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.
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.
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
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
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.