Visual Storytelling with Australian Painter Fintan Magee
"I am deeply obsessed with the painting process, so as long as I get to paint full time, nothing else really matters."
From graffiti on the streets as a kid, to art school student, one thing has sustained throughout Brisbane-based artist Fintan Magees’ life and that is his love of painting. Whether it is in the public eye, or through personal experimental sessions in his studio, he has evolved his style, created new techniques, and found a way to tell untold stories through his art.
When did you realize you had a talent for art?
I have been painting since I was very young, my dad was a sculptor and my mum was a landscape designer, so I grew up around art materials and technical drawings. When I was younger I was mostly drawing, I was 13 I started writing graffiti and became obsessed with painting and mark making.
What did it take for you to become a professional artist full time?
I wrote graffiti for a long time and never really made money from my work for years. For me it was a classic case of art school ruining my graffiti. I studied painting at the QCA in Brisbane and while I was there, I was doing small mural jobs, signage, things like that. I was also painting a lot illegally on the street and abandoned buildings. I was putting my work online and over time I guess I got a small buzz going and started to get commissioned for my work. It feels like a marathon now. It’s taken me at least 20 years of painting to fully develop as an artist.
You have been described as a social realist painter, what does that mean to you?
When I was at art school I was really into American realists like Grant Wood, George Tooker, Rivera etc. At that time I called myself a social realist and it stuck. I don’t know if it still fully applies. I am fascinated with people though and enjoy painting the day to day. There is an obvious tradition in public art to paint public figures, politicians, explorers, colonists, poets, sports people etc. I was never interested in this. I like stories that are hidden, untold. So I would much rather paint a worker or a friend in public than a celebrity. I guess the term came from that.
How would you describe your art, is there a message in it?
Each work is different, I try to draw on personal experience when I can, for me sometimes the best works are the most puzzling or the artist keeps the meaning close. For me every project is different.
What do you hope to invoke in people when they see your art?
I enjoy working in the public sphere, I like the idea of making art an everyday part of people lives. I can’t really control how people react or don’t react to it though. Once it’s out there it has a life of its own.
What kind of an impact do you think art has on society?
Big question, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t have an answer that didn’t sound self-indulgent or self-important.
You have this “beveled glass technique” that you use in many of your pieces, how did you develop this technique?
I spent a lot of time in my studio during the pandemic and really used the time to experiment. Some experiments were more successful than others. The glass patterns came about when a neighbor left a bunch of glass panels by our skip bin in the studio, I started playing around with shooting it and painting the patterns. It was during the 2020 Covid lockdowns, so the images behind glass were definitely the feeling of the moment. It was frustrating though as I was hoping the experiments would lead me to work I could produce faster. Instead I ended up creating a body of work that was way more time consuming.
You have painted many large scale murals, what has been the largest piece you have done so far?
I painted a 16 story building in Kyiv, that was the tallest. I have also painted large grain silos, I am not really interested in these really big walls anymore though. The larger walls are exhausting to paint. For me 3-8 stories is perfect. I probably won’t do many works bigger than that anymore.
What challenges you most in your artistry?
For me the biggest challenge is finding time to experiment. When you work in public and on a large scale you very much have to paint by numbers and there is not a lot of room for failure. Being in lockdown made me realize how important it is to take time to draw, experiment and allow room for failure. I am going to set boundaries with this more and make sure I have a couple of months free just for experiments.
You have left your mark painting all over the world, did you ever think you would achieve the level of success that you have as an artist?
I grew up in Brisbane, Queensland, at that time it was still a conservative city so even though my parents were artists, the feeling around me was that art wasn’t a valid career. I never really felt encouraged to pursue it seriously, certainly not from my teachers, etc. I was lucky I discovered graffiti though because Brisbane has a strong subculture here and it’s all very DIY. I think this subculture gave me a structure and a framework that encouraged me to paint full-time. Even if I had to steal the paint and I wasn’t being paid.
What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career so far?
I am deeply obsessed with the painting process, so as long as I get to paint full time, nothing else really matters.
What is the next thing you hope to explore creatively?
Right now I am working on a series of new paintings on different surfaces. I am interested in the relationship between our painted worlds and our built environment. I just moved back to Brisbane this year and the architecture here is very unique, so I want to put together a show of paintings on local construction materials. I want to pay homage to the buildings of my hometown.