On Friday 7 February Chapel Arts Studios hosted an exhibition of portrait paintings by artist John McDonald, to introduce the community focused art project ‘Theme’s of Life’.
We welcomed a significant number of local people who all came to find out what John has in mind for his three month visit in Andover. John McDonald is a self taught artist, born and raised in Scotland, and now based in Derby, with a body of work that speaks honestly and powerfully about the things that matter to him.
The people John has met through life, his younger self, the paintings and the painters that form the backdrop to his creative journey, all interact in conversation or jostle for space on the gallery walls. In turn, the people and stories of Andover, will too become part of this painted story.
John Mc Donald said,
“I’m very privileged to be here, and shocked I was chosen which to me is sort of life changing. I’ve only been painting for 10min and I don’t even know how that happened. That was a sort of accident but I found a great drive when I realised I could paint. I was 54 when I started so it was a bit of a late starter to this career but I didn’t start it as a career, I started by trying to paint one painting, and it changed my life. It changed me. I gave up my business when I sold my first painting and I became determined to become a painter. I gave myself one year… and that was 3 and a half years ago.
My process of painting is very particular in the way that I was profoundly deaf for 18 years from 1990 until two years ago when I got surgery. Half of my paintings are done as a deaf person and half of my paintings have been done as a hearing person (although I still rely on Kathy quite a lot, Kath my interpreter).
To be here is quite significant to me because my journey started on the street painting an old van, painting a tree because trees are easy aren’t they (haha). People started commenting and Kathy would say people think that’s cool.
Painting has actually changed my life, it’s given it meaning.
My art gave me a way in to talk to people, because I’d been isolated for quite some time. I’m quite a social person (as people will find out over the next 3 months) and I tried to go out and be sociable, but I was actually locked away. The more people you’re with, the less people you’re with and the more it aches. But my art has opened that up for me, opened me up to meeting some fantastic people. When you make art you get a lot of praise which is hard to take at any time. When people start to say things about you, you start to realise there’s more worth to life.
Being deaf for 18 years, it was questionable how long I wanted to go on because there was very little value there. And being able to communicate about art when I was deaf opened up my world. I was fortunate enough to be able to do exhibitions, but I was reliant on Kathy to be able to talk to people.
My process has been meeting people, understanding people and being able to listen to people, realising that every single one of you are, more or less, going through the same thing at different levels. So it’s a great, great privilege for me to come here because it’s like, Unlimited (the funders), and David (and CAS) have welcomed me and my ambition to work with people. My aims for this are quite incredible, I do like working on big pieces, I don’t know if it’s easier to paint big, I just thought it would be.
My plan for here is, I want to encourage as many people in Andover as I can to come and work with me. I want to tell the story of Andover over the last 300-400 years. I want to hear the whispers and the secrets of the graveyard, I want to know the sensational things that have happened in Andover, the tragic things that have happened in Andover, the heroes the villains. I want to meet the local characters, and I want to have people come in and create big scale work and also miniatures.
CAS have given me an opportunity that has just blown me away. An opportunity that is going to allow me to develop myself properly as an artist, get be a bigger platform and stuff like that which is all very well and nice and they have given me loads of money for paints and all that but it’s just too much. My aim, my actual dream, is to get this place full of the most spectacular artwork and I’m pretty confident with the support from some of the people I have already met. I’ve seen some of their work, there is talent here. I still want to find people who haven’t ever picked up a paintbrush. We’re going to start working straight away on a 20ft painting, and then run around the walls the secrets, tragedies, and all the good things will come to life like a time capsule. We’ll be doing it with colours, we’ll bring in characters from 17th century right up next to a person from modern day, hopefully it’s full of politics and hopefully it’s full of social messages, and my journey will be to work with these people and be inspired by them, and I hope my work can inspire them.
Whoever walks through this door and joins us they will be part of an exhibition to be proud of. They will have their own canvases, they will sign their own names, they can sell their own paintings. My aim is to leave here in 3 month and take myself off, and I would really love to find 3 or 4 people who in years 1-2 years time are the 4th or 5th CAS:AIR resident artist.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what you think of yourself or what other people think of you, when you come in here, I need a team of collaborators. I need a team I can trust, I need a team who can trust me. I want to be able to look forward to seeing people and for them to look forward to seeing me. From people who are novices, to people who are way more advanced than me so I can push my own boundaries. This space is open for people to paint!”
Want to join?
Contact us below, and let us know your availability.
The Themes of Life project will culminate in an exhibition and community activity day.
Save the dates 11 and 15 April.
CAS:AIR is a repeating, annual, community programme focused on involving people in the arts. In everything we do CAS aims to inspire, challenge, engage, collaborate and include. Our programmes support and develop artists, provide creative education for young people, and bring art to local communities.
Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. Unlimited has been delivered by the disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and arts-producing organisation Artsadmin since 2013, and is funded from 2016-2020 by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, British Council and Spirit of 2012. Since 2013 Unlimited has awarded nearly £4 million to 280 ambitious disabled artists and companies, which have been seen by or engaged with more than 1 million people.