Elliot Collins in conversation with Nicola McNabb
What are your intentions for the viewer in this body of work?
I’m not sure what that means anymore but I really wanted people to see the work and feel a kind of relief or stillness within the chaos. In the same way you relate to a pigeon on Queen Street hobbling around on a stumpy leg with a gammy wing and you think, “Oh, you too.” I aim to make my work relational and personal which I realise is a really unpopular position to take, in the current Auckland art world, but I guess I’m trying to take the long view of my practice and just make work that matters to me at the moment.
What was your approach to the layout of your work within the gallery?
I’m still really interested in the idea of a visual brainstorm as being this mass of ideas and images and colours and forms, so that’s really the rationale for this kind of Salon hang. It was strange having to rethink it in terms of a dealer gallery space though, because no one hangs art like this. Tim was really supportive though and just let the work hang itself. I like artwork that sort of grows out in a web-like formation; as soon as you hang works next to each other they start communicating or fighting and this, to me, is the interesting part of displaying art. I admit I also embraced the idea of living in a flat where the landlord (whom I’ve never even met) said “no nails in walls…” so you end up hanging your paintings in really weird ways because of the available nails that are already there; they’re shonky and disappointing and so feel more human.
You reference parallel universes quite a lot. Do you read a lot of Science Fiction?
No. I’d like to. It’s terrible that I reference parallel universes when I’m not smart enough to talk about them. I love the idea of parallel worlds where things are exactly the same, except maybe gravity is slightly less forceful or there is no such thing as the colour blue. I make parallel universe paintings to draw attention to this universe because it’s the only one we live in and to be thankful for what we’ve got in it.
Is there something in particular you are trying to communicate with this body of work?
The title of the show, Inside Painting Outside World gives a clue to a particular thematic approach to this show. I was really interested in the lives that artists lead outside of the studio or gallery and how they translate that. There is no doubt that galleries and, to a lesser extent, studios are strange places to function in. You draw on experience, and though it might not be an obvious reference to the outside world, you make art that has to function in it. It becomes part of the world through making. A subtitle for every show I’ll ever have could be “or A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gallery”, just to remind the viewer that there was life before this show and there will be life after it. I’m trying to communicate a yielding attitude rather than a stoppage of time.
What is your favourite painting in this collection?
Can I have first equal? Sparrow Hawk, because it is about starting from the beginning, simple mark making and not thinking. And Terrible Beauty, because the text dictated the work. The text reads “This painting is about the terrible beauty of disappointment” and I tried to paint it really well and it started out good and just got worse and worse. I kept trying to rescue it and the more I tried the more disappointed in myself I became. But once I let it fail, and I re-read what the text said, it just worked.
Why the books with their glass shields?
The books are re-titled with titles of books that I want to read that haven’t been written. I wanted them to be about the idea and to get the viewer thinking about what the contents of the book could be. Being able to read the original text just wasn’t the point. But the titles of the original books, married with the new titles, are my attempt at humor.
How did you find the transition from art school to the ‘real world’?
I’m not sure the Art World is real at all. You are left alone a lot more and this can be a mixed blessing. On one hand you can make without thinking and on the other you find yourself making without thinking. There is a weird teething stage but it helps to keep art school contacts, especially with those who have had the greatest impact on your practice and on you as a person. It helps to think of the transition as a second birth and it’s just as messy, strange and painful as the first time, but it’s got to happen in order to make a difference.
Auckland, August 2008
Photography: Kallan MacLeod