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Tom: So let's go back and begin at the beginning, so you were 12 or 13 - and your sister Liz - took you to the Saatchi Gallery - and up until then, correct me if I’m wrong - but you had no connection to art is that about right?
Maggie: So I had no tangible connection - other than enjoying art classes at school - so Liz took me to Saatchi Gallery when I was 12 or 13 back when it was at the County Hall on South Bank and I just remember being very very impressed. I’d walk into an oil-filled room which was by Richard Wilson - and I remember it being deadly silent and only ‘x’ amount of people were allowed in at any one time and it was quite nice feeling that you were given the room to experience something - and despite the smell of the oil - you had the time to contemplate the room you’re in and to drift off. I remember being loaded with so many questions - is this room filled to the bottom with oil, can I touch it? That was my first immersive experience which was completely different to just looking at a painting.
In that show you had other YBA’s - like Marcus Harvey’s ‘Handprint portrait of Myra Hindley’. That was quite striking because it’s quite a prominent event that was in the news that I remember. It wasn’t just the big works, there were the smaller works hidden away amongst all the noise. There was one by Damien Hirst with a dead head that really got my attention: It’s a photo of him with a severed head in a morgue.
Tom: Could you appreciate the subtext in Harvey’s portrait of Hindley at that age?
Maggie: I don’t if I really understood the weight of it, I remember the scale of it hitting me first - this huge canvas and noticing all the individual handprints making up this chilling image. I knew it was intended to shock, but I don’t really think I really realised until a bit later when I was told that it was made of childrens handprints. It was less shock and just more a feeling of something just dropping in your stomach.
Tom: Would you say from that point on ‘art’ took on a new meaning after that experience, your view, your feelings, your perspective towards it?
Maggie: Absolutely, I think experiencing the YBA’s was a real turning point, I really hadn’t been exposed to art like that before; art to me before was drawing or painting whatever props the school had, like fashioning clay bowls to bring home to mum and dad - put in the windowsill - and at school I’d only really grown up with reproductions of Dali that’d be beaten by the sun, or passing a picture in the hallway that I later learned was a Manet.
Tom: So your sense of art changes forever and in the following years you find yourself inspired by - correct me if I’m wrong - Jenny Saville and Kate MccGwire...describe what drew you to their work exactly.
Maggie: With Jenny Saville, I felt her portrayal of the ‘ugly’ was really fascinating and strangely quite beautiful. You’ve got these voluptuous women and these huge carcases hung from the ceiling on her canvases, or the portraits she made from her morgue series - and even though I didn’t see all of them in the flesh - they had a glistening quality to them and the scale of her work really impressed me too. Her brush strokes felt really thick and really meaningful, so it was just making a painting for the sake of it - each stroke meant something, the colours were really rich and the fleshy tones made her paintings really real: You can’t look away.
Tom: It’s almost like her work isn’t filtered and it feels very direct.
Maggie: Exactly, it’s so truthful as well. With the voluptuous women a lot of them are more self-portraits and she’ll hold herself at different angles - the most unflattering angles: It’s almost like an anti-beauty campaign. As a teenager - as a girl - every lump on your body you’re terrified about and then to see this: This is like a real woman and it’s not that disgusting.
Tom: I can see how this would be important at that age when we’re all discovering what it means to be beautiful.
Maggie: With MccGwire, she did that with a different media, she did it with fallen bird feathers, which are very delicate and very beautiful but she transformed them into jaring, ethereal creatures. I would say they’re quite similar because the end product of MccGwire’s work you see these curvy, jarring creatures that are a little bit disgusting so I feel like the transformation evident in her materials was inspiring as well. It wasn’t just paint that she was using, she just transformed another material.