artist:fintan magee

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Daydreaming of Hope: The Street Art of Fintan Magee

By James Buxton

A giant child catches clouds on the side of an eight-story building, a father and son explore a forest in the middle of a city and a man carries his home on his back through the snow. These tender murals are the work of Brisbane-born artist Fintan Magee one of the most groundbreaking artists to come out of Australia in recent years.

Since exploding onto the street art scene with his environmentally charged, poignant narratives his art has taken him all around the globe. Yet beneath the artworks’ attractive surfaces lurks a subtle yet ever present threat; the threat of climate change. We caught up halfway through his largest mural to date in Dunedin, New Zealand, to hear about how his own personal experiences of floods and cyclones and how they have shaped the inspiration behind his work.



What are you up to at the moment?

Fintan Magee: I’m in Dunedin and I’m painting a big wall. It’s my first time in New Zealand. Culturally it’s really similar to Australia as it’s an old British colony, but the landscape is crazy different, it looks more like Scotland. I’m planning on coming back to London in June.


I wanted to discuss the environmental, social aspects of your work, for example the flood piece. There seem to be certain recurring apocalyptic themes of environmental awareness?

The flood plain for me is apocalyptic, a lot of people don’t see it that way. Certainly the idea of painting a water world, a surreal dreamscape, a future landscape relates to my experience living in Queensland. For us the two main weather events and physical effects of climate change that have increased n the last two years are cyclones and floodings. In 2011 we had a really big flood and I think 100,000 houses in Brisbane went under and my family home went under. It was really surreal time to be in Brisbane because it was so calm and sunny and the water came up really slowly. It’s surreal being in a city of 2 million and everything shuts down. For me it’s about my personal experience in the floods to talk about the broader issues of climate change, conservation and rising sea levels.



I’m interested in the patterns that occur in your work, such as the symmetry and the way you use doubles in your paintings?

I like painting figures that interact with each other in some way. I like the dialogue you can create between the two but often that’s an aesthetic decision.  I’m a figurative painter so my ideal format is to paint in a portrait format, when you’re painting street art that’s kind of difficult because you don’t always get a tall wall, sometimes you have to deal with all shapes and sizes. So sometimes doing two figures which were symmetrical to each other was a way of filling out the space, when I had to work with the landscape format.


I’m interested in your new stuff, sometimes it reminds of me snails as people are holding houses on their backs and migrating. How did that develop?

That was inspired by the architecture in Brisbane, particularly with the floods, because it was kind of a strange time. The traditional houses in Brisbane are called Queenslanders and they’re quite unique. They’re timber houses and they’re built in a Victorian style, which is strange because they’re built with none of the traditional materials which Victorians were built with. They’re usually much more open plan in design because it’s a tropical area and you need air circulation. They’re built out of timber instead of brick, and they’re built on stilts. A lot of houses in Brisbane are built on stilts and that’s partly to catch the breeze and to keep your home safe during flood events.


I think the first one I painted was the figure holding his house above the sea level, and that’s based on a personal experience, my family was in India at the time of the floods, and I had to come to my mother’s house and move everything upstairs as we had a lot of stuff in storage in the area where the stilts were. We were quite lucky our home wasn’t affected because we had a traditional house.


Sometimes I paint children being held up by an older generation, like a child being held up above the sea level as the water rises, that’s maybe to do with the need to help and protect future generations. A lot of them have this kind of family or motherly quality to them, I ty and evoke that. The inspiration kind of came from watching my house being physically elevated above the flood level and adding a surreal element to that.


I saw your piece in Las Vegas, it was so different, a lot more playful. This domestic theme, it’s quite interesting for me to see that you’re quite free to express all kinds of things on massive walls?

Lately I’ve been feeling the need to switch it up, you kind of get restless with certain images. In that one I don’t know what the exact meaning behind it was, I wanted to do something fun like a children’s book for adults, the two nude fingers and the rabbits f*cking, that was a weird one, it was kind of reflective of Vegas, it’s kind of a weird place.



I think that’s one of the most interesting things about making art in the environment, how the artist engages and plays with the space. Could you talk about how spaces have inspired you?

I think every piece is a reaction to space, because you have to see the space before you can design anything, even with the shape of the wall. Quite often you’ll spend time somewhere and your experiences will influence the work, even subconsciously, even if it’s unintentional and I think that’s kind of a natural part of producing public art in general. I think that the best street artists are more in tune with those things and can really read their space. Like surfers say, every wave is different and surfers can read the wave before they’re in it, it’s kind of the same thing.