Laith McGregor grew up in Queensland and moved to Melbourne in 2002. Although his degree at the VCA was in painting, McGregor rapidly established a reputation for his meticulously worked ballpoint ink portraits. His work has been included in key contemporary art exhibitions and he has received a number of important prizes and awards, including a residency at the Australia Council’s studio in Barcelona in 2012. During this time McGregor created a single enormous drawing, S-O-M-E-O-N-E.
Laith can you tell us a bit about this extraordinary drawing?
S-O-M-E-O-N-E is a beast. My largest work to date. I worked on it almost every day over a period of 9-10 months. It came with me on my travels through four continents. I slipped into a habit of working on it for a few hours each morning and then spending the afternoon collecting imagery, text and generally soaking up the country I was in at the time. The travelling played a major role in the flow, content and imagery of the drawing. Over that period the work took on a life of its own. I tried not to have any preconceived ideas of what the drawing would look like or of dictating the actual context within. I allowed for the work to grow organically and of its own accord, it became very intuitive. I loved that it was taking me on a journey as much I was I taking it. In the end I had recorded/collected thoughts, ideas, dreams, sketches, ramblings, doodles, quotes, basically anything that came to me at that moment.
This work was clearly influenced by Picasso’s Guernica. How did that painting inspire you?
I kept coming back to Picasso’s Guernica. The magnitude and power of that painting struck a chord with me the first time I was in Spain. I couldn’t get it out of my mind when I found out I had received the Australian Council’s Barcelona studio. The size, format and analogous ideas of current world issues at the time paved the way for the bare bones of the drawing. Picasso’s record of the Spanish Civil War captured the atrocity and that time frame perfectly. I wanted to base a work on a similar snapshot of everything going on around me during that time – something sincere and honest without editing anything.
Initially I had proposed to do a series of loose paintings and video works, but in the end I decided I would work on a single large drawing which I could roll up, take on a flight and draw in each country I was passing through. Little did I know at the time that I would be taking a 5m x 1.5m piece of paper. It came with me from Melbourne to New York, Berlin, Barcelona, Bangkok, Indonesia and was finished back in Melbourne. I was stopped at Customs a number of times with the question ‘What the hell is this?’. It was also lost during a flight to L.A…. The wait until they found it felt like an eternity.
S-O-M-E-O-N-E will be displayed in Melbourne Now, together with another work commissioned for this exhibition.
Laith McGregor’s commission is supported by Loris Orthwein.