Saturday, March 10, 2007

Art Space Talk: Mark McGowan

I recently interviewed artist Mark McGowan. Mr. McGowan is known for his over-the-top performances that often seem to question the seriousness of contemporary art while posing social concerns at the same time.

I communicated with Mr. McGowan several months ago about an interview. We ended up meeting in passing at Scope (New York). I observed his infamous Kick George Bush's Ass performance during the Collector and Press Preview. It was just a small sampling of what he had planned to do with the performance.

Mr. McGowan lives and works in London. Mark often deals with topical local issues and involves local people from Peckham and Camberwell as participants- often tackling serious issues from a humorous point of view. He is currently represented by the Guy Hilton Gallery. His performances have been covered by the BBC.
(KICK GEORGE BUSH IN THE ASS 2007- Crawling on his hands and knees Mark McGowan wandered the streets of New York with a George Bush mask on and a sign on his posterior saying 'KICK MY ASS'.)

Q. Mr. McGowan, we had planned to do this interview before, but I ended up observing you at SCOPE. So I must ask- did your 'Bush' performance go well in New York? You looked very tired when I observed you.

A. "It was a very tiring experience getting continually kicked in the ass. I also did bump into a few republicans who wanted to kick me in the jaw and called me a joke and idiot

Q. When did you first enter the world of performance art?

A. "I have never seen myself as a performance artist. I have always considered myself as an artist."
(DEAD SOLDIER 2006- The artist Mark McGowan dressed up in british army camoflague fatigues, with commando boots wearing a red beret, he then lay down in New Street, in Birmingham City Centre, curled up in a ball for one week. The performance was called Dead Soldier 2006 and was neither anti-war or pro-military, put an artistic comment on current times.)

Q. Explain your process... how do you 'create' your art? Is there a process or do you just 'have at it', so to speak? Do the ideas just 'pop' in your mind?

A. "I work on one piece at a time but several ahead and I have a million ideas so many that I have them written down and I select them according to where the project is to be sited. I currently have projects mapped out until the end of the year they include being buried under a metre of mashed potatoes for 72 hours to a self immolation in December."

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "When I was an in patient at a mental hospital I started doing art therapy."

(ARTIST EATS SWAN 2007- Mark McGowan ate a swan in a protest against the monarchy, the rich and the upper classes, outside the Guy Hilton Gallery in East London.)

Q. How has society influenced your art? I know that you tackle political issues with your performances, but are there other social implications in your art?

A. "I live in an area where it is virtually impossible not to be affected by social issues. Peckham- South London, we have murders, kids with guns, crack cocaine, run down housing estates, more churches than shops, beautiful caring people, artists etc."

Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

A. "Painting is for girls and losers."

(RUNNING TAP 2005- In an extraordinary art performance, environmentally conscious artist Mark McGowan turned on a cold water tap in the House Gallery in Camberwell, London and planned to leave it running for one year, wasting 15 million litres of water. Due to the intervention of Thames Water, he had to turn it off again after one month. McGowan said,‘Basically it was an art piece for people to come and look at and enjoy aesthically, it was also a comment on a social and environment issue.')

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

A. "The running tap, I turned a tap on in a gallery and left it running it was supposed to run for one year but the water authority got a court injunction and had it switched off after one month. I wasted 800, 000 liters of water. Also the Glasgow International where I scratched 47 cars with my keys in random attacks around the city. I got in trouble for both exhibitions, but as I am sure you will agree both raised serious social issues."

Q. Discuss one of your performances. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "I sat in a bath of baked beans with two chips up my nose and 48 sausages on my head for two weeks. I was making a stand for the great British breakfast. I work on construction some times and need a big breakfast, but the media are always saying saturated fat is bad for you but construction workers need it, if they only had a croissant for breakfast they would fall off the scaffold."
(SAUSAGE CHIPS AND BEANS 2003Mark sat in a bath of beans with two chips stuck up his nose and 48 sausages strapped to his head for two weeks, he was advocating the consumption of the much maligned Great British breakfast.)

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "I went to Camberwell College of art and got a degree in fine art paintingthen I went to Goldsmiths and did a masters in history of art. I am currently teaching at Camberwell one term a year and have worked at Chelsea College of art and lectured at numerous other universites around England. My art departments have always been quite different but I liked Camberwell the best because it is such a diverse college."

Q. Why did you choose to do performance art?

A. "I am an artist although I do performance in my work and that is because I have found that it is the best medium to convey what I am trying to say but not always."
(AUTUMN LEAVES PROTEST 2005- Mark nailed his feet to the gallery wall protesting against leaves.)

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "I am being looked after by the Guy Hilton gallery which is the best gallery in the world. My next show there is soo- called a re-enactment of the conception of Prince William which includes wall paintings a sound piece and a double bed with two porn stars dressesd as Prince Charles and Lady Di with masks on having live penetrative sex in front of a public audience."
(ARTIST EATS FOX 2004- In a private at home performance, Mark ate a fox which caused widespread controversy. He said that he was trying to bring to the attention of people the plight of "crackhead's". Stating that "a million people marched for foxes and a million people marched against foxes, but what about thecrackhead's who is going to march for them.")

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "Girly paintings. People doing things for money. People doing things for the spirit. Lots and lots of crap artists. Simon Ould

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Immerse yourself."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "I decided to take part in the spectacle and entered it at the shallow end."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Mark McGowan. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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