Angus MacInnes

Angus MacInnes in dialogue with Steven Cox 

Steven Cox: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how/when you first started working full-time as an artist?

Angus MacInnes: I graduated from Glasgow School of Art in the early 90s. I’m from Glasgow originally but I’ve studied in Leith in Edinburgh too. I’m from a working class background – my dad worked on the shipyards on the Clyde back in the day – that’s why painting the Clyde is so special to me. I basically worked as an artist as soon as I graduated – I was lucky I guess. I made a lot of small-scale paintings, which sold really well from the start and carried on from there. I’ve worked with dealers but I’ve also sold a lot independently too. After a while I moved to London, I’ve been here for over ten years now but I’m only now starting to get successful.

SC: Can you tell me about your current studio and working routine? Do you have any morning rituals or habits that contribute towards a productive day within the studio?

AM: It’s quite simply really – I’m an early riser. I get up and go for a walk and then get down to some painting. It’s a great way to live! If I’m gathering research I might be up north in the Highlands or on one of the islands off Scotland – I go walking a lot in the landscape. This isn’t necessarily directly reflected in all of the work but it’s background research of sorts – and it clears my head. I suppose you could link it to an interest in the sublime – into the vastness of nature. I believe abstract painting has a strong link to the sublime. I’m aware that this idea is not new but ultimately I believe in this type of painting. Even when painting small pictures you can arrive at something that touches on the sublime – that’s the goal really – to really get the painting to click or do something that you couldn’t foresee.

SC: To what extent do you consider your city as being an influential factor in the shaping of your work? Do you feel that your surroundings have influenced you in one way or another?

AM: Yes in the sense that Glasgow is a dark brooding city full of character. This must inevitably affect any artist who might live there. The scene in Glasgow has affected me in the past. There are some good painters about. I’m into colour – if you look about there’s still a sense of a Scottish colourist and painterly tradition in Glasgow despite all the neo-conceptual stuff. Painting seems to be coming back now. Perhaps painting is important again because fictions are important. Myths can say something pertinent about the world as much as any literal “political” art. I’m into that idea and I feel painting is suited to this approach. London has affected me because it is so cosmopolitan – it was quite a big difference to Glasgow but I love it. It’s a hard city but it has more respect for painting than Glasgow. Glasgow is too tied up in the 90s.

SC: What projects/works are currently in progress in your studio? What future exhibitions/projects do you have scheduled?

AM: I’m working on a private commission at the moment; it’s a big painting for a collector I work with from Russia. So far I’ve just done sketches. I’m also doing a bunch of abstract paintings for a guy from Greece. These will be based on a trip I made there a while back. I’m also working towards the show with Hunted Projects in Edinburgh. I’m going to show a selection of trademark Angus MacInnes abstracts. I know that Hunted Projects has a strong identity formed around abstract painting – so I thought it would be nice to work with that in mind. I’ve made some really interesting works for the show and I look forward to seeing them up together on the walls. The works are based loosely on the Scottish landscape but they are not literal in any sense. They suggest landscape rather than depict it. They work with different moods and explore colour. I’m basically a lover of colour so I could paint nuances of the Scottish landscape forever and not get bored.

SC: Would you say that your current studio is ideal, or are you currently seeking a new/better space?

AM: A while back I moved to London. Studios are expensive down here but mine is ok. Basically I have great light in my studio as I have huge windows at the top of a factory building – it beats Glasgow where the weather is cloudy and grey all the time!

SC: I am interested to know how you plan your works. Do you begin with preparatory sketches of some form, or do you prefer to work in an improvised manner?

AM: Basically I don’t stick religiously to drawings but I sometimes might do thumbnail sketches. Then I’ll just start painting. I make a lot of work and just show the best stuff. It’s old-fashioned painting. That’s what I know and that’s what I’m good at. I like to think that I am the kind of painter who improvises a lot. I like the idea of flare in a painting. Some just work and others don’t. I find if you stick too closely to a sketch the painting doesn’t go through it’s own journey and this can make it seem too contrived or tight. The best paintings are made in that De Kooning style where one might save them from the jaws of failure – like his “Women” series – they are great!

SC: Your paintings are intimate in scale, but confidently brushy and vibrantly powerful. The brush strokes are direct and you explore colour both elaborately. You mention De Kooning, but your paintings bring to mind the work of British painters Howard Hodgkin and John Hoyland. Have these artists, or any other British painters been an influence to you?

AM: Yes of course – I see the massive British influence in my work as well. I am a huge fan of Ivan Hitchens. He’s a very under rated painter.  I am also a fan the artists you mentioned – Hodgkin and Hoyland. I went to the Hoyland show at Newport Street Gallery and I have to say it genuinely blew me away! I do make intimate, small works but I have in the past made larger works and I will do so again. Seeing that Hoyland show made me want to make bigger paintings again, so hopefully at some point in the next year I will get the large canvases out and get going on them.

SC: Instead of painting on canvas, you also have a preference to painting on wooden panels. Is there a reason behind this? Do you prefer the slick surface to the grain of linen or canvas?

AM: I love the Alla Prima technique (wet on wet) and how it sits on wood. But having said this I also love the weave on canvas alongside this if the canvas is primed properly.  I do love painting on wood on a small scale however – I feel it suits wood to be small and intimate. If it goes any bigger than mid size then things start to look too heavy or clunky. I suppose another quality of wood would be the fact that things sit on the surface more. I feel I can push the material around before it becomes a stain. This keeps the material playful and malleable and that’s great!

SC: I am also curious about the documentation of an artworks creation. How regularly do you document the progression of your paintings?

AM: I don’t use it in my working process. When a painting is done I’ll know it intuitively – sometimes they are done super quick and other times they take ages. I do sometimes take photos before I leave the studio. This way on the tube home I’ll look at what I’ve done and I can very quickly work out whether it is any good or not. I suppose the iphone has replaced the mirror like that. I remember my tutors at GSA telling me to look at my paintings in a mirror to see if they balance. I think that you can get a similar thing now from a quick iphone snap.

SC: Focusing on the titles of your works, how do you choose your titles? For you, what is the role of an artworks title? Also, do you feel that titles can alter a works interpretation?

AM: Yes I feel that titles can massively alter a painting. A bad title can ruin an artwork. I try to avoid this by not going over the top with the title. Sometimes I just use the paintings ‘nickname’ as the title. For instance if a friend comes over to view the work and gives it a name then I’ll just adopt it. It’s not rocket science but it’s very honest and in a way respectful to the intelligence inherent in visual perception.

SC: What are some of the key art materials and things within your studio that you always need to have close to hand?

AM: I think the main thing would be the basics. I make sure I have always got a huge amount of fresh boards, canvases and paint to make as much as possible. My theory is work hard and think about it later. In order to do this one must be organized with materials. It’s important to get a load of colours in stock ready to go. One should buy every colour available and not think that you have a colour scheme set out. It’s important sometimes to start with colours that you really hate – this gives you something to bounce off and respond to. It also means that you get surprising results and this is really what you are looking for.

SC: I am interested in the notion of preciousness and at what stage a painting or work becomes discarded in the studio. Do you have a tendency to destroy failed paintings/works? Or, do you aim to be as efficient as possible when planning a work so to avoid destroying anything?

AM: Sometimes a painting can be knocking about for a long time. I might go back to it and work on it after a few years of it being in storage. I might turn it upside down and rework it entirely or I might start painting an apple into it or something else quite random. I just go on gut instinct and this always seems more intelligent than trying to be clever.

SC: In relation to social media and more specifically Instagram, what are your thoughts on this as a platform to engage with new audiences? Do you have a love/hate relationship with Instagram or other online social media platforms?

AM: I love Instagram – full stop. I can’t see much bad about it. It gets my work out there and I’ve got opportunities from it.

SC: What do you feel are the pros and cons of Instagram, and do you consider Instagram important for artists working today?

AM: It cuts out the middleman. It connects me to other painters who are like-minded too. What’s not to like! I feel like I am part of a conversation on Insta. You can be banging away in the studio all alone and just upload an image. Getting 200 likes from random people you don’t know makes you feel good! It’s only “likes” but it can make you feel connected to a wider discourse and one that is global.

SC: Any last points or thoughts you would like to share?

AM: Painting has an interesting relationship to Instagram. I guess everyone thought painting would suffer as digital technology progressed. As it turns out it has flourished – I think that’s hilariously ironic!


Images courtesy of Angus MacInnes