Fiona McMona­gle plays with the po­ten­tial of wa­ter­colour – push­ing it past tra­di­tional styles to create her own tech­niques, de­pict­ing un­likely sub­jects and con­tin­u­ing the flow of wa­ter­colour with dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion. As an artist, what re­mains con­sis­tent is

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - by Lucy Stranger


From a young age I was ob­sessed with draw­ing. My older brother, Tim McMona­gle, is an artist, and he went to art school be­fore me and opened up that idea of, yes, that is some­thing I can do.

Grow­ing up as the youngest of six kids, you would have con­stantly been play­ing catch-up. What is your re­la­tion­ship with your brother like to­day?

We are quite close, we shared a stu­dio for many years and we are still in the same build­ing with our stu­dios at the mo­ment. We give each other feed­back with our work and it is quite handy to have some­one as close, as you can trust they are go­ing to be quite hon­est.

What at­tracted you to wa­ter­colour?

In art school I dis­cov­ered wa­ter­colour, and I found it quite a chal­leng­ing medium. I think at first we had to do a project wa­ter­colour and it was really tough. I was up for the chal­lenge and I just kept work­ing at it. And 15 years later I’m still push­ing it. There are tra­di­tional ways of work­ing with wa­ter­colour but I don’t really use any of them. I’ve just found my own way to work with it.

You deal with un­likely wa­ter­colour sub­jects – from chal­leng­ing, sullen youths to Ger­man Shep­herds – what is it about these tough sub­jects that res­onate with you?

I have al­ways been drawn to im­agery with a bit of an edge, or that I’m un­sure about. I also like the con­trast of a really soft, del­i­cate medium mixed with a tougher sub­ject and that am­bi­gu­ity.

There is a spon­tane­ity and im­me­di­acy in your work – do you pre­plan or is it in­tu­itive?

I do a few sketches and smaller works to work out the pal­ette – but only loosely. I will have a think how to ap­proach some­thing but while mak­ing a work the wa­ter­colour process is so im­me­di­ate I have to leave my­self open to what­ever di­rec­tion it is go­ing to take me. Once I am in the process it can go any­where.

How has your wa­ter­colour process evolved?

Just re­cently I was look­ing back at wa­ter­colours that I did while I was at the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts, which was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ap­proach to how I work now. I think you can see that I was a lit­tle scared of the medium then and tried to con­trol it. It is pretty scary when you first start a paint­ing but I learnt to throw my­self in and throw a heap of wa­ter down and just hope for the best. I do re­call cer­tain stages over the last 15 years where I thought had be­come quite con­fi­dent with the medium and I had really tight­ened up. Now the chal­lenge for me is to go back the other way and keep it loose and free.

What drew you to com­bine wa­ter­colour with dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion?

My first an­i­ma­tion was for the Basil Sell­ers Art Prize in 2014 and I worked with my brother De­clan. When you pro­pose a work for the Sell­ers you think big, and I wanted to chal­lenge my­self.

There is that sense of flu­id­ity that an­i­ma­tion and wa­ter­colour share.

Yes, I started to think of the con­stant move­ment of wa­ter­colour, but once it dries it is still. I wanted to keep that flu­id­ity go­ing and I think wa­ter­colour lends it­self to an­i­ma­tion really well be­cause of that move­ment in the medium. The pictures ended up bleed­ing into each other and I liked that.

It cre­ates a sense of in­fin­ity when you watch the an­i­ma­tions.

Yes ex­actly.

What was this process like for you?

It is a long hard process paint­ing frame by frame, and it is really hard work. The work for the Basil Sell­ers was over 800 paint­ings and I don’t know whether I am a sucker for pun­ish­ment but I sat down and did paint­ing af­ter paint­ing. I’d scan each pic­ture and send them off to De­clan and he’d put them to­gether. When I saw the first batch of frames mov­ing that was the re­ward.

In the fi­nal an­i­ma­tion there is still an aware­ness of the artist’s hand in the work.

Def­i­nitely, that was some­thing I al­ways wanted to keep, if I wanted it to be done per­fectly it could have been done dig­i­tally. I wanted that im­per­fect hand­made qual­ity. For the UQ Art Mu­seum Na­tional Self­Por­trait Prize, in ‘One hun­dred days at 7pm’ I kept all the bad ones – so if you were to slow the an­i­ma­tion down there are lots of draw­ings with bleed­ing and that was one of my rules – I had to keep them all.

What were the rules in this en­durance-style self-por­trait?

I painted at the same time ev­ery day, and at the time I was work­ing on a large-scale an­i­ma­tion for the 2016 Ade­laide Bi­en­nial of Australian Art. Ev­ery night I would do one self-por­trait. I would set my­self rules – a lim­ited pal­ette, I would not look at the pre­vi­ous paint­ing that I had done – it was a kind of ex­per­i­ment, I guess.

Per­sonal nar­ra­tive is in your work. ‘The ring’ ex­plored fe­male box­ing in a wa­ter­colour an­i­ma­tion. How did this work come about?

I def­i­nitely need some per­sonal con­nec­tion or in­ter­est in the sub­ject. I was al­ready train­ing in box­ing, and I had been on and off for about 10 years be­fore that. When I first started that project I did con­sider mak­ing it more about me be­ing able to fight. The funny thing about box­ing is that box­ers make it look easy but it’s ac­tu­ally really com­pli­cated and a very skil­ful sport. With that process I really threw my­self in, I got to know the box­ers – in­clud­ing the world num­ber one at the time. I tried to ed­u­cate my­self as much as pos­si­ble, there is so much his­tory there. I wanted to have a good un­der­stand­ing about it, I wanted it to be gen­uine.

You are in a group show of painters who print, what is your ap­proach to print­mak­ing?

I’m work­ing with Adrian Kel­lett, a Melbourne print­maker. Af­ter hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with him he came up with an ap­proach that would suit my style. All the prints are lith­o­graphs and you can ap­proach lithog­ra­phy in dif­fer­ent ways. My ap­proach is to paint di­rectly onto my­lar.

From tack­ling wa­ter­colour, to an­i­ma­tion, box­ing and now print­mak­ing – it seems that what drives you is the chal­lenge.

I think it does – I re­cently looked back as far as art school and at the start of fi­nal year I de­cided to paint por­traits of all the staff and stu­dents and that was my year – it goes way back.


06 01 Diana, 2014, wa­ter­colour, ink and gouache on pa­per, 182 x 57cm 02 Wonky, 2014, wa­ter­colour, ink and gouache on pa­per, 182 x 57cm 03 Mis­cha, 2014, wa­ter­colour, ink and gouache on pa­per, 182 x 57cm 04 Chicken Dance, 2015, wa­ter­colour, ink and gouache on pa­per, 116 x 95cm 05 Cat Girl, 2015, wa­ter­colour, ink and gouache on pa­per, 112 x 60cm 06 Piss­ing dog, 2013, ink and wa­ter­colour on pa­per, 75.5 x 97cm Images 01-06: pho­tog­ra­pher Jeremy Dil­lon


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