Clare Mackie is used to rejection by colleges and publishers alike. but this seems hard to believe in the face of her wildly individual illustrations which have an irresistibly dotty charm. On the eve of her first exhibition. she chews over the past and a few of her creatures with Julie Morrice.
Take it as read that animal-lovers grow to resemble their pets and it doesn‘t seem entirely implausible that animal-artists might assume some of the characteristics of their subject matter. be it fish. flesh or fowl. In such a world. Thurber would have the wayward stolidity of a bassett hound. Ell. Sheppard would display an appealing unkempt rotundity and (‘lare Mackie would by rights be a scruffy moth-eaten mongrel with a dangerous glint in her too-close-together eyes.
In actual fact. only the glint is there. A cheerful. manic gleam. the light from an inner world where men sprout into trees and insects have human faces. Clare Mackie’s illustrations do not copy life — dogs do not look like that: even her precise watercolours of birds' eggs are. she admits. not absolutely true to the boxful ofthe real thing which
she has at home. Her drawings are
reckless with reality. leaning out of
caricature into a sparky surrealism.
Life imitates art. and Mackie’s
progress into illustration seems to have been as eccentric. as nearly-chaotic. as her crazy drawings. After prissy private school in Aberdeen. where one suspects she fittedinlikeanant-eaterat(tufts. . Mackie applied for art college and received a sheafof rejections. ‘11 was quite a jolt. which was just what I needed.‘ she says. momentarily serious. Ricocheting off to Dundee. she spent a year attending every art class in sight and amassing an enormous portfolio. [Eventually she got a place at Edinburgh (‘ollege of Art to study painting and ceramics.
Mackie was more than the college could cope with. "l‘hey said.‘ she steams. ‘I was forcing clay to do things it wasn‘t supposed to do.‘ Given that her forte was ‘fish—boxes full ofscreaming. undulating fish and seaweed and worms'. one can see their point. but Mackie was not to be beaten. ‘I‘ve always been thrawn. as my parents say.‘
espcrate to avoid writing a
dissertation. the infante terrible stumbled into the illustration 7 department in search of an extra subject..and was given a project based on Lear‘s nonsense rhymes. It was kismet. (‘eramics crumbled. and Mackie finally left the Art ('ollege. presumably to sighs of reliefon both sides. with a first in Illustration and Printmaking. l
The way she tells it. the year since her graduation has been no less
traumatic. 'l‘he ritual odyssey round the desks of London’s art editors turned into an Ealing (‘omedy as. with mother in tow to help carry the A I portfolio. she crashed in on the becalmed offices of publishers and advertising agencies. Several were encouraging. one called her a pervert.
‘A lot ofillustration today is easy and safe.‘ says Mackie. Her taste for the grotesque. the faintly macabre. is
stimulated by the drawings of the Victorians whose illustration. even for children's books ‘had an edge to it. was alive and full of character.‘ Mackic herself has given up trying to get work from children's book publishers: ‘they say it‘s far too sinister for kids.' Yet the daft toilet humour which can sit a spider on the loo reading'l'he 'l‘imcs is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to the beastly nature ofchildrcn.
Ask (‘lare Mackie where her extraordinary ideas come from. and you won‘t get a straight answer. ‘l’ve always been keen on creatures.‘ she says. and proceeds to describe her family home in Laurencekirk as a cross between (ierald Durrcll and the Night ofthe living Dead. With a
8 The List ZINovember 1989
mother who brought hedgehogs into the bathroom and frogs into the bath. drew animal pictures. and told terrifying stories before bedtime. .‘ylaekie was clearly not going to grow up dull. Add to that the fact that all the children in the area were the same age as her older brother and sister. 'so I used to play with their pets'. and the picture begins to take shape.
Mackie's animals are human. while her pictures of people tend to the animalistic or even the vegetable. In one telling portrait. a sharp-toothed. shark-backed .‘ylr l’unch sits gnawing on a doggy bone. while his ruff-wearing pooch looks amiably on like a doting pet—owner. "I'hey'vc all got different personaliticsf she says of her canine creations. 'l‘urning society’s zoomorphism on its head. her illustrations use animals to paint the ugliness and buffoonery of man.
‘I find great beauty in ugly things.‘ says la .‘ylaekie. ller subjects snuggle into their unattractiveness like old men into favourite smelly overcoats. In an age obsessed with the mindlessly pretty. her work is a blast of fresh air. careless of its looks. accidentally appealing. l lad she ever wanted to do anything else but draw and paint. I wondered. ‘I wanted to be a marine biologist. but I hated my biology teacher. No don’t write that. or I'll bump into her tomorrow.‘
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