Nicola MacNeil is an Ontario-to-Vancouver import with an incredibly apt artistic practice of transplanting found images of people into surreal, narrative collage environments. We caught up with MacNeil in anticipation of her upcoming show at Kafka’s, Must Be This Tall To Ride, which runs from August 17th until September 25th.
Tell me about the inspiration for your upcoming show at Kafka’s. I work at Urban Source on Main street. The store sources offcuts from local industries, and we also have people bringing in vintage magazines, encyclopaedias, maps, photos, slides, etc. It’s like a tiny collage heaven. About a year-and-a-half ago I found an image of a diver in an encyclopaedia, and I liked the way that she was taken out of context. There was no water under her and no diving board above her; she was a blank slate. So I put together a little collage of her doing a cannonball into a glass jar, thinking it was just a one off example I would put somewhere in the store. Then I imagined a story for her and I got this rush of joy from writing again. The magic happened when I realized I could write and make art simultaneously.
Your favourite place to go when you need to be inspired, in the city? It doesn’t happen very often, but I feel nothing but bliss when I can take my paddle board out to the middle of English Bay, and just sit down, away from all the noise. The city always looks so beautiful from out there, and it always helps me to collect my thoughts. Paddling back to shore, I always feel newly inspired.
Your favourite place outside of the city? Up on top of a mountain somewhere.
What has been the most defining experience for your artistic endeavours, so far? Realizing that there is room for everyone. I’m a middle child and I am definitely guilty of feeling some serious jealousy and inadequacy. My attitude shifted the moment I realized that there is space for everyone to be creative, and the clichéd but true “one person’s success, does not equal your failure.” Keeping an open mind and celebrating others’ successes actually opens way more doors than sitting at home on Instagram, comparing your ‘following’ to other peoples’. Who knew?
A material that you haven’t used, but would like to? I would love to do some Gouache paintings. I love the matte finish of the paint, and there are so many amazing illustrators out there using that medium.
In your narrative collage, which comes first, the story or the picture? The collage almost always comes first, although as soon as an image strikes me I instantly imagine the character out of context and start dreaming up all the things they could be doing. Through the narrative, I have to be able to justify why each element has been included in the collage, or else I scrap it. It’s like writing an essay and eliminating redundancies.
I hate flying on regular airplanes, and I am the girl in the movie theatre watching “Gravity” and seriously hyperventilating.
Why did you decide to transition from printmaking to collage? I’m not sure that I have transitioned fully to collage. I still do some printmaking, and I still sell my linocut greeting cards, but printmaking feels like something I do to make extra money. Don’t get me wrong there are amazing printmakers out there, but I feel like I am pandering to what’s trendy to sell cards. My collages feel a lot more like my “art practice” and a more true expression of myself and my imagination.
Your collage characters seem to inhabit an alternate universe or reality. Where does this penchant for the surreal stem from? Since moving to Vancouver 5 years ago from my home town, I have realized how much I love my anonymity. There is something so refreshing about a new start where no one has any expectations of who you are, or who you should be. The characters in my collages escape to otherworldly places because that is where they feel that they can be themselves without judgement. I have always romanticized things, too, and this works well for taking people out of the reality I cut them from. When I see someone in an old magazine who is in a terrible situation, surrounded by disease, or has maybe just committed a crime, I like to create a new reality where they are doing something that transports them to a place where the outcome is a little more hopeful.
Tell me about the last dream you remember. People may think I’m crazy for this one, but I had a dream that a good friend of mine, who is a weaver, gave me a red crocheted halter top with the word “homewrecker” woven into the chest in blue, as a house warming gift. In the dream this was hilarious to us and I wore the top everywhere as a running joke. *Disclaimer* I am not a homewrecker, and she would never make something so tacky.
Given the opportunity, would you travel to outer space? I am sure, based on Chris Hadfield’s Instagram, that looking down at earth from outer space is so breathtakingly beautiful, but I wouldn’t make that trip for a million dollars. I hate flying on regular airplanes, and I am the girl in the movie theatre watching “Gravity” and seriously hyperventilating. But I guess space has come up a lot in my collages, probably because it represents the concept of escape.
A hidden talent? A Japanese exchange student who stayed with my family taught me how to juggle, albeit poorly. Don’t give me knives to juggle or anything like that.
A talent that you wished you possessed? I wish that I could dance. I love watching clips of hip hop ballerinas, and other more interpretive style dancers. I like to pretend that I could be that graceful, flexible, and coordinated.
Your guilty pleasure? Musicals. I don’t really feel guilty about this, though. I could listen to musical soundtracks all day, and sing very poorly along to them. Just ask my family.
If you could visit any era, what would it be? Take me to the 50s so I can collect all the ephemera and bring it back to present day.
Follow Nicola’s work via Instagram @nicolamacneilart