Friday, June 10, 2011

Spook Sister

One of the artists on our team who I find incredibly inspiring is Gillian, miss quite contrary on Etsy. Her shop features an eclectic mix of media, from her original photography to embroidery to vintage objects, but her work defies category. Her photos mix her own images with still life and antique book pages, peek at us from inside and outside windows, and hide in other objects such as brooches and pocket mirrors. All of these media mix, seemingly effortlessly, around themes of women, loss and fairy tales. Even when her photos aren't the subject of her listings, I want them anyway!

I was hoping to get some insight into her unique and compelling work by asking her just one open-ended interview question. Thankfully, she obliged:

When I was approached to write a reply to the one question interview inquiry 'What is your favourite photograph?', I must admit I was truly and completely stumped.

I'm drawn to the faded, crackled and misty mysterious atmosphere of the very earliest photography, but something about the subject matter is a just little too twee, overly pondered and academic for me.

'Ghost Convent' by miss quite contrary

I realized the artists who have the most influence on me and my art, who excite my too often complacent brain and who speak to my sad little heart are not photographers at all, but Margaret MacDonald and Frances McNair, 19th century artists and sisters known together as the 'Spook School' but connected with the 'Glasgow School' and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which promoted folk inspired arts and the handmade in reaction to the advent of Industrialisation.

'Castle Timber' by miss quite contrary

Margaret MacDonald and Frances McNair combined the influences of folk art, of nature and reaction to the Industrial Revolution - their work is like viewing forests through the London fog - a misty, half finished looking style that really is very similar in atmosphere to those earliest photographs, peeling and blurred.

'I Know There's No Such Thing as Ghosts' by miss quite contrary

Their colours were pale and drab and dark all at the same time, their lines bold and geometric yet soft and organic and meandering. Their work was calming to look at, but with an underlying mystery and sense of impending doom, something dangerous lurking at the edges of the forest.

Working in pencil, ink, watercolour and oil, on wood, plaster, glass, metal panels, hessian and plain old brown paper, they used beads, embroidery, inset shells and gold paint, their work is at once lowly and populist and otherworldly; and though they designed furniture, stained glass windows and even advertisments, they never strayed in the bourgeois, with even their most embellished works appearing not glamorous or moneyed but twinkling with ethereal riches that have nothing to do with our mortal world.

'Woodcutter's Daughter' by miss quite contrary

They are my inspiration for rejecting artistic conventions and being dark, rebellious, revolutionary, tragic Victorian women, for managing to eke out a living from art while never betraying their radical sensibilities, for rejecting expectations and the old fashioned confines mastering one media, but, instead, for wandering and dabbling (and, indeed, mastering) as they pleased, and, most of all, for making haunting, touching, emotional art unlike anything I've ever seen before, and guiding my fingers a little bit with everything I make.

My favourite photograph isn't even a photograph. My favourite photograph isn't even a single piece of art. My favourite photograph is the works, the minds, the hearts, of Margaret MacDonald and Frances McNair.

Thank you so much, Gillian, for this fabulous interview.


Mathyld ▲ under the pyramids ▲ said...

THE SPOOK SCHOOL is my favouyrite team of artists EVER.
I went to Glasgow twice, on pilgrimage. And lived in a Castle by a lake ... You'd have LOVED it !
x x x

Sara said...

I have bought several gorgeous items from Gillian.

christopher/wildpulp said...

Love her work!
Her 'Castle Timber' shot is absolutely sublime.

Charlot of Dreamaginarius said...

On some I am not sure if totally love them or what, but they can be mysteriously lovely and at the same time very spooky!! I guess that is why I still like the pictures :)

Now, "'I Know There's No Such Thing as Ghosts' by miss quite contrary" that gave me the chills the moment I saw it! lol

Charlot of Dreamaginarius said...
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