D+L: In your last solo exhibition “Out of Orkney,” you were making drawings referring to the topography of Orkney, the small group of islands off the north coast of Scotland where you grew up. Are these new works still related to memory and landscape?
SM: This year has been about introducing color into the work and creating a kind of coalition between drawing and painting. That's really as much as a brief as I was willing to give myself so I'm hesitant to overload the work with a narrative. Whereas the previous series was inspired by memory and place, this body really has been about the act of making and how I could use drawing in a way that elevated it from a simple “means to an end” to something that could stand-alone.
D+L: What was the chronology of this work?
SM: I remember getting back to the studio after spending Christmas and New Year with my family up in Scotland. I had ordered a stock of small canvases, without any fixed plan of what I was going to develop, other than a desire to use more color and create drawings in new ways. I don't think that had anything to do with my state of mind, but I knew I wanted to open up my palette. Drawing and line would still be the driving force behind the work, but I wanted this to be married with color that felt uplifting to me, optimistic even. The work that followed was a combination of relatively simple, geometric compositions, scratched (using a scalpel) into wet oil color of pastel greens, pinks and blues. I'm a lot more at ease with doing ‘less’ these days. In the past, I felt the need to show off, to demonstrate every technical capability in every work. I think I'm more confident now to do only what is necessary to make the piece function. I'm not saying I'm a minimalist artist, far from it, but I've certainly stripped back a lot of what I now feel to be unnecessary.
The fluid lines, the “squigglies” and the organic surfaces were a consequence of getting to know paint again. I was working under a very open brief with my only intention being to combine drawing and painting without giving full control to either discipline. In this sense, having a loose plan that involved just line and color opened up the possibility of experimentation with materials like muslin and linen and reconfiguring stretcher bars to become part of the composition.
It's easy to categorize your own work, to give yourself a self imposed title of “landscape artist” or “figurative painter.” This year has been particularly enjoyable and productive because I actively resisted the temptation to pigeonhole my practice. I've worked without any fear of failure, something I've struggled with in the past and I've just made art, then more art. I've trashed as many canvases as I'll show in this exhibition, but every one has benefitted me in some way.
Steven MacIver was born in the Orkney Islands and completed his BA in Fine Arts at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen and his MFA at the Slade School of Art. Following his graduation in 2004, MacIver was honored with the Sainsbury Scholarship in Painting and Sculpture at the British School at Rome. MacIver has received numerous awards and grants and has exhibited extensively in the UK where his work is held in several collections. He currently lives and works outside Oxford.