News / Alan Macdonald - Playgrounds of the Mind: Part 1

Alan Macdonald - Playgrounds of the Mind: Part 1

Based in Carnoustie, Scotland, Alan has been a professional artist for 30 years and has exhibited all over the world. He spent the first 13 years of his life in Malawi, Africa exploring, creating and imagining. This he says, has shaped his free, fun-loving and often humorous approach to his work.

Alan Macdonald Spam Dragon, 2013 Oil on linen h. 190 x w. 214 cm © Alan Macdonald

Painting has been a passion of mine since the age of twelve. Where it came from is a question that has stumped my father ever since. He felt sure that it was a childhood madness that would eventually pass... but it didn't. I trawled dusty colonial libraries in Malawi where I was born and brought up, looking for inspiration. I found books on Da Vinci, Reynolds and Whistler amongst others, which is more than a little bit surprising! However, what to paint? Now that for me was a different and much more confusing matter.

Early in my artistic life, whether at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee or my Acme studio in London, I bounced all over the place in search of the holy grail of every artist... a unique voice. Each avenue ventured down, in the long term, left its mark and influence, but at the time gave me a feeling of being unfulfilled. Of course the right path is never very clear and what you are sure is right one day, becomes completely wrong the next. Maybe this has more to do with being a true Gemini, but it's something that I have learnt not to fight against and instead to incorporate into my work. If I wake up one morning with a desire to somehow put Stalin into my painting, I just go right ahead and do it. The next day I then worry about it.

It felt like I was stuck in a mental maze and every dark passage ventured down promised much early on but alas ended with a solid brick wall of doubt. One such doomed path was abstraction. Initially, painting this way was terrifying, I had to learn to trust my feelings and just follow my subconscious. What you seek is like an elusive thread of an idea, difficult to put your finger on and constantly flicking just out of reach. Every now and then, if you are persistent, you will get hold of that thread briefly and feel a little tug of energy, like a fish on the other end. If you are lucky, a little piece of that energy will remain on the canvas.

I knew that my quest was getting closer all the time to its final goal, but the inevitable brick wall once again loomed up and slammed into my face. I loved the freedom abstraction gave me, but I had the feeling that, for me, it couldn't express properly what was inside and desperately wanted to get out. Then I had an idea to try these newly discovered abstract skills on a figurative painting, placing objects or figures in a random way, following feelings and not seeking explanations. Every day I expected to reacquaint myself with the dreaded wall and despite many failures, that hard impact never came. 

My corridor had opened out and was now a great expanse of water. Columbus-like, in the middle of an ocean, I believed there was dry land somewhere over the horizon, but was never quite able to see it. One fine, clear winter's day, working on a scrap of paper, I spied the place that I had long believed existed but which I had never found. A very strange place it was too... it was a distant undiscovered coast of me full of insights and surprises. I had stumbled on a way of working that for the first time allowed that inner voice to finally be heard... I had found my holy grail!