My Cultural Life: Anne Magill

Brighton and British Airways can't make this visual artist forget her roots in Northern Ireland

How would you describe your art?

When I sketch out ideas for new work I start with a figure, my work is always about people and how they connect with each other and their surroundings. I'd definitely describe my work as figurative - I try to make them a bit 'filmic' in quality, in that I've caught a fleeting moment in time. Hopefully they're atmospheric, as the paintings are all about conveying a 'mood' rather than putting down every detail.

What medium do you work in?

I paint with acrylics, oils and make drawings with charcoal and pastel. Acrylic paint dries within minutes so I can get ideas down very quickly and then get stuck into the painting right away. I like the 'mattness' and texture of acrylic when it dries. I can get the same effect with oil but it takes so much longer to dry. However, I just love the sheer visceral nature of oil paint and there is nothing to match the lustre and luminescence of the oil colours.

I tend to plan my oil paintings more and I know that when I start one that I'm definitely playing a long game. Some of the bigger paintings have taken two years to complete, but I like that, it’s a nice counterbalance to the spontaneous work. I also like to make large charcoal drawings, I greatly enjoy working in charcoal, bringing everything back to black and white, getting stuck in and just letting it happen, it's totally freeing and extremely messy - which I adore.

Journeys is your first exhibition since 2008, are you excited to have your work on display again?

Absolutely, and excited to be showing in a new gallery. I've been working towards this exhibition for almost two years so I’m delighted to have the opportunity to show my work once more.

Can you tell us a little about the exhibition and what inspired it?

The exhibition consists of a group of paintings and drawings inspired by life, memories, old photographs, books that I've read. The paintings are a distillation of images and ideas that are swirling around in my head which I’ve developed into paintings. This body of work started with a little portrait of a man, in my mind it is a little snapshot, a brief record, where this man fleetingly paused before finally leaving... and the paintings are of moments along the way after that.

Your work has been described as Hopper-like, but what artist do you think has had the most influence on your work and why?

I was going to say that there isn't one individual, but thinking about it I suppose in a more general sense it would have to be Picasso - his raw energy and life-long passion for what he did, his enthusiasm for the pursuit of the new, embracing change and his work ethic have most definitely influenced me. Grayson Perry talks a lot of sense about creativity which I find inspiring too.

British Airways are going to display three of your paintings in their new Concorde Lounge - how did that come about?

I was approached by the designers (Davies and Baron) on the project about exhibiting my work. I was delighted that they admired my paintings and wanted to collaborate with me.

Did you pick the paintings or did they choose them?

The designers had the final choice, as it is about enhancing the space that they have designed. One of the paintings that will be shown is over four metres long ('Journeys II') and I'm really looking forward to seeing it in situ.

If you could have one of your paintings hung permanently anywhere in the world, where would it be?

The Contemporary Collection at the Ulster Museum. It would be a dream come true to have my work in their permanent collection.

You were born in Northern Ireland but now you live in Brighton - which do you think influences your art the most?

The content of my paintings is directly influenced by my experiences and memories of my childhood and finally leaving Northern Ireland. I'm fascinated by the idea of physically leaving a place but consistently being drawn to returning to it in your mind's eye. It was home, family. The memory of the place and those people permeates the work. Brighton is where I live and work, I love my studio, it nourishes my work so the influence is less obvious but it is there.


If the BBC were doing a documentary about your artwork, who would you like to present it and why?

I would be so chuffed to have my work filmed by the BBC that I think it would be an honour to have them even consider my artwork for a documentary. My work allows me to meet other creative people – artists, musicians, poets, writers and actors. I have had the great pleasure to meet with two writers, Josephine Hart and more recently Mick Jackson who has written the introduction to the Journeys exhibition catalogue. As they're both hugely talented writers and speakers I think it would be fantastic to have them involved with a BBC documentary.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Oh yes! I love reading and when I discover a good book, I can’t stop reading it. Everything else seems to disappear into the distance. It’s the same with music. I couldn’t stop listening to Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow. Guy Garvey is such a talented lyricist.

What is your favourite song/book?

Right now it's got to be Brooklyn by Colm O Toibin which I hugely enjoyed. I can’t wait to read his new book as his writing really resonates with me and inspires my work. I have very broad tastes in music, and there's no one clear favourite but the music that I’m listening to when I’m working does influence the painting.

Journeys will be exhibited at the Heartbreak Gallery in London from December 10 to January 16.