Marion McConaghie: Artist Interview

You might recognize Marion McConaghie’s distinctive style from her previous work as part of the creative partnership ‘Pulp Magic’, now Marion’s creating beautiful and intriguing imagery under her own name. We absolutely love her new collection of prints exploring natural history and pattern with a vintage twist. We couldn’t wait to hear more about the work and Marion in our latest interview…

What inspired your recent collection of prints?

They came about quite organically really, from some work I've been doing that features old engravings. I wanted to get back to my roots and work with tangible processes again using paints, charcoal and pencil.

Animals and patterns feature heavily in your work, what is it about both that interests you?

I started to collect old encyclopedias which tend to feature a lot of natural history or botanical illustrations and they have influenced my work. I love using patterns as I like the balance they give to foreground. I tend to use lots of old traditional designs and wallpapers; they remind me of growing up in the 70s and the bizarre wallpapers that you could get back then. 

Is there a relationship between the animals and the patterns?

I like to create a space for the animals to be in, an environment, or a room with a wall behind them. I also like to use lots of texture and have fun creating the different layers but sometimes I also like to just have a plain background where the central focus is on the one subject like in the ‘For a Day’ piece.

How has your interest in vintage curiosities influenced your work?

I have spent many years browsing through antique shops, car boot sales and so on and I suppose that over time I’ve absorbed lots of the things that I’ve seen. I love blending these dusty places with a contemporary feel, blending the old with the new, although my work keeps changing and it’s always a journey of exploration. I used to love creating photomontage work, it featured heavily in work I did years ago, through mixed media digital collage work, it seems to be a recurring theme. 

What made you become an artist? I've loved art from when I was very young. This led on to working in the creative fields of design for print and web in order to earn a living whilst developing my style and starting to sell commercially. With my years of working in graphic design I feel I fuse together that experience with fine art.

Where did you train? What did training teach you and what do you wish it had taught you? I studied foundation art at Nottingham Uni in the early 90’s, took a few years out living in London, then moved to Brighton to study fine art painting at Brighton University. I spent the first year painting but wanted to explore other areas so moved into installation art, photography and video which my final show was based on. The training taught me about focus and staying disciplined with your work, I was given quite a lot of time to just get on with it so I had to stay motivated. I wish it had taught me more of the business side of things though, I remember there being an evening class for this but I couldn’t make it as I had to take several jobs to support myself while I was at college.

How did you get started? I was frustrated with my day job in graphic design so started working in the evenings. My early work was taken on by a greetings card licensing agent so I supplied them with images for a few years and learned a lot about working commercially. Then our son was born almost 4 years ago which meant I had more time at home. In between looking after him, I created a range of art printed onto old book pages that sold well online and were eventually taken on by a large department store. Last year I launched my new range of mixed media paintings, I can see now looking back on the journey that all the pieces I have created connect in some way with each other. 

Where and what is your studio? I've got a cosy workspace in our utility room with all my materials and a mac. I share it with the washing machine which is often going in the background but I can look out into our little courtyard garden with the fig tree overhanging. It's warm and fairly light, with a low ceiling and I'll often get a visit from one of the cats who want to come and sit on the warm patch over the radiator on my work table. 

How do you approach the actual making of your work? I go through periods of time researching, looking at books, internet, reading magazines, listening to music, I need that time to rethink things through before starting a new range, it can often be a frustrating period of time, I get impatient and just want to get on a create something new, I’m really happiest when I’m in the middle of producing something as long as it’s going well! 

What would you say are the main themes you pursue? It seems to be animals, butterflies and insects at the moment. In my head something else can be going on and I think I might do something figurative or abstract, but I guess its like a story, I build naturally upon what’s gone on before and at the moment it seems to be natural history.

Where do you find inspiration? Inspiration from old books, old work I might have created previously and feel the need to continue or explore that piece further and just looking, observing, living life. Also, I love looking in interior magazines and I guess that helps me imagine how my work would look in different settings. 

What are you currently working on? I’m working on a new range of mixed media butterfly paintings.

Which of your works are you most proud of? It has to be the blue butterfly ('For a Day'), it’s the painting I’m building future work around and the minute I produced it I knew I wanted to create more in a similar style. For me it blends the perfect with the imperfect, I love the rawness to it and visually I just think it works. 

Who would you say buys your work? I used to produce work that was very female influenced and would have more woman than men buying my work, I now think the balance has shifted and find equally men and women buy my work and generally a wide age range too.

What memorable responses have you had to your work? Lots of online comments and positive feedback from sales. Going into a gallery and seeing someone buying my work is just great, I never get complacent and just really appreciate a moment like that.

What’s the biggest myth about artists? Artists aren’t lazy or workshy, they have to be really driven and passionate to make a living from it, often while trying to survive paying bills and other commitments.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you? My art teacher back in Ireland where I grew up always encouraged me to aim high and believe in what I do. She passed away some time ago sadly, but I always thank her for her encouragement.

What have you sacrificed for your art? Downtime! After a busy day working hard or these days - looking after my son, I can't afford to have much time just to relax. There's always something that needs doing.

Which artists do you most admire? Lots! They change over time; I used to be really into Helen Chadwick, Eva Hesse, Käthe Kollwitz. I keep discovering new artists every day, the latest is Tom French

Describe an average day in the life of Marion McConaghie – I’m up early to look after my toddler son and spend the morning with him before he goes off to nursery in the afternoon. When I come home from dropping him off I switch from Mummy into Artist mode. If I have orders to do then they are priority, then catch up with any admin or research if I need to, then hopefully if there is time I will have space to create new work. Music helps me to stay motivated, so I’ll blast some tunes to get myself into creating something. At the moment I really have only three afternoons a week to do my work so sometimes I will have to catch up with stuff in the evenings or weekends if I get a chance.


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