14 August 2017

A Journey of Discovery with Marion McConaghie

This month, Michelle C Porter spoke to Marion McConaghie about her life and work, and how the material world inspires her. Being a fine artist, the past is important to Marion so we've created a journey travelling to the places and buildings that inspire her work.

I first met Marion in 1991 at a fashion show in Goldsmith's College in South London. The air was thick with incense and we were dressed in velvet corsets, modelling in her sister Gail's fashion show for her label 'Magick'. Our paths diverged after that day, crossing briefly only once more before we rediscovered each other a quarter of a century later on the school run in Lewes (this time there were no velvet corsets in the mix.) On that day in 1991 I bought a small pendant from Marion, a Celtic goddess with red flowing hair painted on a small piece of wood and simply signed Marion. I still have that pendant and when I met Marion again I was delighted to see that after all these years she is still painting such fine and enchanting pieces. It was a pleasure to finally sit down and find out about the artist who had created this small piece of art, the places she'd lived before we met, the places she's been since. Being a fine artist, the past is important to Marion so together we've created a journey travelling to the places and buildings that inspire her work. From the causeway coast to Lewes town, Marion's journey has been one of inspiration.

Portrait of a Woman by Marion McConaghie

Fine artist and designer Marion McConaghie, grew up near the causeway coast in Ireland, a wild and magical landscape where the cliffs endure the wild North Atlantic Ocean. A land of black basalt, sand dunes and an ancient history of erupting volcanoes. Marion grew up in a quiet rural area a mile outside the nearest village but close to some of the most dramatic natural and man-made sights in the world. A land of mysterious, gothic, cliff top castles and ruins and The Giant's Causeway, Ireland's only UNESCO world heritage site. From an early age, she was fascinated by these places, in particular, the abandoned, medieval Dunluce Castle, plagued by stories of Banshees and the Mussenden Temple, originally a summer library built in 1785 and based on the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli. As a child, she was not interested in history at school, but these ancient buildings and ruins really appealed to her sense of wonder. She would peep through the barred door into the ruins of the library, mesmerised by the abandoned statue heads stored inside. With these scenes of gothic drama, mystery and wild nature, it is no wonder that much of her work has an element of dark and wild magic, a sense of movement and freedom. It was here in the Causeway Coast that she developed a lifelong interest in the overwhelming forces of the natural world.

'Strength of nature, that it is stronger than us and eventually takes us over'.

Photography by Marion McConaghie

In Marion's village, there was very little to do and she would spend her days drawing and playing make believe with her two older sisters in the family garden. Although she grew up in a modern home, she lived next door to her Grandmother (Granny Old House), so called because she lived in a traditional Irish, crumbling cottage with a sloping floor. Here her grandmother would cook her griddled pancakes on an old fashioned range and to this day the cottage is still close to Marion's heart. It is perhaps here that she became interested in crumbling doors, peeling paint, the slow deterioration where the natural world creeps in at the edges, slowly dissolving and peeling away all that is man made. Marion makes a strong connection between humans & buildings, the disintegration of the body bearing a resemblance to a structure gradually falling into disrepair. Marion's work is highly influenced by deterioration and layering, how buildings change with their inhabitants; each generation changing the space, layer upon layer. When her grandmother passed away her sister Gail used it as an artist's studio, once painting the walls a gothic black.

Marion's study of art started at Ballymoney Technical College where she met her mentor, flame-haired Carol Nevin who saw her potential and encouraged her to go to college. She still visits her grave in Ireland to place flowers there, such an impact she made on her early life.

Self Portrait by Marion McConaghie

In 1989 Marion left Ireland for England to take a foundation course in Nottingham. It was here that she learned more about the artistic process and how to break the rules. She was beginning to develop not only as an artist but was finding her feet as a young woman and it was in London that she truly began to experiment with life and art. She attended John Cass School of Art ( Now London Met) where she studied art and built up her portfolio, she just couldn't stop painting. London during this time was a hub of creativity, wild fashion and club nights held in abandoned buildings; a time before the superclubs and gentrification had taken hold. At this time she shared a house with her sister Gail a fashion designer who made outrageous pagan inspired outfits; vivid velvet corsets with Celtic embroidery and ornamental fabric horns. She remembers the buzz of London Fashion Week and the 'decadence' of the parties hosted by Vivienne Westwood. It was a time to be outrageous, a time for dressing up.

Although the city was full of artistic inspiration, Marion still sought the drama of nature and gravitated towards the leafy green wildness of Highgate Cemetery. Visiting the catacombs at night she would enjoy the elaborate stone structures, ivy over the gravestones, nature once again taking over.

Marion left London for Brighton in 1992 and gained a 1st Class Honours degree in fine art painting. She loved experimenting with different mediums like photography and art installation, and in her degree show, she played with distortion, using a photocopier to transform images. She graduated on a cultural cusp at a time when new technology was merging with traditional art. Shortly after graduating she was introduced to Photoshop.

Portrait of an Officer by Marion McConaghie

Leaving university, she faced the questions and struggles that all artists face "what now?", the struggle between artistic integrity and commercial viability. It is at this point in her life that Marion feels she took the "wrong route", designing websites, dealing with corporate bodies and code rather than paper, paints and brushes. She decided to uproot, to seek life out again and left Brighton with her partner Andrew to do some travelling. When they came back to the UK, they settled in another ancient place Oxon Hoath, a country estate built in 1372. It was here that her art was picked up by a licencing agent and she began the long road to getting back to her art. Her work was being noticed too and began to appear in magazines and department stores. Her collage work was inspired once again by old things, dusty books, antiques, markets, objects that tell a story about other peoples' lives. Her love of old things, the power of nature drew her once again to a place full of history, of old buildings surrounded by the rolling hills and crumbling cliffs.

Someone on the Causeway Coast in Ireland, in an outhouse next to a crumbled cottage a mile from the nearest village, you will find a child's chalk drawings that have been protected from the elements for over thirty years. Marion's first attempt at blending the old with the new, a picture of Santa Claus hand drawn in red chalk. It is here on the wild coasts of Ireland next to a tumbling cottage that Marion McConaghie first made her mark, and what a journey she's been on since.

We'd like to thank Marion McConaghie for sharing this journey with us. To view her collection with Lagom click here.