Interview: Lee McKenna

First few basic question, who are you, what are doing, where are you coming from?

I am a New Zealander living in Melbourne, Australia. I actually started out my professional life as a primary school teacher. After we started a family I stayed home and was a full time mum for a number of years. I then studied graphic design and freelanced as a graphic designer before moving our whole family between New Zealand and Australia multiple times for my husband’s work.

Why collages? How did you started to do them? What was the first thing that caught your attention?

Definitely the paper. During our first move to Australia, I started to paint again (something I’d pursued during my teacher training), but after relocating multiple times, it became easier to work smaller, eventually making paper the key focus.

With bold usage of different old materials together with doodles and coloring you create  interesting, multilayered works that makes me just want to touch and feel the structure and surfaces – how you quickly you found your style/thing?

I think it just evolved into that style. When I first started making collages, I used to glue everything totally flat and smooth – but then I realized I was eliminating the parts I loved… the wrinkled folded corners, the uneven edges. Now I leave many elements ‘as is’  – imperfect wrinkles, tears and holes in place, edges floating…

What are your favourite source materials? How do you find them and do you spend much time searching for them?

All forms of old paper: books, letters, invoices, stamps, postcards, maps, photos. I suppose I’m just always on the lookout. I visit op shops and antique stores and markets. If I go to a new country, I’ll look up any market that might be nearby. I’m not drawn to pristine pieces, I love marked, aged, weathered and imperfect papers the most. These days, I have to be careful and more selective… at present I don’t have a large studio or storage space.

In your artworks, what are the most important things/elements to yourself? Do you have certain things that you notice to pay more attention to, like structure, shapes, colors, content?

What I want to achieve in my work is a sense of recognition… a ‘pull’ of some sort, an unnamed thing… an emotion/remembering/yearning/belonging/joy/sadness etc. I’m not after pretty. Though I am definitely drawn to the botanical – old photographic floral elements regularly make their way into the works. I tend to allow the muted colours of the paper itself to dominate, but love the odd unexpected injection of colour, texture, shape, typography.

When you begin to work a new piece, do you have a clear vision what you are going to do? How much your works change from the original vision?

Usually the starting point is the actual paper i.e, an old photo, a particular marked page, or the way a piece might’ve worn out, old handwriting. It could be anything. I take that piece, add others, then just play around with the various elements until something emerges. A lot of time is spent shuffling and moving papers around till I am ready to glue!

If you compare your first work and the latest one, how much your works and techniques have changed or developed in your own mind?

I feel like I was more cautious in my early collages… but when I look back at them, I think I was just cautious in my head! Nowadays I am more confident to make whatever marks I want… use whatever material, experiment and play. Nothing is too precious – and everything can be changed/glued over/torn off/pulled apart/scribbled on/painted over. I really like tactile – physically cutting things up and pasting them down means if you stuff it up, you just have to deal with the consequences (you can’t just click ‘undo’!). It also means embracing accidents and imperfections.

What is the best advice about making art you have been given?

A dear artist friend said to me ‘Lee – you just need to get out there. Your work should be seen’.

Which other art forms inspires you beside collaging?

I love so many other forms! Painting, printmaking, assemblage, encaustic art… the list goes on.

If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?

Enigmatic

Lee McKenna around the internet:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leeamckenna/
Bigcartel: https://leeamckenna.bigcartel.com

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