Llael Mcdonald Interview – Boring is beautiful

Is social media the best thing to happen to artists since the paintbrush? Llael McDonald thinks so. She grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne and is strongly influenced by her upbringing and environment. Her work captures the aesthetic beauty of the seemingly mundane and invites its audience to question what society considers normal. Something she will never accept as normal is the idea that being an artist isn’t a ‘real job’. So whatever you do, don’t ask her to work for free.

Llael in the studio

Llael has always had a great need to create. ‘I think it started because as a child I had such a vivid imagination that I was nearly always disappointed with the reality of things. Creating, painting, drawing and even music were a way of making things how I wanted them to be. Now as an adult it hasn’t changed much although my work is, at times, inspired a bit more by the need to express my opinion on certain social memes and an expression of seeing the beauty in ordinary things.’

The western suburbs of Melbourne gave Llael a window to the world from a young age. ‘The social status, financial worth and nationality of my neighbourhood was so varied that the stories created from their amalgamation is memorable and noteworthy. These little stories of my neighbourhood, I believe, could be directly responsible for the big social and world events, good and bad, in the future.’ This grounded sense of karma explains her fascination with the everyday since she sees all stories as equally significant. ‘The little stories I paint are just as important as the epic tales painted and written by the great masters of our time.’

An artist that captures these ‘little stories’ Llael speaks of is one of her idols, Edward Hopper. I used to work at an English school and one of the speaking tasks we used was to put prints of Hopper’s paintings around the room and ask students in pairs to discuss what was happening in them. At the end of the task when the students reported back, every pair would have a completely different story for each painting.

Llael has a similar experience with Hopper’s work. ‘Nighthawks is amazing! It inspired me to start putting human figures in my work way back at university. The characters in this painting add a very strong narrative and there are endless possibilities as to the stories these figures hold. I love that.’ It is not only the narratives of his work she loves, but the lighting. ‘Rooms by the Sea is an image that taught me about translating light into colour on the canvas. The simplicity of the cool shadows and warm light in this image are very impressive and Hopper’s application of paint again was technically brilliant. These were a huge influence on my work. The mood, lighting and colour of these paintings were something I was always trying to emulate, especially at University during my final year portfolio.’

Despite Hopper’s heavy influence on her, he is not Llael’s favourite. ‘I think my favourite artist has got to be Jeffrey Smart. He influenced my love of the urban landscape through his precise, detailed depiction of seemingly ordinary subject matter. I grew up in an industrial, working class area in Melbourne and through his work I was able to learn to remove myself from my environment and look at it from an aesthetic view. This is something I try to get my audience to do with my own work.’

His best work? ‘I would have to say The Listeners. This painting really resinates with me in mood and colour. It hangs in the Gallery of Ballarat and I’ve gone there specifically to see it a few times. Smart’s application of paint is so neat and precise down to each blade of grass in this piece I could just stare at it for hours.’

As a tribute to the late Jeffrey Smart, Llael painted Vibration of a Thought for last years Archibald Prize. ‘It was strongly based on his painting The Listeners, which was fitting because the person in the portrait, artist Terry Matasonni, was a good friend of his and also my teacher at university. A full circle moment I think.’

Like her favourite artists, atmosphere and strong narrative give Llael’s work many readings. ‘The Score is a painting of a man gazing into his smart phone which he could be doing with an internal fascination, a narcissistic devotion or even reverence toward his cyber existence that social media has allowed us to do. This coupled with the artificial glow of his smart phone creates an almost god like quality. I’ve tried to capture the bizarre reality of our social media lives.’ The piece was originally done for the Moran portrait prize, then toured with her exhibition Pictures From a Parallel Suburbia and has even made a few newspaper appearances. What next for The Score? ‘He now rests on my studio wall eagerly awaiting a home.’

Like mother, like daughter. Kate in the studio.

Being in the business for over 20 years, Llael knows how to get ahead in the art business. ‘Network with other artists, it’s the best way to create new opportunities and make like minded friends.’ Networking opportunities have changed radically over the course of her career and she’s kept up with the times. ‘Social media has been the best thing to happen to the independent artist since the paintbrush; use it to promote yourself as often as possible. I myself had some work sold in New York because of my social media connections.’

Unfortunately the artist’s career choice still isn’t respected by everyone. ‘Always remember being an artist is a real job and you should never work for free. EVER! I once had a guy approach me and tell me that if I gave him a little money he would allow me to hang my work in his restaurant and if it sold he would want 60% commission. I told him with a chuckle, “Sure mate, you want me to pay you to decorate your establishment, I don’t think so buddy.”’ And no matter how good you are, you’ll have to live with rejection. ‘Don’t let rejection stop you. We all get deflated when we don’t get into an art prize or a gallery says no, this happens A LOT. Don’t take it personally just keep going.’

She saves the most important piece of advice for last. ‘Create everyday (I should probably follow this last piece of advice myself)!’

Llael McDonald’s art is available to buy online here.


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