Marcus McAllister is a French-American artist managing his international career from his atelier in Paris which he shares with Grom, his adorable dog. His works combine detailed draughtsmanship with dreamlike layers and elements to create fascinating and beautifully atmospheric paintings. Alongside his larger works, he also has a strict sketchbook practice which is the backbone of everything he does. (Indeed, it is no coincidence that in every reference to this practice below, Marcus uses a capital S on sketchbook.) Using exactly the same type of sketchbook every time (he is currently on number 112), the sketchbook is with him always, with a special binder which is attached to his wrist when he is out and about.
As well as his artistic practice, Marcus is also an Artist Coach through the Be Smart About Art 121 Creative Specialists programme, providing insight from his own perspective as a working artist.
In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?
The freedom and luxury of being in my studio. Of course it’s great when I’m there actually getting work done on new paintings, but sometimes it’s more about simply hanging out in my space, looking at my images, reading and listening to music. Maybe I’ll just put on a pot of tea and play with the dog—it doesn’t really matter, what is important to me is being here, in the studio, in my own creative world, as much as possible.
Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?
That’s really really hard to answer. I’ve been inspired by so many artists, whether through art history or personal interaction. Hmm. If I had to answer with one name, I’d have to say that the artist who inspires me the most of late is Peter Doig. I’m currently intrigued by the way his work combines figurative, narrative elements with painterly abstraction. But to tell you the truth, the real reason his name comes to mind is the resonance I’ve felt from interviews about his work process. He talks about the importance of being in the studio, even when not in productive mode, and the time it takes him to resolve a painting. A painting might have only two weeks of actual labour—actual physical painting—but that work is perhaps spread over a several years. I have gained so much insight and confidence in my own creative work through his interviews.
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?
Nothing ever works out like you expect it to, and that’s just fine (even better). It seems like I’m forever learning to let go and let things happen, both in the art-making and networking. Anytime I think I know how things are “supposed” to play out, life throws a curveball. And invariably the result is so much more interesting!
If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?
Just to do something, anything—some small activity with no pressure for results or utility. For me this is facilitated by the constant presence of my Sketchbook. It’s always in the vicinity, so I try do just do some small doodle or take some notes from a book or internet or whatever might be on hand. My Sketchbook really is my lifeline when my energy gets snarled.
In the worst cases of creative block I’ll take out older Sketchbooks and just turn pages until something pops out at me. Once there the slightest spark of desire it’s so much easier to get things moving again, instead of just staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration.
And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?
That’s easy enough! I’d be the only kind of shoe I really care about: a black leather, rubber-soled work shoe. Solid and ready for anything!