UNCLE has teamed up with flyingleaps artists’ street poster project to deliver a bit of wry hope and critical humour to a wall near you. UNCLE selected a brand new and achingly topical artwork by Archer as their 2023 festive message: ‘WORLD PEACE IS COMING (otherwise we’re screwed!)’ will be on display across numerous UK towns and cities.
In some ways it’s a heart-warming image, especially if you appreciate the unconditional love dogs can give us. Okay, it’s the just the hormone linked to positive emotional states present in both dogs and humans but hey, the world could do with a great deal more unconditional love. Dogs don’t go around inventing reasons not to get on, but it’s a trait humans excel in.
Sometimes with just a few deft brushstrokes and her superbly honed gift for wit and economy with words, Archer makes art that addresses the terrifying ironies of existence. Her paintings and prints are kitsch meditations that sometimes make you want to hold your head in your hands and weep at the gross stupidity of humankind. And at other times wonder at the innocence, the solace, the capacity for empathy to overcome the worst of us. Her work can untap hope as well as warmly warn against slipping into cynical despair.
And she manages to do all the above without being po-faced, preachy, or didactic. This is amply borne out by the name and impetus behind her most recent exhibition. In connection with Archer’s current show – ‘I Don’t Know’ at Helm Gallery, Brighton (9.11.23 – 24.12.23) – the artist explained, “The title is a perfectly valid response to just about any question. Embracing uncertainty leaves you open to a much broader experience of life, a bigger picture. For me, not knowing doesn’t lead to anxiety, rather to a sense of calm and a re-setting of my head to all of life’s possibilities.”
As the artist has kindly let us use one of her most recent works as UNCLE’s festive message, we thought it would be a good idea to have a catch up and chat IRL. Q&A here we go…
COULD YOU TALK US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
I like to have ideas lying around, they’re in notebooks but I’ve also got a lot of scraps of paper with one line or an idea, I don’t know how it’s going to evolve but at some point an image will collide with the text. Usually the text comes first but not always.
AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE CRITICISM OF YOUR WORK, WHO’S FEEDBACK DO YOU VALUE?
Criticism!? I don’t hang around to hear it. I’m sure it’s out there. Actually, the only place I’d hear it is social media. You know, I’ve had some stray remarks, or the odd sour commentator. Once in a while if I see the same name, I’ll remove them. If it seems they’re just there for sport rather than wanting to engage with the work. Regarding feedback that I appreciate, there’s a couple of my friends, and my children.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU, KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED TO MAKE YOUR PAINTINGS? AND YOUR PRINTS? HOW DO YOU VIEW THEM IN COMPARISON TO YOUR PAINTINGS?
Inspiration wise, I think it’s the news, modern culture, all of what’s going on around me. To put it baldly, it’s difficult not to think of the prints as a way of making money to pay for the painting. Painting is just such a slow, slow burn. In a year I might sell four or five. Another year I might sell one. You can’t live on that sort of money. Unless you’re super successful. But I was thinking earlier today, in a way not achieving huge financial success as an artist has been good for me. The way I think of my career is, I don’t want to use the word ‘failure’, but I’m certainly not up there with some of my male contemporaries. But, as I say, on reflection that’s probably been good for the way I think and the way I make stuff, because it doesn’t get in the way. I haven’t got a lot of money to think about. But then I don’t want to be on the phone to my accountant every day, being bothered with that, so there’s upsides.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE PROJECT DEADLINES AND TIME MANAGEMENT?
I’m very good at that, you know, everything else might be chaos, my studio is chaos a lot of the time. Deadlines? I think because I spent ten years as an illustrator, unhappily as an illustrator, I can do a deadline.
What’s been your experience of the business side of being an artist, dealing with people in that regard?
Well, in a word, it’s been tricky. Bloody tricky. I’ve had problems where people don’t want to pay me. And I’ve had problems where I know at the time I’m being ripped off, and then I discover a couple of years down the line you realise, no, you were really, royally ripped off. It’s quite a rare thing when someone comes to you and says, I really like your work and I want to be honest financially. Actually, it’s quite nice when people say, I haven’t got any money to give you but I want to use your work on this. It’s when people are underhand, I won’t name names but it’s a wind-up. So, it’s happened, and it keeps happening.
To offer some context, back-end of 2022 Magda had to finally sue several companies who were reproducing her work without permission. She won all the cases, but she explained this had been an emotionally and financially draining process. Obviously winning meant being awarded costs but there was very little by way of compensation.
You’ve recently teamed up with Jo Brooks PR – who works with Banksy, Lucy Sparrow (aka @sewyoursoul), David Shrigley, etc. – how do hope that will develop?
Well, if you read the small print as it were, Jo does the PR for Banksy and Shrigley but with Lucy and myself she’s our manager. And, as far as I know, she only manages female artists. How do I think it’s going to go? I think very well. Because she’s honest and a good person. And she’s funny.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR ART CONCERNS, ARTISTIC INTEGRITY IF YOU LIKE, AGAINST COMMERCIAL PRESSURES WHEN IT COMES TO COLLABORATING WITH OTHER PARTIES: FASHION DESIGNERS, BOOKS, MERCH., ETC.?
I’d say with the Marc Jacobs collaboration it went very well, they were very sensitive about how I felt, constantly saying, ‘What did I think about this, what did I think about that?’ If I didn’t like something, they’d take it out. Without any fuss. And the Idles book, Joe Talbot just said, ‘Do what you want.’ I didn’t believe him. Because people never really mean that, they say, ‘Do what you want, do what you want…’ But then they come back and say, ‘Ooh yeah, but don’t do that!’ No, I had to keep checking with Joe and he kept saying, ‘I like it all.’ Which you don’t hear very much, so you don’t believe it. Now the book’s out, and it looks great. I’ve described it as having like a ‘ready brek glow’, the imagery and lyrics resonate.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING PROJECT AND WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM IT?
Well, again that would be the many years of illustration work, that’s why I’m not an illustrator, because I hated it. It’s just people pushing you around, grabbing the work and not even saying ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you.’
HOW DO YOU HANDLE CREATIVE BLOCKS OR MOMENTS OF SELF-DOUBT?
I don’t have creative blocks. I might have a time, a period, when I feel flat emotionally. It might be exhaustion, it might be things that are kicking off around me with friends or family. And because I don’t particularly want to work with all these thoughts, I stop. I might still be in my studio every day, but I will stop making.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A PROJECT OR PIECE OF WORK THAT YOU’RE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF?
I’m proud that I’m still doing it. You know, what with all the other responsibilities of being a mother, running a home, you know, laundry, kids’ problems, blah, blah, blah. But despite it all I’m proud of myself for persisting.
You’ve collaborated w. flyingleaps artists’ street poster project several times since 2016 and this year your ‘WORLD PEACE IS COMING (otherwise we’re screwed)’ work’s been chosen as UNCLE’s festive message to the nation… What would you say about flyposting as a medium to show your art?
It’s become a favourite medium. Because, well, I’m not going to say it’s a leveller, and it’s a cliché to say it’s the street as art gallery but it is. People are not intimidated as they might be going into a fancy gallery. It’s there, and it’s public, and it’s sort of a bit ‘shouty’. I can’t fault the medium. I love it. I think it’s a collision between my background in graphic design and my wish to be considered a serious artist.
FINALLY, HOPES, DREAMS, AMBITIONS FOR 2024 AND BEYOND…?
Ooh, mmm. I want to make some music. And I want to, there’s a few things I want to do. I’ve got a new keyboard and I want to master that. Also, I want to do something else, and I want to say performance art, but it is, and it isn’t. More things that aren’t painting or print making but will have my physical presence as part of the piece. I want to do things that I’m a bit frightened of. I’d like to try and tackle the subject of ‘wonder’ creatively, like Yoko Ono.
So, whether it’s paintings, prints, collaborations with cool musicians and fashion designers, making more of her own music or the mysterious proposed move into work that will feature the artist in some way, Magda Archer it seems will go on challenging herself while at the same time continuing to delight, intrigue and provoke an ever-growing audience for her art. And, of course, with all that we wish her well.