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Jack McGarrity trained at the Glasgow School of Art, close to where he grew up in the West of Scotland, before moving to London to study at the Royal Drawing School. In 2018 he attended a two month residency at the Museo del Prado in Madrid having been awarded the Richard Ford Award and a year later spent three months in Florence for the John Kinross Award.
Equally concerned with both quotidian mundanity and the heightened reality of film and comic books, McGarrity creates new narratives that explore notions of the absurd, stillness and alienation in the modern world. Embodying a wry sense of humour, McGarrity’s collaged enactments present scenarios that are, at times, idiosyncratic and mordant whilst retaining an essential sentimentality.
McGarrity joined the Messums Emerging Talents Programme with an exhibition at our Wiltshire Gallery in July 2021. Since 2016 we have supported an annual emerging talent programme that champions artists at the beginning of their career. The programme has seen four years of burgeoning talent grow into established creative strength with Messums and elsewhere.
The Royal Drawing School
2019 – 2021 The Drawing Year (MA)
Glasgow School of Art
2015 – 2019 Fine Art (Ba), Painting & Printmaking
Grants and Awards
2019 John Kinross Award, (Three month travel scholarship to Florence)
2019 Aon Community Art Award
2018 Richard Ford Award, (Two month travel scholarship to Museo del Prado, Madrid)
2021 Open Studio, Space Studios, London
2021 The Drawing Year, End of Year Exhibition, The Royal Drawing School, London 2021 Best of The Drawing Year, Christies, London
2021 Green Fires, The Violet Hour, online show
2021 Works on Paper 3, Blue Shop Cottage, online show
2021 Resonant Strangeness, online show
2020 About This Studio, online show
2020 Curated for Covid, online show
2020 Creating Connections, Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, Glasgow
2019 Aon Community Art Award, Leadenhall Building, London
2019 Degree Show, Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow
2019 Recount, New Glasgow Society, Glasgow
2018 Something Like This?, The Glue Factory, Glasgow
2017 Series 2, McLellan Galleries, Glasgow 2017 The Printer is Broken, Stereo, Glasgow
Jack McGarrity Q&A
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Q. What first inspired your practice?
I first became interested in drawing from looking at cartoons and comic strips when I was younger, and I think this influence is still present in my current work. I am still interested in sequences and depicting multiple images on the one surface to imply narrative.
Q. What has been your background / training and how influential has that subsequently been?
I completed my BA in Painting and Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art. Whilst studying at Glasgow I was really interested in making big figurative oil paintings. This changed a lot when I studied at The Royal Drawing School. At the Drawing School I became more interested in making smaller works on paper with a focus on collages. Now I am trying to combine these two aspects of my practice by returning to making larger scale works whilst trying to retain aspects of my smaller works on paper.
Q. Tell me more about your subject matter and the inspiration for your work?
During the lockdown I became really interested in the work of Lois Dodd and I think because of that, at the moment I am mainly interested in depicting small everyday moments and how these could somehow be given more status or make quotidian objects more monumental.
Q. Who or what has been your greatest influence as an artist? Which artists most inspire you?
When I was at Glasgow I got the opportunity to study at the Prado for two months. During this time, I mostly made drawings from Goya’s work, and I still think about his use of composition and application of paint a lot today when I work. Guston and Picasso are also major inspirations as well as contemporary artists such Mamma Anderson, Jokum Nordström and Jennifer Packer.
Q. Can you tell me about your mark-making process?
I usually start with an extremely bright ground which I then work on with gradually darker tones. I always like to try and keep some areas of the ground piercing through. This was something that I saw in Goya’s work, and I think it helps unify the image whilst also providing some areas with some unusual colour combinations. Once I have a basic image I am relatively happy with I will sometimes work over it using other materials to enrich the surface quality of a work or try and create some jarring areas using collage.
Q. What is the most challenging element of your practice?
I think trying to restrain the amount of colours I’m using in the early stages of a painting I feel l sometimes make work that can be too much and not work as a cohesive whole.
Q. How do the processes of drawing and painting relate to each other in your work?
I think drawing and painting are becoming more and more intertwined in my work. I see the smaller gouache works very much as drawings but formally and stylistically they aren’t very different from the larger works on canvas. I have also started using oil bars a lot which I feel has further burred the line between the two disciplines.
Q. What for you are the desired essential qualities of image-making?
I think an image, or a painting specifically, has to be rewarding over time and not give everything away all at once. I think this has to apply to both how a painting is made but also its meaning or narrative – if it has one. I also enjoy being able to see the process of how an image has been constructed. When I erase things in my work I try to leave some trace of it behind, to give some sort of palimpsest idea to create a sense of history within the image.
Q. How do you see your work relating to tradition and contemporary art practice?
From doing residencies at the Prado and in Florence I am extremely interested in the history of painting, and I think this permeates a lot of my work, whether it be through references or even aspects of composition or colour. In London just now there seems to be a real renewed interest in painting and I hope my work can be part of this.
Q. What are the latest developments in your work?
Recently I have become interested in how I could create an image using very little tonal difference and almost monochromatic colour palette. I have been looking at Rothko’s work a lot and I think this has inspired this direction for the work.
Q. What are the specific locations you have worked from and why you have been drawn to the scenes depicted?
Most of this work has been based on places I see every day. A lot of the works are based on the studio and my flat. I liked the idea of trying to make something interesting out quite boring and common places. A lot of the works also have images within them, and this was a way of trying to insert some kind of narrative into the works even if that is not explicit.
Q. Where are the familiar motifs in your work drawn from?
A lot of the familiar motifs in the work come from the previous drawings that I have made, and a lot of the recurring imagery comes from the area I grew up in Scotland – a lot of the imagery is quite localised. I also like using imagery from mass culture as well and trying to blur the line between something personal and imagery that is very public.
Q. Why are Hopper and Munch of particular influence to your work at present?
I really love how so much of Munch’s work is based on the small area around which he lived and how he was able to transform these on the surface banal scenes. With Hopper I was really drawn to the how is works have such a strong sense of presence and the way he seems to acknowledge the viewer. It feels like there’s almost a sense of intrusion and I thought that was really powerful, and something I wanted to play with.
Q. How does drawing continue to be fundamental to your practice?
Everything starts with drawing, usually as small doodles in my sketchbook and then into some larger charcoal drawings. I feel like a lot of the paintings are more drawn than painted. Some of the paintings even have drawings stuck directly on to them.
Q. How much are your paintings pre-planned or spontaneous in their making process?
It varies some are relatively pre-planned but once I start, I never stick to it. Most of the paintings start off as something completely different, with a completely different colour scheme intended and then gradually change over the process of making.
Q. Ambiguous and intriguing narratives strongly feature in your work – from where do these derive?
These come from many different places. Sometimes it’s from something I’ve seen when I’m out or sometimes it’s from something I’ve read or watched. Some of the work featured in the show is from stills of Love Island in which I was thinking about its voyeuristic nature and ideas around Bentham and the panopticon.
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Messums Emerging Talents Programme has provided a platform for artists at the early stages of their careers, enabling creative young minds the opportunity to flourish. Jack McGarrity’s resolute pathway exemplifies the merits of this programme. Originally from the West of Scotland, he trained at The Glasgow School of Art and The Royal Drawing School. While at Glasgow, his promising ability was acknowledged with the presentation of the Richard Ford Award for a two-month travel scholarship to the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the John Kinross Award for a three-month travel scholarship to Florence. At The Royal Drawing School, in further recognition, he became the 2021-22 recipient of the Sir Denis Mahon Award, a prize of £10,000 to an exceptional outgoing student. McGarrity participated in the Messums Emerging Talents Programme with a debut presentation in our Wiltshire galleries in July 2021. This new exhibition, his first at Messums London gallery, follows the success of that show and marks the commitment on both sides to McGarrity in terms of creative career and potential.
McGarrity’s work interweaves observations of the everyday, bringing life to the seemingly mundane. Many images derive from the immediate environs of his studio and home, which together with aspects of popular culture create multi-layered surreal narratives that reflect on notions of the uncanny and alienation in the modern world. An eerie stillness characterises the work. In some images enigmatic figures appear, while in others, human presence is evoked through absence. An Edvard Munch-like sense of claustrophobia pervades the work as disparate images combine to produce intriguing scenarios, often with an atmosphere of foreboding and an implied psychological drama.
McGarrity’s practice is deeply rooted in drawing. He makes rapid sketches whenever and wherever – while walking in London, within his home or studio, during visits to the opera, at galleries, from comic books, magazines, films and television programmes. Along with the stimuli of popular culture, he finds inspiration in both local and British History. Rich and varied, it is the process of drawing that enables this source material to be continually gathered in preparation for the development of ensuing work.
In the studio, images and ideas evolve and coalesce on the canvas. Considering ways in which different scenes can be depicted in the one image whilst retaining a cohesive whole, McGarrity employs collage techniques as a way of disrupting the idea of the picture plane. The collage medium offers a natural process for enabling fragments and layers to merge. Series has become an important factor in his work with familiar motifs reappearing in paintings over time. Personal memory, and the ambiguity of recollection, take on a significant role. Images and motifs from the area McGarrity grew up in Scotland, and which appear in previous drawings, pervade the work. Combining the familiar with subjects of mass culture, he blurs the line between public and personal. The assembled images reflect a variety of sources that infiltrate our lives, for example works featured in the exhibition contain stills from the British dating gameshow Love Island which prompted McGarrity to contemplate its voyeuristic nature and reflect on ideas of the philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham and his concept of the panopticon.
In recent paintings inspired by a visit to the Royal Opera House, McGarrity considers liminal spaces and transitions, emphasising the contrast between the illuminated stage and the audience submerged in darkness. This spectacle of the performance, with the drama of height and the focal point looking down and in from a distance, dominated his thinking and the resulting content of these works. Embracing the sense of vertigo as well as exploring the essential elements of mood, colour, light and contrast, stimulated ideas for McGarrity. On his return to the studio, he began to consider this more familiar working environment as a form of stage-set with the objects surrounding him presenting as theatrical props.
Engaging with intriguing spaces is a recurring factor in McGarrity’s work with the investigation of surface, space, and a sense of illusionary depth. The painting entitled ‘Papa’, for example, inspired by a drawing of McGarrity’s grandfather standing at his backdoor, is similarly characterised by the liminal space surrounding the figure, beyond the doorway and into the unknown. McGarrity references the influence of Edward Hopper’s painting in this regard with the creation of a powerful sense of presence in the work and almost a feeling of intrusion from the viewer on the scene witnessed.
Through the imaginative juxtaposition and collaging of imagery deriving from his experiences, McGarrity is delving into the essence of the issues that are embedded in today’s world. There is an element of searching in the work and a determination to discover, and rediscover, through the inventive language of his image-making. He embraces figurative painting and creates narratives that convey human experience and reflect contemporary concerns. McGarrity is a young painter responding with honesty to the complex reality of our times.