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Emerging Talents:

Jack McGarrity


18 June – 11 July

Plan visit


Jack McGarrity trained at the Glasgow School of Art, close to where he grew up in the West of Scotland, before moving to London to start at the Royal Drawing School. His works on paper are a hybrid of painting, drawing and collage of small everyday moments mixed with the high drama of cinema and the ambiguity of memory.

At the root of Jack’s practice is observational drawing. He makes quick sketches of anything that catches his eye when walking around London, in his home, the studio, flitting through magazines or old catalogues, or watching films and TV.

‘I think I’m usually just interested in things that look just a fraction out of place. Kind of the ‘uncanny valley’ idea. I’m drawn to quite mundane things even in quite fantastical films. I’m becoming more and more interested in the power objects have to represent human experience’

Back in the studio he picks out promising sketches to develop it into larger works. His methods of making are as various as his sources, working with gouache, pastel, oils, coloured pencils and collage.

Drawing from the old masters in museums is crucial to his practice. A residency at the Prado in Madrid two years ago spent drawing from Goya and Ribera was formative and since moving to London he regularly visits the National Gallery to draw from their collection. Jack has an instinctive and notably contemporary handling of material and colour but the time spent making detailed drawings of old master work underlines his current practice. His compositions and remarkably confident draughtsmanship are grounded in this discipline.

Jack joins a great tradition of story telling in paint and can be seen as part of a revival of figurative painting in contemporary practices.

Since 2016 we have supported an annual emerging talent programme that champions artists at the beginning of their career. The programme has seen four years of burgeoning talent grow into established creative strength with Messums and elsewhere.

We first encountered Jack McGarrity’s work in the midst of his post graduate year at the Royal Drawing School. Sifting through a stack of quick sketches and collages mixed with prolonged works we were struck by the strength of his draughtsmanship and the ease with which he pulls different imagery, techniques, and materials into something coherent and new. The criteria for our Emerging Talents Programme is one of talent in terms of making and originality in narrative- both were clearly evident in this small selection of pictures.
There is real visual excitement in these pictures, with everyday moments in the studio, shopping centres, London streets and from childhood memories inflected by a magical realism. The colours are jewel-like and often surprising, and a visual playfulness runs through the collection. However, it his craftsmanship that elevates the pictures. His understanding of colour and composition, learnt from sketching the old masters, and the strength of his drawing is a timeless marker of lasting quality. 

How would you describe your practice?

My practice consist of drawing and painting with elements of collage. I am interested in capturing small quotidian moments contrasted with the heightened reality of comic books and film.


What is your process? 

I usually begin by making quick observational sketches from either walking around outside or just something in the house or on TV. I tend to make quite a lot of these with most of them being pretty rubbish. If I make something i think is promising I’ll usually develop it into a larger gouache or oil painting which I then collage with other drawings that I have lying around the studio.


What artists inspire you? / What are your artistic influences?  

Over the lockdown I became really interested in the work of Edward Hopper and I think his use of awkward, isolated figures is really prominent in my recent work. Comic books and and film have been an enduring influence on my work as are the artists that also pull from these influences such as Philip Guston, Peter Doig, Tal R and the Chicago Imagists. Two years ago I undertook a residency at the Prado, Madrid. During this I drew from predominantly from the works of Goya and Ribera and I think this has had a lasting impact in the way that I compose images.


What does a day in the studio look like?

I usually go into the studio for around nine and for the first half an hour just have a cup of tea and have a think about what I am going to do that day. In the morning I usually just make small drawings at my desk and do most of the larger works after lunch. I like to have multiple works on the go at once so I always have something to come into the next day as I always think starting something fresh is the hardest part. Most days I stay until about seven but it’s usually just until I am too hungry and need to go home for some dinner.


How did you arrive at your current way of working?

On the drawing year at the Royal Drawing School we were really encouraged to try lots of different approaches throughout the year. I think my most recent work is really just taking bits of from different tutors advice. In the past I spent a lot of time making quite detailed copies of old master work and I think these works are always in my mind. However, now I try to be loser with my handling of materials and try and enjoy them for their own qualities in a more spontaneous way rather than just trying to arrive at some preconceived ‘final’ image. I think using aspects of collage has really helped with this.


How do you work?

I usually start with an extremely bright ground which I then work on with gradually darker tones. I always like to try and keep some areas of the ground piercing through. This was something that I saw in Goya’s work and I think it helps unify the image whilst also providing some areas with some unusual colour combinations. Once I have a basic image I am relatively happy with I will sometimes work over it using other materials to enrich the surface quality of a work or try and create some jarring areas using collage.


What scenes or situations inspire you?

I think I’m usually just interested in things that look just a fraction out of place. Kind of the ‘uncanny valley’ idea. I’m drawn to quite mundane things even in quite fantastical films. I’m becoming more and more interested in the power objects have to represent human experience. I think this stems from looking at the work of Giorgio Morandi and making sketches in London’s museums.


Do you think the place you are in changes your work?

Yes definitely. Looking back at the work I made at home during the lockdown I can see a really warmth in those drawings and an appreciation of place. When I was younger I always wanted to move to somewhere like London but now I have I’ve developed a real fondest for home. Somewhat paradoxically the further I move away the more parochial the work gets. I think the work made away from home and abroad feels different, less personal, more just looking, trying to find odd scenarios that interest me.


If you could travel anywhere, where would you go to draw?

I’ve always really wanted to go to Kyoto and Tokyo because of the colour, both natural and synthetic. I also can’t really like of somewhere more different to the West of Scotland.


You draw a lot in museums- how do you find drawing paintings in museums affects your own work, and are there any artists you particularly like to draw, or museums to draw in?

I think it really helps in developing the formal aspects of my practice. It also forces you to really look at something. In London I love drawing at the National Gallery just because the collection is so diverse. The Prado is my favourite and when I was there I spent the majority of my time just drawing from Goya’s paintings and his drawings from the archives. I remember I read an interview with artist Tala Madani where she called the Prado ‘the happiest place in the world’ (something along those lines) and I honestly couldn’t agree with anything more.