inSIGHT Lab got the opportunity to talk to seminal figurative artist Fintan Magee, about the inspiration for his work, the power of murals to both unite and divide and his recent commission on Murray Street as part of the Metro expansion.
IL: The new murals at the Metro are amazing, and it is refreshing to see two powerful female artists chronicled as part of this development. When you spoke to Wendy Sharpe and Rachael Lafferty, what was it that struck you most?
FM: In my research I discovered that Marrickville/ Newtown had the highest rate of women in the workforce during the federation and early industrial periods, and Newtown was also the first city in Australia to have a female mayor, Lilian Fowler. I wanted to make a work that referenced this history without making a typical black and white historical mural. I was interested in how this legacy looks in a modern context, so I wanted to explore women’s work places in the area and how they look now. This became the main inspiration for the work.
IL: What message are you hoping to convey with these works, aside from the obvious strength and creativity visible to the naked eye?
FM: No message necessarily, I am just interested in people and storytelling and wanted to see what a work space says about someone. How they work shows who they are – it’s a kind of character study, of Wendy (one of Australia’s most acclaimed and awarded artists, including the Archibald, the Sulman and a commission as an Australian Official War Artist from the Australian War Memorial (the 1st woman since WW2) and Rachael (a painter, sculptor, art-car builder and singer-songwriter) in their work environments.
IL: How does this work tie in to the rest of your work, both in Australia and more broadly?
FM: I try to be as productive as possible with my output, but, as it has been impossible to travel overseas in the last 12 months, it’s exciting to work in my local studio area again. All of my work details people and the places they inhabit, so there is an ongoing theme there.
IL: I know that much of your earlier work inhabited isolated and/ or abandoned urban areas; has this changed as your work has become more widely known? How do you now decide on where a mural will go?
FM: Yeah, when I started out we were painting without permission a lot so mostly working at night or in abandoned buildings. In the last 5-6 years this has really changed as the kind of work I do is more in a privately commissioned/ public art context so I have a little less personal say over where the sites land. I just take the work as it comes now, and sometimes this creates challenges as every wall is different. I hope to find time to do more work for myself in the future and make some more self-initiated works on the street again. Although these days most of my self-initiated work is in the studio.
IL: On your website you talk of the power of murals to both unite and divide communities. Can you expand on this a little?
FM: I guess I have always been interested in the idea of murals and graffiti being a public message board of sorts. A chaotic claim to existence… My father is from Northern Ireland and I spent some time there as a child. It was the first place I really saw large murals in person, and there, murals are often used to divide the Catholic and Protestant communities and mark territory. Growing up in Brisbane, you could always tell what side of the city you were on by reading the tags on the streets or on the train line. So it’s almost a tribalist way to mark territory. On the other hand, mural art can encourage community ownership, so I am interested in the duality of that.
In these strange times, there is incredible power in the validation of who we are, what we do, and how we survive. The Murray Street mural is a testament to the enduring power of the creative economy in the inner west, and an insight into what goes on behind the towering warehouse walls of this inner-city industrial realm.