how narrative is INHERENT in abstract painting.[vii]I had to agree, and I was already kind of figuring that out for myself, it was very validating however to hear it from a practising abstract painter.

I wasn’t questioning narrative in abstract painting for no reason, its because I read books and comics, and play a shit-tonne of video games. All very story driven. I am going to bring up an one example of a video game and a comic, however I know in some way every game I have played and every comic I have read influences me and my paintings in some way.

Getting a Play Station 4 changed my gaming experience in a lot of ways. Most importantly it changed how I think of story and its affect on me and my playing experience. One of the first games I got was NieR: Automata.[viii]I was kind of confused at first, the map is really hard to navigate, the enemies can be incredibly overwhelming and the side quests make no sense. Once I beat the game though, I was set right back at the beginning of the game, but now I have all this experience. I’m like okay, if I do this differently and talk to this person first and do those side quests before that than maybe I will get a different result. And I did! I was rewarded by diving deeper, seeing what else the game had to offer and allowing myself moments of confusion in order to get the bigger picture. That is what I do in my work. I want my paintings to be a little challenging at first take, but the more someone experiences them and explores, the more can be taken from them.

Next I am referencing a manga actually. Blame![ix]is set in a dystopian future where machines have taken over and so on and so forth. The content is not important; however, the form is. The way image panels come across the page to create meaning is exactly what I do when installing my work. Blame! has large open expanses coupled with tight intricate details, giving me the chance to sit back and enjoy the story or dive in and pull what I can from a garbled mess of cables and wires and machines.[x]My work does that. Sometimes the collage draws the viewer in, giving a chance to actually see what is pasted down and the paint is flat and a place for the eye to relax. Other times it is opposite. It is a very interesting duality that can be explored endlessly.

Here is a quote by Scott Mcleod, who I guess knows a thing or two about comics,

“the gutter acts as a gap in the narrative the reader must bridge by performing imaginative acts of closure between two juxtaposed panels.”[xi]

I read that and exclaimed, “Exactly!” The gutter, or the white space between panels in a comic, is the same as the white space between paintings on a wall. The viewer decides what the paintings are saying to them. They get to decide whether the paintings are all connected or individuals. I am not here to tell people what to think about the paintings, the way they are hung on a wall are to give the viewer a chance to think for themselves and get lost in a new world.

Phase 5: (Art{[H]ist)ory}

I understand my work fits within an art historical context. It was during my History of Modern Art class that I decided I was going to continue with this abstraction stuff. However, I don’t think about this stuff when I am making things, when I am walking around, or when I am looking for inspiration. Art History in not a driving force for my work, and it is only within Academia that I will be told to do this, not real life. My paintings are about how I move about the real world, not Academia. I think Rauschenberg and Basquiat would agree with me.

I don’t actually like Rauschenberg’s work, his painting in the AGO fucking sucks, like the most boring thing ever. But there’s some things he said in an interview that I can get down with.

· personally identifying with images

· physical

· spontaneity and action

· restlessness

· making a world out of self

· appropriating imagery

· things around you

· material history

· materials from self

· making the ordinary extra-ordinary

· no limits

· taking things out of the urban environment[xii]

Basquiat is way cooler and I like his work a lot more. I watched the movie The Radiant Child and these are some things that stuck with me.

· drive

· surrounded

· multi-tasking

· constantly gaining inspiration[xiii]

It was amazing to watch Basquiat work. Flipping through books, going across the room and making a mark, then to the floor, then back across the room. That’s the same energy I hold within me when I am in the studio.

I wish I learned about this group earlier as I would probably have a better grasp on my own work. Gutai Arts Association is a Japanese group of artists working in the 1950’s, they believed in,

· representation not speaking to reality

· body materially involved in what/how they make

· producing with what has been given

· no mediation, physically engaged[xiv]

This group of artists resonates the most with me. By using collage and abstracting my surroundings, I find it becomes easier for myself and others to understand my reality. Using forms and actual things from my life are real! You can’t get much better than that. I listen to music always when I paint, so in that way I am physically involved, I am sore and sometimes bleeding at the end of a session in the studio. That is getting myself involved as well as I can. I am the one doing the work, I am the one that is exhausted at the end of the day, and everything that came out of me went into the canvas or panel.

Final Phase: Community

I have learned to accept the community I have been given. I tried so hard to find where I fit in only to realize all the people I need were beside me the whole time. I try to be as friendly and accommodating to the people who deserve it as possible. I think that helped me a lot. Because the truly genuine people I meet will reciprocate. It makes me love coming into room 430 to see who is in there, and talk about todays frustrations, what were trying achieve, what has worked and what has failed. Those conversations can change my perspective, and hopefully I can brighten someone’s day or get them out of a rut. I know they do that for me.

I am such a genuinely curious person that I am willing to to workshop an idea with anyone. If someone has a question for me, or thinks I can help in some way, I am going to do my best to do just that. I will go out of my way, because I know how much it means when someone does that for me.

Also, it is so fucking inspiring to have like minded people around me. That is very much a part of what keeps me going and I am so grateful for all the things I have learned working in a shared studio, with people I love.


I guess it is important to know where I stand in art history, but it is so much more valuable to know where I stand in relation to the world, looking inward and reflecting on how the people and places I am surrounded by influence who I am, and by extension, what I make.

[iv]Cox, Paul, director. Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh. Docurama, 1987.

[v]Cox, Paul, director. Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh. Docurama, 1987.

[vi]Køhlert, Frederik Byrn. “Comics, Form, and Anarchy.” SubStance, vol. 46, no. 2, 2017, pp. 11–32., doi:10.3368/ss.46.2.11.

[vii]Various Conversations with Peers and Visiting Artists, September 11, 2018 – April 2, 2019

[viii]Platinum Games. Taro, Yoko. NieR: Automata. Square Enix, 2017.Play Station 4.

[ix]Nihei, Tsutomu, and Melissa Tanaka. Blame! Vertical, Inc., 2016.

[x]Nihei, Tsutomu, and Melissa Tanaka. Blame! Vertical, Inc., 2016.

[xi]Køhlert, Frederik Byrn. “Comics, Form, and Anarchy.” SubStance, vol. 46, no. 2, 2017, pp. 11–32., doi:10.3368/ss.46.2.11.

[xii]Rose, Barbara. An Interview with Robert Rauschenberg. Vintage Books, 1987.

[xiii]Davis, Tamra, director. The Radiant Child. Fortissimo Films, 2010.

[xiv]Lecture on Gutai Arts Association, Julian Haladyn, March 21, 2019

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