Artist of the Month: Michael Lacey

Meet our Artist of the Month, a man as adept at painting and collage as he is at comics …

It’s not often that an artist fesses up to being influenced by their mum. Our newest Artist of the Month is an exception. When asked how he first got into art, it turns out Michael Lacey’s Mum was responsible for keeping him in a constant supply of art materials.

“When I was really young, to keep me occupied, and because I didn’t have a SNES or whatever, she’d bring tons and tons of pens and paper home. There was always pens and paper at home. She retired about 3 years ago and she’s still giving me pens and brushes!”

Thanks to Mama Lacey, this Glasgow School of Art graduate (painting and printmaking, 2009) has now evolved into a collagist extraordinaire, a wizard with imagery that results in incredibly detailed mixed media canvases. Reminding us in a way of the Bermuda Triangle, the collection of towers, castles, ghosts, mazes, planets, dogs and, well, ‘things’ have found each other in Lacey’s work, dropped through a crack in reality.

“To keep me occupied there was always pens and paper at home”

“I like building a landscape out of things people can recognise. A certain kind of familiarity that renders an overall impression of dreamy … quiet, contemplative moods … people and actions are almost minor, placed in this baffling landscape. There’s a certain nostalgic quality there.”

Growing up in Liverpool meant he had pretty good access to painting and collage that has had a direct influence on his current artistic process and way of thinking. Places like Tate Liverpool and the Walker Gallery were big influencers. Over a cuppa in Michael’s studio, we reminisce about seeing paintings in the Walker for the first time, and the impact that has on your childhood ideas of art and being an artist.

“When you’re little, some of the paintings in there seem so huge. There’s one of a crumbling church with bits that are just black … I don’t even remember what it’s called, it’s in my memory as ‘that’ painting [we research, and it is oil on canvas, The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel, by Louis Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, 1824]. There’s a really good mix in the Walker of the old and new, but new works that aren’t overly bogged down by conceptual reasoning. There aren’t that many places where you can go and see a really great collection of contemporary painting. That’s its great strength”

Name-checking such contemporary artists as Henny Acloque (“her work reminds me of George Condo”) alongside Peter Blake (in particular his About Collage exhibition at Tate Liverpool in 2000) and Rene Magritte, certain motifs start to pop out. Lacey’s ghost character in particular is evocative of several of Magritte’s paintings over the 1927–1928 period, of people with cloth obscuring their faces. Turns out Lacey is fascinated by the personal story behind this: Magritte’s mother was found dead with her dress covering her face.

Another childhood influence that we weren’t necessarily expecting is the 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death. This romantic (and heartbreaking) fantasy sees debonair lead David Niven playing WWII fighter pilot Peter Carter, whose plane is damaged returning from a bombing run. Talking to (and falling in love with) American air traffic controller June, he jumps and survives, but Heaven had him down to die. “He basically has to convince Heaven to let him live. I saw that at a really young age and there’s some striking imagery in it that got trapped in my head. The big massive staircases, the weird juxtaposition of WWII fighter pilots with encounters in the afterlife.”

“Recurring characters include a boy in a black rollneck, a blood-stained sail, and Tuba Man”

Hand-in-hand with the painted characters, Lacey uses found books and magazines for the collage castles and historical buildings (and more lately factories) that make up his landscapes. These are often procured from treasure hunts in charity shops along Allerton Road near his home. As well as ghosts, other recurring characters include a boy in a black rollneck, a blood-stained sail, and Tuba Man, who is the star of Lacey’s banner on our homepage. “He’s standing by the sea blasting his tuba … I thought he might be pretending to be a foghorn for distant ships.”

Using these individuals as universal triggers, in the way that Joseph Cornell used birds and beaches, is not vital, Lacey insists; but it does happen to be something that keeps drawing him back again and again. It’s important for him to use these figures in highlighting stories, or narrative, in his painting.

“I spend more time looking at old art than contemporary – the narrative can be stronger, and the passage of time is expressed well.” You can see this ambition in Lacey’s thoughtful work produced for Innards, a comic by Scottish zine collective Yuck’n'Yum. Lacey’s first story, Silent Seas, is an abstract adventure, whilst Blood is a Hitchcock-inspired nightmare.

With a recent solo exhibition at Arena Gallery under his belt, and a commission for a new American cafe on Bold Street (Lacey completed a stunning mural for the famous Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in Glasgow in January), we’re looking forward to seeing more of this artist’s work in the months to come.

Check out Michael Lacey’s website

Posted on 14/11/2012 by thedoublenegative