ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 1, Spring 2011

Why small is big

Alasdair Macintyre Artist Alasdair Macintyre with one of his creations. Photo: James Robertson.

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.

"An art documentary is a snapshot of the artist at that point in time, and it is both thought provoking and sobering to see an artist at their peak, as well as towards the inevitable decline in both health and creativity.

"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've channeled my respect and admiration for these artists and run their likeness through what I call the 'Macintyre filter' so that they are almost static animated characters," Alasdair said. "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 Australian Catholic University (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 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.  Making art or being creative was something that you did as a hobby, not a career."

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.

"It's interesting that when I started lecturing six years ago, class sizes were no more than a dozen students. However now there are well over 40 students happily crammed into the art room.

"It's great that there is a growing interest in art history. I sincerely believe that every single individual on this planet would be a better person if they had some sort of knowledge, even passing, about art."

Brisbane-born and bred, Alasdair said one of the main challenges of a professional artist was living in a country where contemporary art isn't seen as a necessary and important part of life.

"We tend not to be raised in a tradition where art is seen all the time, and considered to be something that matters, unlike say in Italy or France, where art is part of the social and inherited environment and there is a rich history.

"However those who are interested in art are fiercely interested, and very loyal. On a personal note, art gives you a philosophical dimension to your life, where you can deal with issues and situations because artists from centuries past have experienced the same frustrations with life and society that you have.  In some ways art - both historical and practical - is a therapy."

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, with art critic Tim Morrell describing his work as a 'battlefield where high art encounters popular culture'.

"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, or any work for that matter. The meaning lies within the realm of the viewer, with their own references and experience.  There is no one 'right' interpretation," 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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