ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 3, Summer 2011

Why small is big

Why small is big

His painstakingly created figurines inhabit miniature worlds, but have big things to say on humanity. Alisse Grafitti spoke to artist Alasdair Macintyre about Dinky-Di, dioramas, and being inspired by the three JCS.

When you enter the garage studio of Brisbane-based artist Alasdair Macintyre, you enter a world where mythology collides with art history, and religion sits alongside mass media.

There are crucifixes, smurfs, and a smattering of Dr Who novels. Jabba the Hut overlooks a workspace strewn with paintbrushes, powders and resin, and Wolverine shares shelf space with ET, Bono, and the illustrated history of dragons.

A dusty cabinet holds Alasdair's prized collection of art documentaries – the inspiration for his latest work Dinky-Di, a series of 12 effigies of Australia's greatest artists made from wood, polystyrene and plastic.

"I've been collecting art documentaries since the late 1980s, and while transferring many of the older recordings from tape to digital, I was once again seduced by the magnificence of these artists and their work," he said.

"The figures themselves represent a kind of stereotypical version of that particular artist, and I've tried to put a little something in there that is personal to each of them."

That little something is instantly recognisable, and cheekily familiar. John Olsen smiles with a wine glass in hand, Charles Blackman drowsily offers a daisy, Brett Whitely is faceless, and Rosalie Gascoigne holds a piece of cut-off road sign.

"I wanted to emphasise the love I have for these legends of Australian art, and how much their lives and work have influenced my own art practice."

Standing at around 65cm tall, the Dinky-Di effigies - which have been purchased by the Gold Coast City Gallery – are significantly larger than Alasdair's usual miniature figurines.

The 40-year-old, who studied at ACU and Queensland College of Art, began working with models as a child, starting with the Star Wars toys he collected.

"I was always the kid in the classroom that would be drawing all the time, and getting into trouble for my unflattering images of teachers and nuns," he said. "I made little clay and plasticine sculptures to play with, and in many ways, I'm still doing the same thing.

"It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I realised I could actually make a career in the arts. Coming from a very blue collar, working class background, being an artist was just completely off the radar."

And a successful career it has turned out to be. In 2004, Australian Art Collector magazine named Alasdair an ‘undiscovered artist', and he was shortlisted for the National Sculpture Prize and Exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in 2005, and the Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2009.

Alasdair also works at ACU's Brisbane Campus, where he lectures in art history, 2D, and 3D practical art.

"Teaching is a way for me to connect with the energy of youth, and I like to be the one who introduces them to the wonder of art."

"In many ways, the history of art, particularly the Renaissance period, is inextricably linked to the Catholic Church, so it's nice to be teaching this at ACU."

Alasdair's work includes morphing the art critic Robert Hughes into a miniature Jabba the Hutt, miniature figures of U2's band members and a group of eight Storm Troopers carefully examining Picasso's Guernica.

While the dioramas look whimsical and charming, all are laden with meaning, satire, and comment on the state of the world.

"My work is usually a visual form of whatever is occupying my mind at that particular point in time," Alasdair said. "Whether it's a style of music, a film director's work, an artist's work, literature, social issues, or political issues – my end work is a combination of all these factors."

He cites his influences as the three JCs – Jesus Christ, American artist Joseph Cornell, and the mythology writer and professor Joseph Campbell – whose work influenced Star Wars director George Lucas.

"I've never been very comfortable discussing the ‘meaning' behind my work," Alasdair said. "In many ways, the artist is like a perpetrator of a crime, and the criminal should always flee the scene – leaving the forensic investigators to sort out what happened. With any luck, the investigators and the criminal will never meet."

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