Interview with McDermott & McGough
By PAUL LASTER, JULY 2014
A collaborative art duo, David McDermott and Peter McGough have been turning heads with their provocative, time-warping works for the past 30 years. Fresh off a show of abstract paintings at Vito Schnabel in New York, the artists put their heads together to discuss one of their most unique series to date, the Culmination paintings, with Whitehot contributor Paul Laster.
Paul Laster: Where did you discover the dress patterns that you are using in your new Culmination series?
David McDermott and Peter McGough: There’s a German tailor that comes to our house in Dublin to mend our vintage clothing and he showed David a German variation of Ladies’ Home Journal from 1911 with pattern tissues in the magazine that folded out. When David saw it he thought, ‘This is the beginning of modern art.’ He imagined a mother giving her child the discarded tissue and him coloring it in.
Laster: How did you decide to use the patterns as the point of departure for artworks? Was it a “eureka” moment?
McDermott and McGough: Yes, when David saw the pattern tissues it truly was an eureka moment!
Laster: How many different patterns are there?
McDermott and McGough: We presently have 33 of them, but if we only had one the momentum would still be there. The possibilities are endless.
Laster: Are the patterns all from one designer?
McDermott and McGough: The designer isn’t credited. We think it was probably something similar to the generic Simplicity Pattern Company in the United States.
Laster: Did you have to digitally process the old images to ready them for your paintings and drawings?
McDermott and McGough: We started to draw them on the canvas, but soon realized that it would take a month just to do the drawing. Our assistant suggested we digitally print the image on canvas.
Laster: Once printed, what’s your strategy for painting in areas to construct the abstract images?
McDermott and McGough: We don’t have a strategy. It’s just free association.
Laster: What kind of research do you do to find modes of abstraction that relate to the shapes in the patterns?
McDermott and McGough: Our whole practice as artists is research. We try and figure out where the artwork fits historically and then back date it to that time period—regardless of whether it’s high or low art.
Laster: Are there particular artists that you find best to reference in this way?
McDermott and McGough: Kandinsky, for sure, and most early Modernists.
Laster: Are you only mining Modernist modes of abstraction or contemporary styles, too?
McDermott and McGough: We're influenced by the past in our art. We dated these works 1952 and painted them with acrylic paint, which has been on the market since 1938.
Laster: Do you ever think about the people that might have worn the clothes from the patterns?
McDermott and McGough: Oh yes, we imagine and discuss what the person was like who bought the magazine and how she made a dress for herself and where she might have worn it.
Laster: Have you considered making installations or performances with figures wearing the clothing with your palette of colors and textures?
McDermott and McGough: Yes, we have thought of that. We love the idea that the dress pattern can be a painting and the influence other ways of working.
Laster: How do you decide on the palette?
McDermott and McGough: By discussing whether the colors should be cool and soft or vulgar and loud.
Laster: Are the paintings labor-intensive or easy to make?
McDermott and McGough: They are very labor-intensive. We hope to find a way to make them that may be easier without losing the intensity.
Laster: Are you hands-on or do you have a team of trained assistance popping them out?
McDermott and McGough: We work on them because the abstraction has to come from our unconscious. We want to put ourselves onto the canvas. We do have assistance with the paintings of the lines, which are very difficult to do. Young peoples hands don't shake as much!
Laster: Do you plan them out on a computer or do you invent as you go along?
McDermott and McGough: We invent them as we paint them. It’s freeform abstraction.
Laster: What do you think about while painting them?
McDermott and McGough: Life in general—the process of filling in the colors between the lines is meditative. Many ideas arise as we paint them.
Laster: Are the possibilities truly endless or is this just a project to pursue until the next one comes along?
McDermott and McGough: The possibilities are endless. Right now we believe that there are many different ways to interpret the patterns. We don't have a plan when we create them; we go with whatever influences us. We don't know if this is what we'll do forever, but time and the repetition of time are the foundation of our artwork.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author