We interview artist Graham McBride from London.
- Please describe your artwork style.
I would describe my artwork style as being expressionist, while my work does vary from being rather figurative to being quite abstract. It’s probably not a conventional thing to say, but I don’t see myself as settled on a distinctive defined style. To me that would be quite restrictive, constraining and limiting. I like to paint by choosing an approach that best suits what I see or feel or want to express.
- What is your background?
Most unusual for an artist I’m sure. I grew up in the isolated dry western plains of Queensland Australia, later moving to the tropical sugar country on the coast. With this upbringing and at the time, studying or engaging in artistic pursuits was too far-fetched even to be contemplated. I became a metal tradesman then studied environmental science and applied engineering. This further led me onto co-forming a successful new technology business.
- How long have you been an artist?
Probably about 12 years. My desire to engage in artistic expression ticked along in the background for some years until it slowly took on a more dominant part of my life. Along the way I selectively chose concentrated courses to build up my skills and establish the foundations and confidence I needed.
- Who or what are your biggest influences?
Some years ago I went on a painting trip into the inland of Australia with the late Clifton Pugh, a significant Australian artist. He not only was highly encouraging to me, he also helped to embed a legitimacy of doing creative things as opposed to practical things. I often reflect upon that experience. My early attraction to abstract expressionism was a big influence in helping to free me up. Thinking of artists, I don’t consider there has been one in particular who I have said “that’s what I am on about!”. It’s more of being significantly influenced by aspects of a series of artists over time, ranging from van Gogh; Hoffman; de Kooning; Fred Williams, Twombly, and others.
- How have you developed your career?
Once I was sufficiently comfortable with my skills I sought out gallery exhibitions, but certainly twice changing continents has tended to disrupt a continuity in that regard. I place my work and sell from several international websites. Additionally, I have developed local exposure through having regular open studios that lead to word of mouth sales and commissions. Possibly I could be more consistent in my marketing and submitting to competitions, but in reality, I paint in order to express what is going on with me. If I don’t sell though, then my studio can quickly get clogged up and that bogs me down.
- Which current art world trends are you following?
I don’t consciously follow any world art trends. I do follow and monitor local and international events, and I think that feeds into what I do as an artist more than art trends. I am particularly concerned about climate change and how land is being exploited. I am interested seeing how artists respond and express around this issue.
- Where do you create your work?
I have a very airy and light studio in Islington London overlooking City Road Basin. I feel very lucky to have found it. While I much enjoy the cultural richness of London, I appreciate the sense of space about me and having a separation from the density of people and urban infrastructure. Before moving to London I had a studio where I lived on the Mornington Peninsula east of Melbourne, looking out onto Port Philip Bay. There is a little bit of connection, but not much.
- What do you feel is the role of the artist in society?
That’s not an easy question to answer with one idea. I am deeply concerned by what is happening to our world, to our environments; and in this we need to broaden our daily perspectives and how we respond. I feel art probes at different connections to the world about us-from beauty to raw reality-and in doing so artists can focus people on different realities. By questioning established answers or ways of doing things, an artist can create pleasure, motivation, insights and reflectivity. Everything is of course subjective, and if I can extrapolate from myself, I feel art participation can bring us back to ourselves and to the present through enhancing sensitivity. But in the end, it is just another thing we do in life. That’s the way it is.
- What techniques/mediums do you use?
Various. I use acrylics when I want to express or work quickly. Oils can come on top of acrylic, or from the start, even as washes building up to impasto work. Pigments and textures play a big part in my work.
- Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting or the way it is executed?
I don’t think it is the subject or the way it is executed that is more important to me. I choose a subject because there is something about it that attracts me, and the methods I use to execute the work are to enhance or capture what I am exploring. Hence that is why my style can vary from one work to another.
- How do you feel when you are letting your emotions loose on the canvas?
That varies. Sometimes it’s feeling easy and connected. Other times it can be uncertainty with some anxiety about controlling and pacing to articulate effectively. Really to me it is at the beginning of a painting when I am roughing things out that is the most exhilarating, as I am setting the basic emotional tone to the painting.
- What projects are you working on now?
Recently I have been getting more and more interested in the cultural disparity between how Indigenous Australians and European colonisers essentially relate to the land. This is connecting back to many of my early years and memories in the bush. I’m sure something interesting will come out of it.
- Any current or up-coming exhibitions?
Just recently I had a good exhibition in Brisbane, though it’s quite a lot of work preparing and delivering outside the European Community where I now live. Recently I reached an arrangement with a large apartment block bordering City Road Basin in London, to exhibit my works in the foyer and throughout the public areas. The idea is I use it as a rotating exhibition of my work. This is a very exciting prospect. This was meant to happen a while ago, but renovations have delayed it. It is now close and hanging will begin in December.
- Where do you find your ideas for your work?
My ideas are mostly inspired by the natural landscape-particularly of areas I have developed a familiarity. Travel also plays a big part in my life. I take photographs and sketch when travelling and bring this information back into the studio and use this as an inspiration or foundation. Then again much of the finished work comes about from what I see on the canvas in front of me. I feel there is an intuitive/visual/imaginative dynamic going on as I explore and respond. I read a great deal and I feel this plays a big part by heightening my social, environmental, cultural and political awareness. I hope some of that comes out in my work.
- Is there any artwork you are most proud of?
I’m not quite sure about the sense of being proud. It seems more about being contented, being pleased I had persevered and found the resources to bring a thing to completion. Probably most significant for me would be the first series I did, rather than an individual piece. The series was called ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ and was based around a tree at Barcaldine in western Queensland which we as a family would drive past and reflect upon when I was a kid. It was the tree under which shearers organised ‘The Great Shearers Strike’ in the late 1800’s to protest against appalling work conditions. This event heralded the beginning of better conditions for working people across the country. Each painting in the series became progressively more abstract, until the last was totally abstract.
- How do you know when as artwork is finished?
I think it is about a feeling of being settled. Satisfied. Sometimes this feeling of ‘knowing’ comes come quite quickly and unexpectedly. Other times there is a period of adjustment interspersed with pondering and analysing. Then again, some paintings can sit for ages. In fact there are some on my racks that have never quite got there, and continue to trouble me.
- What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
There is not one most important tool, but the most important tools are the essentials, and they are my brushes.
- Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
There is so much in producing/creating a painting: from the bursts of energy; through some often tough indecisive stuff along the way, including having to destroy bits that I love; the totally unexpected; the moment when the painting knows where it is going... If I have to say something, it would be the beginning with all the potential and uncertainty when the first colours or shapes appear on the canvas. It keeps me coming back.
To see more of Graham's work see:
Website: www.grahammcbrideart.com Instagram: @grahammcbrideart