VISUAL VOICES: AN INTERVIEW WITH Stephen Mc Guinness

The Language of Landscape: The Art of Steve Mc Guinness...

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Steve Mc Guinness paints in a variety of media, including oil, acrylic and watercolour. Studies are often made in situ, and the larger paintings are allowed to develop overtime in the studio. The larger work uses the references made ' en plein air' but respond also to memory and to the contrasting spatial elements of the landscape as he sees and feels it.


The new paintings are exquisitely translucent & glimmer with new found hope, whlie many of the earlier work's dare to explore the isolation in which many of us find ourselves while on life's journey. There is a palpable tenderness here; or bitter sweet sadness; a brutal honesty of emotion; or a courageous joy; a gentle solitude or even a touching playfulness. Sometimes these emotions are found expressed individually and with unmistakeable prominence; while at other times, they are woven together into a fine fabric. The work combines both tradition and modernity. You are invited to lose yourself in a rare moment captured forever. They beckon you into the mist; into foregiveness and into personal resurrection."
The Revd Diane C FitzGerald Clark +

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What are the core and fundamental themes and concepts of your art?

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My work draws on the natural world as inspiration and is based on the idea of solitary contemplation of the sublime beauty of the landscape. My intention, while having this experience of isolation, is to express something of this personal revelry to others, through the act of painting. I share the deep fascination the writers and artists of the early Romantic period held for the natural world. Casper David Friedrich instilled in his work a transcendental mystical presence of early morning mists and evocative shafts of heavenly light. I recognize the feelings these artists held for the untamed wildness and to some extent the impulse to fix, frame and control it and to bend it to their will through Art. There is a tension in making work in this context between the beautiful and the sublime. 


My main inspiration is linked to the idea of capturing a ' sense of place'. It connects to the Celtic tradition of ' Thin Places'. The tradition describes heaven & earth existing only three feet apart. It is in the Thin Places that this distances becomes smaller still. It is an idea that resonates with me & I search for the places where I feel a very thin divide between the past, the present and future. We all have these places, whether it is a beach walked upon a thousand times or our own garden.

How closely do these ideas relate to your creative process and the actual act of creating the art itself?

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I recognize in the act of painting an emotionally charged spiritual journey. It is an acceptance of the flow and flux of things through the mind & the continual change, disappearance and reappearance of thought and feeling as I encounter directly an endlessly evocative landscape. Ideas dissolve, reassemble and eventually re surface as a completed picture. It is to embrace the notion of creative uncertainty. In Chinese landscape painting artists embed their personal feelings and emotions in to their work rather than just depict the exact topographical details . The painter attempts to inspire in the viewer to think and imagine and to some extent to fill the void with their own experience of the landscape : he sees with his spirit or his heart mind. The artist in this context will look to the Sea, walk in the woods looking at the tress and the mountains experience nature directly and then return to the studio to paint what he remembers. Memory of the experience therefore takes over from the need to to express a realistic natural scene.

What are your primary influences- artists, designers, creators (past or present) are you inspired and influenced by?

As mentioned earlier I feel connected to the Romantic sensibility that led

German Romantic painters  such as Friedrich to give a transcendent presence

to their work. I am interested in contemporary artists whose work in someway

carries an echo of this sensibility to evoke a feeling of awe and a spirit of

almost divine contemplation to their work.

Which of your work/works stands out as a highlight, a favorite, or a significant point in your creative growth and development? and why?

The most recent paintings are the ones I am always most interested in. ‘ Glencar Waterfall’ & ‘ Dover Soul’ are most in my thoughts at the moment. The waterfall appears in ‘ The Stolen Child’ by W B Yeats – “ Where the wandering water gushes From the hills above Glen-Car,

An artist of powerful creative voice and message, what do you wish to communicate to your audience?

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I try to stimulate thinking; to pause and reflect on our contemporary relationship with nature. I am inspired by Goethe’s entry in his Italian journal on his first sea voyage “ No one who has never seen himself surrounded on all sides by nothing but the sea can have a true conception of the world and his own relation to it” I also like the notion of seeing a landscape as it is when I am not there, seeing landscape painting as a form of cultural meditation.

Creatively, professionally and in all aspects of being an artist, what are your goals for your upcoming works and art?

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I am content to share Constable’s view that ‘ I am quite delighted to find myself so well although I paint so many hours’.

You touched on what is integral to your work as an artist- can you elaborate further on how has your practice changed over time in relation to this?





As a contemporary artist, working in the landscape genre but not exclusively so, I really enjoy collaborative opportunities with other visual artists but perhaps even more so with writers, poets and musicians. I am fascinated that the work prompts responses from other disciplines and that a whole new avenue opens up- almost in the form of a call and response. 




The work is often referred to as a form of visual poetry and it is something I think about when making the work. I am inspired and make the connection with the writing of James Joyce and WB Yeats. The watercolour ‘Snow falling gently ‘ painted in Ireland near to where my family lived and are buried references Dubliners by Joyce ‘ and faintly falling , like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead’ James Joyce Dubliners





What memorable responses have you had to your work?

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A recent comment by a client that ‘I don’t know what moves me more, your painting or your words’ reinforces the idea that the visual and written language can connect in a forceful and emotionally charged way. That the viewer finds both the visuals and the words moving is very important to me. To be able to make that connection is so richly rewarding and speaks of the shared human experience. There is also a palpable silence, quietness or stillness in some of the work which viewers respond to very positively and there is an element of mindfulness in some of this. An early fascination with the work of Mark Rothko possibly explains how this has filtered through to the work. The work is very felt, if you understand me,° in that it comes from within as much as being concerned with external appearances of things. That art can touch the senses is deeply moving & significant to a good & lived life.

Do you feel pressure or a need to comply with visual trends and market demands at all- if so how do you handle this?

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I may have done early on in my career and there was a time when I thought the work was too dependent on having a certain art seriousness attached to it and needed to be resolutely abstract in its language and there was an element of elitism to this. in that I was concerned how it would be received by the art world, critics and my peers. At this stage in my career it doesn’t concern me though through my academic work I am aware of current trends and engage with them but they do not necessarily influence me as an artist. I made the decision to paint what I found moving about my experience of the world and hope that others would connect with that thought of joy or apprehension.

What research to you do for your pieces?

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I find research, for me, is about working directly in the environment ‘en plein air’ if you like and that it is important to hear the sounds and to feel the sun, wind, rain or snow. To paint with hands cold is a reality that gives some of these images an emotional immediacy. I like to find out as much as I can about the landscape, it’s past and present, myths and legends and this helps deepen the experience of place. Many of the paintings are of Ireland and link strongly to my Irish heritage, my surname probably gives this a way. I am keen not to be a visual tourist and avoid decorative touches of bobbing boats and flighty seagulls as much as I can unless they add to the expressiveness and immersion of the painting. In terms of painting I am always trying to find exciting, compelling and moving ways of making marks and finding visually inventive equivalents for things seen