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21.04.2015 INTERVIEW

Robert McNally Foto: Hannah Vice.

Confrontation with chislers, shysters and quacks

A man with his lobster and a flat iron as a phone, an all-consuming hole and a half -naked woman chasing a man with a shoe as her weapon and another man as her horse. These are some of the scenarios that you will encounter in meeting with the English artist Robert McNally’s exhibition Shyster, Chisler & Quack at David Risley Gallery. I met up for an interview with Robert McNally after his intense three-month work period, where drinking alcohol, socializing and sleeping had been put aside in order to create this powerful exhibition.

AF Maria Ringgaard Møller

David Risley Gallery
Bredgade 65, 1260 København K W: www.davidrisleygallery.com
Shyster, Chisler & Quack
Robert McNally
10.04.2015-16.05.2015

First I would like to hear about your exhibition. It’s inspired by Major Arcana Tarot Cards?  
“I’m not so much inspired by the cards or their imagery specifically, it’s more that I used the system of it as a vessel, and the predilection of suggestible people, and what it says about what can be done with the artistic license 

It’s about rationality and reason, personally I find it ridiculous, it’s just ridiculous, it’s absurd! How could somebody use a pack of arbitrary cards tell me something that’s going on in my soul?  

When you look into the history of tarot cards, you can’t believe in it, it was nothing more than a simple card game, but then somebody suggested that it had all these ancient, mystical origins.  It developed over centuries, they changed the imagery to suit the story, and it becomes this system of people adding and changing and what you get in the end is something that's so non-specific that it's perfect for manipulation.  It has these ambiguous rich-seeming origins that give it an illusion of authenticity. I'm fascinated how something can develop like that."

How about the material you’ve used in this exhibition. It’s a special material developed to use in space optics? 
“It’s the blackest synthetic material that you can get, it’s not just black, it absorbs light so it doesn’t reflect. If you look at it under a microscope the structure looks like a forest so light comes in and it bounces around inside the crevasses, and not much comes back out. It therefore looks very black in the right environment, if you can control the light.”  

Why have you used this material?  
“Because you can potentially control so much of the light with it which adds an extra depth to the picture. I can really bleed the image, and there’s an extra surface layer you don't have with paper because it’s a coating on top of an aluminum sheet, so I can remove some parts of it and show the metal underneath. I can scratch the top of it and it has a silver part below which gives the maximum contrast. It’s just a completely new material for me, I’ve spend the last 8 or 9 years just working on paper. This is only the beginning of what I will do with this material, because you can sculpt it and there’s so much more than just a 2 dimensional surface.

In the beginning, I thought it was quite limiting because you can’t make any mistakes on it. If anything touches it, like any dust particle, it gets stuck and you can’t take it off without damaging it. I made a mistake on one of the pieces, and I had to bin it right away. Well, I didn’t just bin it, I lost my shit and rammed my pencil through it because I had worked on it for 3 days… but now that I've got more of a feeling for it, I can see that sometimes this just happens, and that’s part of the story of that piece of the work. I like that the environment is affecting it in that way, and I can’t really do anything about it. I’ve left accidental thumbprints on it and fingerprints on it. That’s part of my DNA and that’s nice because the work looks so highly finished and it’s honest to betray that sometimes. I like things to be perfect, but it’s also good when they show the human element of it because it is very human work.”  

How long does it take to make?  
“Well there was a month and a half of planning. I was reading, watching movies, soul-searching, interviewing people about their experiences, and trying to break down what was the big idea and give it narrative. There are 22 of those cards, and for each one of them I wrote a big sort of thesis considering the original story of what the card is, and contextualizing it, and trying to get to the bottom of what I thought was relevant in it.  

Then I started the practical work on 1st January. New year’s eve, was the last time I drank. I quit drinking to do it, because there wasn’t a minute to waste, I knew it would take the full amount of time between then and now and I just had to be like: “I’m starting work today and everything else is on hold”.  And what is very hard about working like that is that when you hit a dead-end, there's no time to do other things and let your subconscious take over and make some of your decisions for you."

You say you made 20 pieces each representing a certain tarot card but in a deck of tarot, there are 22 cards.   
“That’s because one of them is the hermit, and he is the body of work, because that’s the life that I live, that’s me. The body of work itself represents that. I find it really difficult to talk today because I literally haven’t spoken to anybody for weeks. Yesterday was the first day that I stopped working. My brother is in town with one of my good friends, and I couldn’t make conversation with them last night.  

The other one missing is the magician, and he hasn’t revealed himself yet. He does exist, but not yet, I got an idea that will come through in the future, when I see what happens with the life of these cards, where they end up and how they get shown in the future, and then at that point, that card can come out.” 

Could you tell me a bit about the title of your exhibition Shyster, Chisler & Quack?  
“Yeah, they are three different names for an unethical lawyer, a scam artist and the quack is like a fraudulent physician, you know the pseudoscientific kind of doctor?” 

Do these characters represent the people in your works? They don’t look like good people. 
“Well they're not, some of them are chislers, shysters and quacks. Like tarot card readers. When you go and you see a tarot reader and they tell you stuff about yourself and you think “wow how the hell did they know that”, well that's called 'cold reading', It's a technique used to read somebody and figure out how suggestible they are.  You study their clothes, their mannerisms, and then imply that you know more about them than you do. Then you start throwing things at them that are really quite vague, and you look at their eyes and face and see how they react, and then you just build more on that, always reading the person not the cards. 

People are doing this all the time, when they're telling anecdotes, when they're selling things; people are telling lies about things that aren’t even worth lying about! And then it becomes the next person's truth.  The thing that really amazes me about tarot and pseudoscientific practices is that they have not only survived but flourished.  Some people find life is just so much more interesting and meaningful with the deception, they choose that and it works for them, but that willingness makes them into prey 

I feel that a lot of people are so pent-up, and I see a lot of self-deception. I have the feeling that people are bored and dissatisfied, and to me boredom is the most destructive emotion aside from insecurity, people are bored AND insecure. It's fascinating watching society explore new ways to deal with the boredom.  Some people want reality to be more than it is, and they’re frustrated that is isn't, and I’m just trying to depict that kind of desperation. The desperation for more.  The Shysters, Chislers and quacks feed off that desperation, so it's like a golden age for these kinds of people." 

So is this exhibition a criticism of the human? 
"It’s more of an acceptance, and a reflection of the way I feel things developing around me. I think there is a really cyclical simple situation going on today; we evolve our environment and output, but at the heart of it the same old emotions underneath.  There's an illusion of progression that isn't really there. 

I hope that my exhibition is a reflection of what I feel is going on around me. I do have the fear that many people think that they are civilized beyond inhumanity, but they are not. I get really pissed off, when people anthropomorphize and try to inject the human system and the human personality into something and try to judge it by that. For example, one of the tarot cards, 'the Sun', has got a face drawn on it. The sun’s a massive ball of gasses, it doesn’t have a personality. It’s like you’re saying I’m the center of the universe and the sun’s there for me all over again. It’s so narcissistic to do that and very limiting in the art and analysis, it gives a wrong view of the systems of nature.” 

Is there a special reaction you want from the viewer, when they see your work? 
“Sure there is. I would like anybody to look at the work, and think, “fucking hell there’s a lot of work that’s gone into that, and that it looks like a precious object”.  

I also appreciate that one person can spend a year of their life on something and another person will just walk pass it and be indifferent. I’m not a particularly sentimental person, well I’m sentimental in a realistic way, and I think that you can’t be so precious about somebody else’s perception, otherwise it might dictate what you do.”  

Thank you.  

 

 

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Shyster, Chisler & Quack (installation view), David Risley Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of the artist and David Risley Gallery. Foto: Jan Søndergaard.

Robert McNally: Judgement, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The Empress, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The Fool, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: Hanged Man, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The Sun, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: Death, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The World, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The Lovers, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The High Priestess, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

Robert McNally: The Star, 2015, 30x20 cm, pencil on ultra-black light absorbing foil. Foto: David Risley Gallery.

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