From Sharne Wolff…
Laith McGregor Sunset 2016 pencil on paper, 203.5 x 156.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Station Gallery.
1. You’re about to open a new solo exhibition NOONISMIDNIGHT at Station in Melbourne. Tell us a bit more…
Laith McGregor: Yeah, I’ve been working on this show for the last year and a half. It’s a culmination of a series of drawings, sculpture and one giant painting that I made while I was in Asia and back home in Australia. I wanted to create a show that contemplates the idea of time, while sitting somewhere in the grey area between a fictional space and reality. As the title suggests, time is stationary, or even cyclic, time is neither here nor there, midnight is noon, and noon in turn is midnight – it’s an arbitrary concept depending on your location. When away, I was receiving external information continuously via the net, from overseas sources at various times and locales around the world. Time felt like it was condensing, it became ephemeral. While I was living overseas I had this feeling of being displaced. Time was also slowing down and every day felt like the last. I’d spend the mornings in the studio and then most afternoons exploring, eating, swimming and then do the same again the next day. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I spent a lot of time on a small island off the south coast of Bali and wanted to recreate that feeling of isolation, stillness and longing.
2. Drawing has generally been at the centre of your practice. Is that still the case?
LM: Its funny, I actually graduated in painting from VCA, but always drew on the side. The drawing practice gradually took a dominant role in my work. It’s such a different headspace to painting or making sculpture or video. It comes very easy for me – it’s very direct – whereas painting for instance is intuitive, and works in a little bit more of an unknown space. I’ve been trying to draw in a similar manner and let my subconscious take control. But to answer your question, I try and mix it up with each show. Generally the premise of the exhibition will dictate what’s needed for the overall body of work. I’ve just started painting on a large scale again which has been fun.
Laith McGregor Sunrise 2016 pencil on paper, 203.5 x 156.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Station Gallery.
3. Along with a number of other Australian artists, you’ve recently joined an NZ gallery (Starkwhite) and shown your work in New Zealand. What sort of reaction have you had across the Tasman?
LM: It’s been fantastic. It seems inevitable that Australia and New Zealand will eventually coalesce. I feel the same about South East Asia in general really, it’s slowly happening. New Zealand has an amazing art scene and great artists – I love showing there. I actually have a lot of family in Auckland, so I’ve always had those ties. But showing with Starkwhite has been awesome. They’re great to work with and I really like the direction they’re heading, showing overseas with exciting new artists etc.
4. Your work has been described in reviews with words like ‘weirdness’, ‘extraordinary’ and ‘quirky’. What’s your reaction to labels like those?
LM: Perfect. It suits my sensibility. I don’t go out to make quirky weird art, a lot of the time I work very intuitively. My humour and aesthetic take control and I sort of feel like I’m channelling all the information that I’m reading, watching, listening to and eventually purging that info. It’s important for me that the work sits in an unknown sphere – I never have a pre-conceived idea of what a show will look like. I just let it evolve.
5. I heard on the grapevine that you’ve just moved to Byron Bay (actually – I’m pretty sure that was you I spotted you ordering a golden chai). How’s your chakra?
LM: Ommmmm… Yeah, I’m growing rainbows up here. My chakra’s divine. It’s true. I’ve still got an apartment in Melbourne, but moved up here after getting back from Asia. I’m travelling a lot, so it’s an easy central place to base myself. It’s also a nice part of the world to work, live and play. It took me a while to realise I can work anywhere as long as I have some sort of studio, so why not be on holiday permanently while making art.
Laith McGregor History 2016 pencil shavings, 156.5 x 120.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Station Gallery.
6. As we’ve heard, you also recently lived in Bali for a year. It seems that living with the Balinese culture may have influenced your practice?
LM: Definitely. It takes some time for the direct references to come through, but I find my work always refers to the cultural backdrop that I’m involved with at any given time. I was keen to engage with my ongoing research into the semiotics of portraiture & its progression from ancient cultures through to the present. So living in Asia made a lot of sense, to be totally immersed in the ongoing dialogue and extended international arts community of the Asia Pacific. I think a lot of those influences will continue now. I usually travel through Asia once or twice a year, so I could only imagine that that vernacular will grow.
6.5 What’s another question I could have asked?
LM: Sorry, what’s that? A book? Yes, actually I do have a forthcoming book. I’ve been working with Perimeter Books and Hayman Design in Melbourne on a new publication that covers the last five years of my work. It’s looking fantastic – almost 200 pages – with two amazing writers, Romy Ash and Robert Leonard, not to mention an in-depth overview of my practice. Keep a lookout! At this stage we’re looking to launch it at PS1 at the NY Art Book Fair in New York in September. Should be fun.
See Laith’s work in: NOONISMIDNIGHT, Until 23 April, Station Gallery, Melbourne
Laith McGregor is represented by STATION, Melbourne & Starkwhite, Auckland.