Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald is another artist participating in Open Studios this month. I stopped by his apartment in the Mission to get a closer look at his signature collages.

Brian McDonald didn’t exactly feel at home in his hometown of Valencia, just north of Los Angeles:


“I knew from a very early age that I just did not fit in there […] Growing up there, it was all about escape”

Escape he did: first to Amiens, France for a year abroad; then to Santa Cruz for college; and then after some time in Paris and Venice, Italy, McDonald came to San Francisco. It was after a couple of years in the Bay Area that McDonald found himself in a painting class:

“I always wanted to make things […] I just on a whim took a painting class and I immediately fell in love with it”

Though not a musician, McDonald credits his lifelong love of music as a key influence on his work. He conceptualizes elements of his paintings in terms of music, such as harmonies between different brushstrokes:

“When I would listen to music while I was painting, one day […] I saw the parallels”

Describing his influences, McDonald identifies music groups like Radiohead, in addition to artists, like Jean-Michel Basquiat:

“[Basquiat] was able to capture on a canvas what I think music would look like”

Imagining musical layering and harmonies, McDonald began to explore surfaces for his paintings, ultimately developing a style marked by dense collage work:

“I think I originally just started using collage as more of a background and a textural thing and also to give it a little depth in terms of layering. And then it started to work its way forward I guess and be more incorporated into the overall design”

The source material for these collages comes from anywhere, from discarded children’s drawings found on the street to food packages and table server’s notepads from the restaurant where McDonald works:

“They’re very autobiographical – my paintings – in that I collect so much stuff that normal people throw away”

Looking closely at his collages, one finds cartoons, notes, and snippets of advertisements:

“I like printed material – like the advertising stuff – because it’s got authority […] I like taking that and distorting it”

These thoughtful collages are woven together beneath and around his paintings, which often feature figures interacting in curious, but strangely familiar, ways:

“I always try to make the stories purposely ambiguous […] I want it to be kind of like a dream”

Dreams, perhaps, but certainly no fantasies, as McDonald’s figures are often coarsely drawn, with thick black outlines. This embracing of unrefined style reflects McDonald’s perceptions of his Southern California roots:

“LA is all about appearances and its all about the veneer and I think my artwork is trying to make fun of that […] almost by being the opposite of pretty”

From LA to letters, music to mass mailings, McDonald’s art reflects a breadth of influences from many aspects of daily life rather than a hermit artist:

“I need multiple things to keep me going. I could never just do art full time, I don’t think […] I would feel imbalanced”

See more of Brian McDonald’s work at his upcoming Open Studios on October 11-12 at Reaves Gallery, which will be showing his work through November 2.

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