Noel McKenna

Noel McKenna is an artist who cannily reveals the everyday - giving presence to the incidental things and figures that often go unnoticed. Understated yet direct, within a restrained palette that plays with light and dark, a quiet balance is created in his meditative works. His intuitive positioning of the minimal figures and objects strikes up a narrative that extends out of the picture frame towards the viewer. This June, McKenna's work is on show at Ten Cubed gallery, presenting an insight into the key themes and spaces throughout his practice that have held McKenna's gaze and reflections on society.

What is the focus for this show?
The show is a collection of works that Ten Cubed have purchased over the years. The first thing they bought was seven or eight years ago before Ten Cubed was even an idea.

Did your early studies in architecture inform or infiltrate your work?
When I left school I didn’t really know what to do. I was a little bit interested in architecture and since I left I have gotten more interested in it. I made it midway through second year and one of the lecturers pulled me aside because of the standard of my drawing – I think his exact words were “in my experience Noel, students who have trouble doing these renderings usually don’t make it through the whole course, we suggest you leave”. So I did.

Pretty to the point, was this a turning point for you?
Yes, he said half jokingly, “Your drawings are so messy Noel they might like them at art school, so why don’t you give that a go?”

What appeals to you about recording the everyday?  
I am a kind of quiet person so I just enjoy observing and watching things I suppose. Most of my paintings come from photographs that I take, and I use them as a starting point. I work intuitively – I usually don’t map out beforehand what it is going to look like. The painting just evolves as I work along.

You have a connection to animals in life and your art, where has this come from?
I have always loved animals. I grew up in Brisbane, the first dog I had was when I was about twelve. When I lived in the West End there were a lot of stray cats – and I befriended a lot of them. Cats blend in, but I’ve always loved that. They seem like they are cemented to fences and sit there and watch the mad people go by. You live in an urban environment, you see birds, cats and dogs, but you don’t see other animals usually. In some ways I see domestic animals as kind of sad – they are so dependent on us for everything you know.

What is the importance of humour in art?
I think it is important because humour is important in life and art is just a reflection of life. You can’t take yourself too seriously about it all. It is funny how your work is perceived – people never perceive it how you perceive it. A lot of works I do people think are funny, but I don’t.

Ten Cubed Gallery
Until 27 August, 2016
Melbourne

The gallery will host a Q&A with Gregory O’Brien and Noel McKenna on 8 June, 2016 at 11am.