DAVID McGRATH: ARTIST’S STATEMENT 4 July 2017)
Born in Manchester, I am a final-year diploma student at the Art Academy, London Bridge. My work ranges from portraiture to mixed-media collage, in which I exploit textures, materials and fabrics to 3D or accidented effect, often seeking to explore the porous divide between abstraction and representation.
Much of my work interrogates the contradictions and inspirations of religious spirituality, political conflict, and themes of redemption and renewal. "Annunciation", for example seeks to capture the sublime flights of Fra Angelico frescoes, whereas “Bird”, uses everyday DIY materials - roofing felt, polyfilla, glue, galvanised nails - to conjure the spectre of modern exhumations from the mass graves of the Civil War of Spain - a country close to my heart.
Another topical work from 2015, “Pool", has been inspired by the carpet-bombing of Homs in Syria. It uses household packaging detritus - polystyrene, cardboard, perspex etc. - to juxtapose war zones and children’s play. Taking my cue from Anselm Kiefer, Antoni Tapies, and Hannah Hoch, among others, my dark green and khaki slab, ”Hopscotch", refers to the Troubles in the north of Ireland. A recent commission was centred on the execution of the first English martyr, St Alban, who - curiously - was also a Roman soldier. In these works and others, I am looking to confront spectators rather than reassure them.
I am inspired by those artists whose output constitutes a statement against oppression: Max Beckmann, Marlene Dumas, Francis Bacon and their successors. These are practitioners whose stance is often implicit rather than explicit, disrupting or questioning the space their work occupies. As I address the conundrum of separate planes on a two-dimensional surface, my aim is to involve the viewer with contradictory perspectives, gestural colour, and challenging themes. Tied to this is my fascination for gestural marks and damaged surfaces: the Parisian photographer Brassai's brilliant work on graffiti, for example, is a constant source of ideas, with its demonic archetypes crudely and hurriedly gouged into plaster.
The current graffiti series has sparked my ambition to go further into the possibilities offered by pure "materiality", that is, to concentrate on the inherent appeal of these surfaces, their punctures and wounds, and the beauty of their fault-lines. There is a hermetic, anthropomorphic quality about the work of Tapies, the Catalan artist, for example, and his ability to remove the "third person" from the equation (in a narrative sense) and challenge viewers to confront a material for its own sake, and locate themselves within the space it occupies. I feel that this is where my future as an artist lies.