Slavka Sverakova interviews Mark McGreevy by e-mail (2008 / 2009)

SS:Your paintings are a web of memories, associations and signs. It is worth repeating what you said once about the rainbow motif.
 Mark McGreevy: 20000 Suckas in the bottom of the nugget, 2004, oil on canvas, 195 x 300 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: 20000 Suckas in the bottom of the nugget, 2004, oil on canvas, 195 x 300 cm; courtesy the artist

MMcG: I suppose the rainbow motif would have been a typical example of how or why certain images would come to appear in the paintings and drawings.
There is a personal history attached to the motif that becomes intertwined with the historical association and this can resonate within one’s own experience and memory. Like a form of free association, a process is open to randomness, to disruption of associative junctures, accidents, overlaps, coincidence and mistakes up to its realisation in a physical form, from inner world to an exterior one.
With the rainbow motif, you have a symbol richly associated within Christian doctrine as a covenant between god and humankind promising not to unleash an apocalyptic deluge again.To a more cynical observer it is not a promise of protection and benevolence but an afterimage of a collective punishment.
 Mark McGreevy: Yo Sweden, 2005 - 2006, oil on canvas, 275 x 390 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Yo Sweden, 2005 - 2006, oil on canvas, 275 x 390 cm; courtesy the artist

The value of  the motif is diluted in painting to something more provincial. It's now a covenant between god, man and country with a patriotic subtext of ownership of land. However, the warning is still there, that this land and its people are now protected. You arrive at these conclusions through a nonlinear process of examination which usually starts off with the personal, giving yourself license to play with the context of the image. The value of such an image is the same for me were it to exist as a nineteenth-century painting, biblical story or an arcade game. You take the image and run with it, but the use of the image must fit within the range of the viewer’s value system and associations and my interpretation of the image must be within the boundaries of acceptability and the accepted ways of deploying them. Overstep the boundaries and the image becomes incomprehensible to the viewer; I suppose that’s when the personal can subjugate a collective metaphor and what you are doing is the visual equivalent of boring someone to tears by recounting a ‘wonderful dream’ you had. This is where the fun is through treading that fine line of acceptability.
 Mark McGreevy: High 54 ranch, 2006, oil on canvas, 27 x 36 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: High 54 ranch, 2006, oil on canvas, 27 x 36 cm; courtesy the artist

My interests at the time I was making those paintings was to take an image, pull it from its historical context / reception and debase it; a form of cultural slumming. I referenced an arcade game from the early ’90s (Rainbow island), a game where the protagonist uses rainbows both as a physical bridge and as a laser-like weapon to escape a disintegrating world.So there are similarities that run through the collective histories of the image, though equally interesting is the grappling with inconsistencies and gaps, with the experiential or simply the imaginative.
 Mark McGreevy: Untitled, mixed media on paper, 2006 -, 300 x 300 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Untitled, mixed media on paper, 2006 -, 300 x 300 cm; courtesy the artist

I suppose this would be similar to my approach with the majority of images; there is the personal and the collective, which is then pulled apart and either reinforces an attitude or unravels it.
Again, the personal aspect could be seen as a form of navel-gazing, but I would say that it is this that helps hold the work together as an object. Through individual thought, concentration and the physical nature of making, it negates the pitfalls of overblown statements or cyclical fashions and if you are lucky it has an internal logic, which is the foundation of the work; all very unfashionable but I think that’s probably a plus too.
SS: There are things that grab my attention, similar to how a loud noise, bright colours, or threatening animal may do. Science calls this ‘reflexive attention’ – a survival tool we humans developed very early on. Could activation of reflexive attention be a motivation for what you paint? I am thinking of the disintegration of the system of values around us.
 Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2007 - 2008, oil on canvas, 70 x 90 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2007 - 2008, oil on canvas, 70 x 90 cm; courtesy the artist

MMcG: Yes, the reflexive action or attention is important because it could be seen as a part of  common human nature, a default system that is the closest thing to an egalitarian quality when applied to what we call art. Of course, you could counter that with something like ‘attributive dualism’ that separates the phenomenon of consciousness from the body and that default system becomes something else or disappears.
However, when applying the former system to decoding an image, symbol or metaphor, the neurological foundation is unchanged at least from the upper Palaeolithic period, and even when you factor in social / cultural polarities the reactions are the same.What changes is how it is interpreted.
Sleep deprivation, self-imposed starvation, psychotropic drugs or sensory deprivation produce at an early stage the same geometric hallucinations (altered consciousness) in a lab as it did 35,000 years ago in a cave; human electro-chemical activity in the wiring seems to be doing the same thing. I suppose I find some kind of comfort in that it has an order to it that still exists within the changing values of motifs. Maybe for me I need this foundation of reason that anchors the irrational activity of object-making; it's emotive as much as cerebral. If you take Comte’s three stages of civilisation, the theological, metaphysical and positivism, through these three stages, there still exists the irrational mode of thought, overwhelming ineffability still resides within us. It could be that it is only a part of the human nervous system, but the phenomenon is still there and can’t be ignored.
 Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm; courtesy the artist

SS Your choice of colours, the spatial structure and the choice of objects add up to something else than an ordinary world. The large scale identifies the world you make as a cosmos. Your paintings are visual fields to which heterogeneous things arrive.  For example, the small cubes at the upper edge are like spaceships moving from one system to another. They hover in the air…forcing the viewer to become absorbed in the picture. Often, your compositions do not have one centre; do you give different passages different rights to become a centre? They evoke complexity, which it is not believed a painting can command.
MMcG: It is very difficult for me to try to describe a timeline for when or how an image appears; the rationale for that shifts back and forth. I think though that some of the reasoning comes about because of the physical material itself. The nature of painting / drawing leaves a trace of the maker’s insecurities and fumbling while working through the development of thought and idea. I enjoy this for different reasons. I think it is a generous method of working, for me and, I trust, some viewers (of course, what is left exposed or to chance is also manipulated to a certain extent); it helps to undermine a supposed authority within a piece of work. It feels like a further collapse of the idea and its geocentric position within the work, as something, like the rejection of a ‘monolithic mode of thinking’ - by understanding that a multiversity of explanations is possible even though the revelation is always hidden or unattainable.
 Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2008, coloured pencil on paper, 20 x 20 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2008, coloured pencil on paper, 20 x 20 cm; courtesy the artist

There is also the subject and content to mull over, the immediacy of image (but only for the viewer) coupled with slow solidification of the idea and the process of making, both of which are repositioned and re-evaluated throughout the construction of the image; sometimes image outpaces idea and vice versa.
SS: I like your affirmative stance that you start up from unknown chaotic freewheeling association rather than from a known theory. I like your dedication to taking risk with unforeseen elements, spontaneous shifts and responsive changes.All are engaged in thinking through the tacit mark on the ground, an open-ended thinking that tends to evoke questions over questions, a strategy favoured by Enrico Fermi.I cherish your protection of visual knowledge from Marxist, pseudo-Marxist, feminist, etc, ideologies, whose revolutionary promises have been exhausted.
Your art refuses an ideological fortress for protection, it seems to rest on chance encounters of your ideas with viewers to create an experience in front of the painting, with the painting as the source.
Let us turn to your newest work. They are still like webs – but made of some harder material. They morph, in some parts, into organic forms, bodies, heads, legs, feet… you have peopled your small and large drawings alike with a carnival of characters. Am I correct in thinking that you allow the human body to take a central place?
 Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm; courtesy the artist

MMCG: This process started with what I thought was an opposition to gut responses, creating an antithesis of my original methods of working, leading to what I thought would be a ‘promiscuity of taste’, mitigating against rigidity, hoping it would open up my own responses to other ways of working, a more malleable way of thinking about making an image, even if it meant the finished painting became a failure.
Some of the earlier work had pseudo-architectual constructions throughoutand I was influenced by people like Archigram, Constants New Babylon and Superstudio’s anti design of the late ’60s early ’70s. Superstudio’s work left an impact on me more than any other group that I’d seen of that period; their work seemed to have an otherworldy appeal that existed under the guise of architecture. I felt that the cut-outs, hand-drawing and collage pieces help to bridge the gap between idea on paper and its messy actuality.
 Mark McGreevy: various drawings, coloured pencil on paper, 2008; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: various drawings, coloured pencil on paper, 2008; courtesy the artist

There is also more than a hint of the authoritarian in the designs of their large projects; the Continuous monument has the look of a mercurial Death Star or a Dyson Sphere with Speer-like giganticism, and it was the misanthropic nature of some SuperStudio work that I picked up on. From this I became interested in other marginalised designs, specifically units that were designed to protect from nuclear / biblical armageddon, usually taking the form of a Geodesic dome.
So to take it another step further would be to bury the dwelling underground, where it becomes a bunker or burrow, which is hermetic, misanthropic, animalistic and primitive, a pared-down- to-the-bare-bones existence. I started to draw bunkers and underground dwellings, what I saw as a negation of Modernist towers and Utopian dwellings; these bunkers became suggestive of bodily interiors, stomach-like. Interior and exterior were starting to mirror one another. The associations that sprang forth were of reflection, irrationality anda neurotic hallucinatory experience.
 Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2005, acrylic wall painting, size variable; installation shot, Irish Museum of Modern Art Process Room; courtesy the artist
Mark McGreevy: Untitled, 2005, acrylic wall painting, size variable; installation shot, Irish Museum of Modern Art Process Room; courtesy the artist

From this I began to work on failed / abandoned paintings that were in my studio; a lot of the paintings would have had distressed surfaces, usually because they had been stripped back while working on them, destroying whatever image had previously existed. It was the random process of reduction and editing on the previous paintings that left certain forms that then got anthropomorphised. Something that’s been richly mined throughout history, from Francis Bacon’s non-illustrational forms, Henry Michaux’s Rorshach-like paintings, Max Ernst’s landscapes and biomorphic forms to my earliest drawings thatstillexist.
Rorschach blobs and stains became approximations of a humanoid form which I would stretch to its physical limit; these figures then developed from many other sources but with the same underlying principle of free association within the composition of the image; it was as if the figure would will itself into existence through accidents on and off the canvas.
Slavka Sverakova is a writer on art.