It could have all went so wrong for Gillian McCormick; after graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 1993, she found herself homeless on the streets of London with a spiralling addiction to alcohol and Prozac. Her saviour came in the form of Scottish Opera, who tracked her down and commissioned her to work on their 1999 Parisifal campaign. From then on, McCormick embraced a new found faith that enabled her to secure the National Lottery Millennium Grant and allowed her show her work at exhibitions in London, Edinburgh and LA. I recently caught up with Gillian to discuss her influences, unusual choice of art material and what it’s like to be an ‘out’ gay artist.
How do you blend various mediums in your art work?
I fuse craftwork with technique, history with futurology, expression with realism. I am a believer in the renaissance; the new beginning. I focus on new contemporaries as a source of investigation into inspiration.
I graduated with honours from the department of Drawing and Painting; therefore my skills took the obvious direction of combining mediums with a style and utmost desire into the experimentation of skill and analysis of the great masters. The science of perfection is why I exist as a living artist in this time.
You used gold leaf in the piece 'Boy Angel'. What other - more unusual - substances do you utilise in your art?
Last summer I found myself practising minor elements of magic, such as mirror gazing etc…a little narcissistic, but, I am a follower of Caravaggio’s vanitas [laughing]…well I kind of delved into the dark side of witchcraft and pissed on a few of my portraits such as Madonna, P!nk, Angelina, Brody, Dalle, etc. – everyone I kind of wanted on my guest list at my private parties, etc. dancing the moonlight away. I thought just as the witches of the last century used their menstrual blood to dispel love spells, I would use virgin urine to bring a new life of innocence and wonder (with a hint of eroticism) into my work...like communion with the soul. I am still waiting for Brody and Dalle to ring my bell...not sure if the spell worked.
I also, in the past and present, syringe my own blood in desperation to bring the canvas alive like Frankenstein, playing the plastic surgeon on the composition of beauty. I have bled on many faces. My new collection will house a 6ft study of the damnation which will be saturated as to create the darkness of black light using lambs’ blood. I can’t reveal why to you as yet, in this present climate of being unrecognised...when my instinct tells me my faith is as common as God himself, amongst the pure and the truthful.
I also wanted cocaine for my halos...but alas, monies would not allow...I wanted to create the most expensive piece of work in the world, with 9ct gold and cocaine...keep dreaming Gillian.....maybe I should start praying a little louder.
Are all your pieces autobiographical or depictions of people you know?
All my work yes is autobiographical...its about my state inside, the psychology of emotion, of dreaming, of wanting, of desire, of pain, of terror and psychosis...of love...everything I do is about the contradictions of love...I truly believe in love, whether it be in this life or the next...roll on, rock and fuckin’ roll baby girl.
What message do you want convey with your work?
Oh Lord, how can anyone of my naivety know such an answer? I think that is the question every artist battles with, trying to discover the answer...ask me again when I am 73 years old.
Who or what influences you?
Byron and Shelley, the dead influence me...the great masters of history, the great lords of time, the true achievers of excellence. And of course Romeo and Juliet.
It's pretty amazing that Scottish Opera hired a private investigator to track you down. If this hadn't occurred, where do you think you would be now?
That’s horrible to think of my life without Scottish Opera, they were a little neon rainbow in a dark time for me...I don’t want to think of my life without them.
How much emphasis on gay culture is put into your work?
My concern is not with gay culture; my concern is with culture, self culture as one body, one whole.
Has being an out lesbian helped or hindered your career?
Being not common gay has always hindered my personality and being; the conflict of not being ‘ordinary’....a figure of speech....always restricted my confidence and life. I have never enjoyed being gay; it has always just been complex and messy, overrated and left me feeling bitterly frustrated.
Do you think there is a need for more interest in queer art?
I think there should be more interest in the talent of art, as a fairness, of the originality of creation, not the pretension that has totally absorbed the whole art community...I fuckin’ hate that shite.
After spending time in and the , why have you chosen London as a base?
I have not chosen London as a base; it’s just unfortunate that when you arrive here it acts as a magnet and wont let you go. It’s the aggression of man eat man, rejection and jealousy.
The city of angles is my aspiration; I wish to fuse art with emotion to script and create a lifetime’s achievement of brooding ambition...the moving image. I want to make movies...but I practise my art as a skill that I want to perfect and have time to dream of the politics of a future fairytale.
Would you prefer to be considered a 'gay artist' or simply 'an artist'?
‘Gay’ I would like that to mean the dictionary definition of joy, the joy of knowledge, I long I yearn....gay means nothing but heartache to me... I don’t like it...but it is what I am...and I sincerely hope my soul mate is alive waiting for me.
Of course me being gay reflects in the absurdity of my art, as with Warhol, da Vinci and Michelangelo...all of whom I adore and respect, as homosexuals, in their gift of mastery, of being the best at what they do and did and will do.
When and where is your next exhibition?
I am what I am. I am an artist, a struggling artist. [laughs] Perhaps with the interest in this interview some talented art dealer will arrange for a Christmas viewing...I have a phenomenal collection of 20 pieces gathering a cocoon of spiders’ webs.
It’s never the end….its just the beginning.
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Angie Knowles is a writer in London.