Name: Stephen Mackey.
Birthday: 28th December
College: Self taught.
Favourite colour: Probably some shade of brown.
Favourite book(s): Seven Gothic Tales (Karen Blixen), Street of Crocodiles (Bruno Schulz), The October Country (Ray Bradbury), Angel (Elizabeth Taylor), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson).
Favourite Movie(s): The Red Shoes, Badlands, Grey Gardens.
Favourite food: Soft liquorice.
Favourite quote: “Let x =x.” – Laurie Anderson, though she may have taken it from somewhere else. I’ve not looked into it: I’m not that inquisitive.
Why are you an artist…..?: I’m an artist because it’s the only thing I’m any good at. When I was a child I wanted to be a writer, but I was pretty useless. At the age of eighteen, after three days on an Arts Foundation Course at Manchester Polytechnic, I decided to quit college and become an artist for myself.
Can we talk about your process…?: I usually begin with a very standard pictorial form such as a portrait, or a figure in a landscape, but then pretty much make it up as I go along. See where it takes me.
What is the best advice anyone gave you?: I really can’t think of any advice I’ve been given that didn’t prove to be completely useless.
Do you suffer for your art?: No, it’s all pleasure.
How do you define yourself as an artist?: As a painter of pictures (rather than the creator of paintings).
What inspires you to work?: Waiting around for inspiration to strike would probably be a quite unworkable practice. I work every day so the thing has a momentum of its own. One image leads to another.
You seem to use a lot of symbols..?: My works are definitely narrative paintings, but I prefer to keep them slightly unreadable, like an illustration to a book you’ve never read. I tend to use symbolism that is exciting but ambiguous like moons, haloes, skeletons etc; often married to objects that might suggest narrative in a more specific way such as scissors, syringes or suitcases. Things like flowers and insects are used primarily as decoration, but they may have a symbolic or narrative value independent of my intentions.
What famous artists have influenced you and how?: I’m probably a little too old to have influences still, the ones I had when I started painting having, I expect, been fully metabolised by now. The process of teaching myself primarily meant working through my favourite paintings and pretending to be them. I’d be Marc Chagall for a month or two, then Eileen Cooper, then Fernand Leger, and so on and so on. I think the last of these (about a quarter of a century ago) was an attempt to be some kind of generic court painter at turn of the eighteenth century Versailles, based on the illustrations in a Nancy Mitford biography of the Sun King. I think that one kind of stuck, and I’ve never quite got away from it.
What interests do you have outside of art?: Books, ephemera, cats, electronic music, hanging around on beaches.
Where do you see films, photo exhibitions and performances today?: I don’t, except for very old films on Youtube (and any good new horror dvd released is a big family occasion, with popcorn and everything). I haven’t been inside an art gallery this century: it really doesn’t help me to know what other people are doing. Besides, we live in the middle of nowhere, about two hundred miles from the nearest serious arts venue.
How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art?: It would be shit – I’d have to get a job.
What are your next projects?: Lots of miniature paintings, they’re my favourite thing at the moment.