5 Dec 2017
CHAOTIC PORTRAITS IN A FICTIONAL WORLD
Laith McGregor spent a couple of months at HIAP’s studios in Suomenlinna, developing his unique portraits which combine meticulous drawing with text and the subconscious and bizarre.
AA: Your portraits are elegant and formal, yet the moments you capture are modern. How would you describe your original style to someone who isn’t familiar with your work?
LMcG: It’s funny that you should mention elegant and formal. I actually feel like they are chaotic and crazy. But this is a good thing, I love when the work can sit somewhere in between both of these worlds. My work has always referenced that grey area between fiction/non-fiction, I’m always trying to locate that push and pull feeling between a contemporary aesthetic and old-world formalism.
AA: Why portraiture? Has rendering a person on paper ever changed your view of the person? Are the people you draw even real?
LMcG: Portraiture holds such a weight throughout art history. I’m fascinated by the mutability of a sitter’s face. There is so much going on internally and externally in a portrait and is often endless in its interpretation. It depends on the work but most people I draw are friends and family. Although, I’ve been doing a series of drawings over the past 2 years, where I draw directly over someone else’s portrait drawing. The earliest work dates from 1900. It’s been such a crazy experience staring into the sitter’s eyes, wondering who they were, where they came from, what mood they were in and what they were thinking during the time that their likeness was being drawn.
AA: How important is having a personal connection to the subject matter that you choose to draw?
LMcG: This depends on the body of work that I’m doing at any given time. I try and set parameters with every show, for instance, one of the series was simply depicting people who came and visited my studio. The subjects were totally random. I really got into allowing an element of chance and the unknowable direct the outcome of the practice. I try and work intuitively with most of the work that I do. If I over think an idea, it often becomes stale and feels like I have already finished the work. There is something poetic about spontaneity. I like to think that my subconscious plays an important role in the way I work and the ongoing development of the practice.
AA: Do your paintings have autobiographical elements to the narrative? Are the portraits ever self-portraits?
LMcG: It often doesn’t show, but most of my work references my immediate surroundings, people I encounter and my everyday thoughts. I’ve done plenty of self-portraits over the years and will most likely do more. It’s funny to look back on a drawing which you’ve done of yourself and instantly remember what was going on in your head at the time.
AA: You work a lot with text, combining text with images. What fascinates you so about language? What does the use of words add to the drawing?
LMcG: I see a direct correlation between art and poetry. Because my work often references fiction as a concept, I find it important that the viewer is allowed a glimpse into my inner thoughts while working on a piece. The text came quite literally when I realised my notes/journals/post it reminders etc., were equally as important in the dialogue of the practice. The text became a sort of diary entry, often intimate, private and sometimes even totally absurd. But it allowed the audience a glimpse the workings of an artist’s mind, something no one other than the artist will experience.
AA: How do you view the intersection between illustration, comics, sculpture and drawing in your work? You work in so many different media.
LMcG: As a kid, I was a hard-core comic nerd. You wouldn’t find me without one, I was always trying to draw like my favourite artists, copying styles, characters, scenes. It’s slowly seeped its way into my ongoing practice for sure. Even more so now that I have a four-year-old son, it’s given me an excuse to revisit old friends from the past… hello Snoopy!
AA: What current projects are you working on and what do you have coming up?
LMcG: I’m actually in the studio at the moment and should be doing work right now. I have a show coming up at LA Contemporary, in Los Angeles with Starkwhite https://artlosangelesfair.com . I’m working on a series of large scale drawings and paintings with a spattering of weird little blobby clay sculptures. The show opens on the 25th of Jan… sheesh, I better hop to it!