France-Lise McGurn was commissioned to make a whole-room painting, entitled ‘Extensa Suite’, which launched at the Summer Festival Open Weekend 2018, SCRIPT. It will remain in the Study Room for audiences and artists in residence to experience throughout the year.
McGurn lives and works in Glasgow, and was working at Hospitalfield to create a new painting made directly on to the walls of the house. Her new work brings the study room on the first floor of the House alive with her ordered chaos of figures and limbs deftly painted with the characteristic single lines of her brush. McGurn is revisiting us following her residency in 2015 where she got to know Hospitalfield very well and we are delighted to be able to commission this new work. Her ‘whole-room’ wall painting follows similar works made to fit other interior spaces such as her ambitious work for Tate St Ives, made for the show ‘Virginia Wolf: An Exhibition Inspired by her Writings’ earlier this year.
France-Lise McGurn in conversation with Lucy Byatt, Director of Hospitalfield, June 2018.
LB I always think that for those artists who chose to make their work in a particular situation as you do, such as our study room at Hospitalfield, that this can be quite a solitary activity?
FLMc Yes I just feel that I have to be self-sufficient. I don’t want to rely on others. I work in a way that is immediate, instant. The sense of movement in the work is very important to me and so the energy of the work can only come through me. I can’t have a situation where the flow of thought is punctuated or where there is a filter between me and the work I want to stay close to the moment when the idea emerges. It’s direct and uncomplicated and I just find collaboration too difficult.
When I talk to people about my work they often refer to performance and ask if I see the work as a performance. In a way it is durational, I am asked to make a work and I am given a certain length of time and it takes this amount of time and that is that. I don’t know if I think of this as performance though.
LB If you were to be given six months to make a work would this change your process?
FLMc I think that the work would just get more layers, not more detailed, the wall might just fill with layers and layers of the same immediate, quite quickly drawn characters.
LB You have such a flowing, economic vocabulary of line and of image, the flow of the line makes us think that you have such familiarity with the shape of a hand or leg or face, how does this language change and evolve?
FLMc This depends so much on what I am looking at, what I am reading or interested in at the time that I am making the work. Sometimes elements creep in unconsciously but I have a certain shorthand that has accumulated from many different influences and of course there are aspects of autobiography in the work.
LB We have spoken before about how we might read a narrative from your work, do you expect viewers to read the work as a narrative, are there storied to be understood?
FLMc Yes but not in a linear conventional sense but in a way that is purposefully displaced and disrupted. There are specific characters in the work, a cast of characters and tropes. I always tend to engineer the work in a way to ensure that there is no particular focal point, no one leading character but a crowd so that the piece has a similar energy across the entire work. It’s a bit like going to a gig where the singer performs to you and you are aware of the crowd, just from the edges of your vision whilst your focus is on the stage. I’m interested in the sense of people around you rather than the specifics of who they are.
LB Yes I wondered if there might be a soundtrack to the work in your imagination?
FLMc Well you know all my work has been influenced by music and the club scene that I was in when I was younger. I can’t remember which came first the ideas for the clubs that I used to run or for my painting. I am interested in that sense of abandonment and of ecstasy, the way that you lose a sense of self in the context of being in a club where all your senses are under pressure.
I used to paint floor pieces for the clubs and other artists would show work, there was no real sense of authorship. All my most lasting friendship groups come out of this time in my life from the music scene and club scene in Glasgow. This is my influence and inspiration for the fundamental decisions I make in the form of the work. As my life changes the content of the work changes in a natural instinctive way, but it was this time that really formed the way I work now.
LB You went to art school, Duncan of Jordanstone and then the Royal College, does this weight of art history, particularly in painting weigh on you?
FLMc I always wanted to be a painter from a child, I watched my mother painting all the time and all over the furniture, she was very prolific and it felt a very natural thing to do. I am asked this question often when curators come and do studio visits, they ask if I am influenced by Matisse and I take this to suggest that my work is somehow old fashioned. This is really not what mainly influences me, I find my influences in popular culture, I am much more likely to be influenced by something I see on TV or a poster or T shirt.
I have just been asked to make a work for a show about the work of Ester Krumbachova at the CCA in Glasgow. The collaborative club night that I run with Katie Shannon is called Daisies, I took the title Daisies (Sedmikrasky) from a film which Krumbachova worked on with Vera Chytilova, so they must have made the connection that her work had influenced me. Because of the restrictions in Czech(-slovakia) at the time , the two worked in somewhat of a cultural vacuum. Both of them were banned from working at different points and therefore would often not credit their names officially on projects. Also they had no connection to the development of feminist ideas in the west at that time. Their work was about gender and freedom but it runs parallel to the more known feminist practices and it has so much gallous energy. I am interested in this extremely instinctive way of working, it’s interesting to find artists who have for some reason emerged from a less predictable route and have therefore formed a language that is more individual. I really look forward to working on that show.
LB The works that you make directly on to the walls are temporary, we will live with this work until the end of the year and then paint it out, how do you feel about this, is it painful?
FLMc I’m fine about painting it out, it’s not painful at all, is fine by me and I am super excited about making a work for a room that is going to be properly used. I don’t think I have done this before, I suppose the work for Tate St Ives, but really this is just a passing through space, it wasn’t a place that people properly spent time in. This has changed quite a lot the way I have been thinking, I don’t really want people to sit and look at the work but somehow experience it as they are getting on with what they need to get on with. I’d like it to feel familiar as though, perhaps it has always been there.
LB What about the works that you make that are more permanent how do you retain the immediacy that is so important?
I have been asked to make a neon for Nice N Sleazy [bar with a renowned music programme in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street] and it just taken me so long to work out how to do it. Although it’s a great material for me really, in the end I sat up all night and did hundreds of drawings and in the morning I picked the one that I thought worked best and have just sent this off to be made. I’m the same when I am making paintings. Ideally I would have 1000 canvases all made up in the studio, I make lots of work that I then paint over or I turn the canvas on the stretcher – if it takes me more than two days then I’m over it. If I can’t get something immediately, if it looks over laboured or contrived then the painting isn’t doing the job.
LB so if your inspiration comes from popular culture and you can work with material as diverse as paint and canvas and neon, what about tattoos I can image this would be great way of working as the inking up has exactly the same sort of deft immediacy?
Tattoo design has such a distinct culture of its own but, yes exactly, it’s really dependent on the quality of the line which I am too, it has to be quick and you can’t slow the making of the line down. I designed a tattoo for my niece, it was very quick for me to make the design but she now has it for a life time.
France-Lise McGurn lives and works in Glasgow, her paintings and drawings take form as both individual works made in the studio and installations which are made directly onto the surfaces of the exhibition space. Her subject matter reflects a relationship with a collected archive of images, texts and film. Recent solo exhibitions include Rabbit, Recent Activity, Birmingham, 2017; Archaos, Alison Jacques Gallery, London, 2017; Mondo Throb, Bosse and Baum, London, 2016. Her on site mural commission for Tate st Ives is currently on show and she is currently included in the show ‘Virginia Woolf , an exhibition inspired by her writings’ also on show at Tate St Ives. Group exhibitions, X A Fantasy, David Roberts Art Foundation, London 2017; Le Nouveau Voyeurisime, Hotel Contemporary, Milan, 2017; Sexting, Group Exhibition, Kate Werble Gallery, New York, 2016; The Old Things, Galerie Crevecoeur, Paris, 2016; Home Salon, Marcelle Joseph Projects, Ascot, 2016; NEO-PAGAN BITCH-WITCH!, Group show co-presented with Lucy Stein, Evelyn Yard, London, 2016. McGurn took part in our Autumn Residency programme in 2015.