After a brief summer hiatus, it’s lovely to come back to feature Molly McAuley and get lost in her work. It’s no wonder that Molly gets a lot of commissions for portraits and caricatures with her skill and style, but it’s her surrealist landscapes which have intrigued and delighted me the most.
Rene Magritte said, “To be a surrealist means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen, and being always on the lookout for what has never been seen.” While I appreciate this sentiment, I find art which draws from the vast amount of information available to us today, to be more mysterious and provoking. Molly’s work is a prime example of this re-organization of information to create impossible landscapes which also somehow feel familiar. When I see Molly’s work, I feel like I should know the characters, and that they are part of a larger narrative which I’ve just momentarily forgotten. That’s a pretty great mind trick.
So without further ado,
Some of your work is reminiscent of vaudeville with exaggerated expressions and references to 20’s-50’s styling. Do you have a particular affinity to this era in entertainment? You also sometimes use entertainers as central figures. Can you tell us why you choose to do this?
Well the idea of variety is something that inspires my work, so I see the connection to vaudeville and early variety shows for sure. I’ve also always been delighted by musical theatre and the magic of any great spectacle or performance – pageants, parades, circus acts, cabaret, lavish Broadway and Hollywood musicals, game shows, etc. – so I try to create some of that theatrical excitement in my pieces. I love the way that visual and performing arts combine to delight and entertain spectators. I think growing up performing in musicals and watching them, I understood the structure well, and that influences how I structure my compositions – setting the stage or background first, placing key players as focal points and others in clusters or choreographed formations to balance the composition, and using lighting and costumes to separate foreground from background within the frame.
In borrowing imagery from the world of entertainment, including tributes to some of my favorite performers, I kind of hope to steal a bit of their magic, to celebrate them but also make them mine in some way. For me, the figures of entertainers serve as reminders of the joy of both creating and appreciating art – that work can be play and art is entertainment.
I’ve noticed re-occurring figures of ladies in bathing suits (maybe in a pageant) with large head masks in some of your works. What do these figures represent to you?
I like the mix of glamour and beauty with an element of oddity that these figures represent to me. I also really love seeing/depicting bodies arranged in formation – unified by things like costume and choreography, while offering the subtle differences apparent in the facial features and expressions, which vary from each individual figure to the next. In the case of these pageant ladies, I love that the head masks exaggerate those differences to a sort of comic effect.
What are the most commonly asked questions about your work?
I’d say I get more “comments” than “questions” from people when they see my work, and I’m okay with that! I’m usually just aiming to create visually pleasing, somewhat intriguing, pictures that offer the experience of stepping into another world, like a dream. So if people say, “cool!” then I’m happy. But I find that, especially if I give the piece a title, people are often interested in hearing my interpretation of the piece and what it means or where it might have come from. So it’s fun to share the connections I have made about a piece, but also to hear what it evokes for other people, too.
When you’re starting to work on your surrealist landscapes, where do you get your source material?
I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to source material. No image that comes through the screen of my computer or phone is safe from a quick screenshot or drag-to-desktop (then filed into various folders, “binders of women,” etc.) if I like it and think I can use it. I’m still not entirely clear on what the rules are for appropriating imagery, so I just assume it’s all fair game as long as I do something cool with it to make it mine, ya? I also like taking screen shots during videos to capture moments that aren’t already available as images on the internet. So when I’m making my surrealist landscapes in Photoshop, I have a ton of digital material to work from. For my hand-cut collages and mixed-media stuff, I also have a huge collection of National Geographic mags which I love to sit and look/cut through, as well as other used books I’ve acquired for that purpose. When I want to make work with more of a personal theme, I love going through all of my old family photos, which are such a goldmine.
What are you working on now?
I’ve always wanted to make work with some sort of 3-d element, so I have been playing around with these little clay sculptures I’ve made – small figures and busts, and putting them in diorama boxes with drawings around them lining the background. The next step will be figuring out how to wire lighting into them so they can function as night-lights or lamps. I love lamp(s).
Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?
Being a member of Project Dispatch has been great for me because it’s a good reason to keep me making art outside of the portraits and other commissioned work I do – I need the motivation and I enjoy the freedom to create a little something I am proud to send out and that I otherwise would not have made. I’m inspired by the concept of Project Dispatch and always excited to tell people about it because it’s something so unique and accessible for people who want to own original art (and who doesn’t?) I’m inspired by the other artists in the group, too, seeing what everybody comes up with for subscriptions and for our shows.
If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?
I think I would pick Jessica Ford, Sheena Custer, and Chandi Kelley first. Then I would pick three more and keep going – there are too many interesting artists to choose from.