Magda Archer belongs to that rare breed of painters, able to quell the notion that art need be straight-faced, lest it be shallow. Her optimistic iconography emerges oddly morose when a battenberg palette is used to bevel such thwarted taglines as “My Life is Crap” above an ultra-cheap cartoon sheep. Frivolous as her imagery first appears, the truth is, any right-minded artist would envy Archer’s knack for fragmenting feeling in the wittiest of ways. Blancmange talks to the Queen of contemporary kitsch culture about collecting, coining slogans and how she chooses to cash in on her characteristically crass creations.
How would you describe your art?
I wouldn’t really know where to begin to describe my art – other people are better than me at describing it. I’m so close to the things I make that sometimes it takes a few years for me to be able to look at them in a clear light. I will always remember the initial idea and what was going on in my life when I made a piece of work. The idea is the most important bit, then communicating with people I don’t know – that’s the lovely bit.
Your studio is something of a treasure trove. What’s your favourite object and why?
My favourite object in the studio changes all the time. I love pathetic trinkets, Charlie Brown bits and bobs, dog ornaments, Pez, but I’ll always love my piano the best. A big part of my day is sitting down and breaking away from whatever it is that I’m making at the time.
Your work has a distinctly British ordinariness about it. What do you find so appealing about pop culture of this kind?
Thank you! I love that. I love pop culture. I walk around absorbing all that is going on around me. I’m just an interested, observant person. I can be easily inspired walking down the street, picking up other people’s rubbish or packets in supermarkets – the online Mail, things kids say to each other, magazines and newspapers…I’m in a world of my own mulling it all over and I make tons of notes.
You’re quite fond of a saying. Where do you get them from?
As far as the words in my paintings and prints go, I just listen out for things that have a nice sound to them or that make me laugh. I love putting words and pictures together. On the whole, still just serve as a starting point to feed other people’s imaginations. I’ve found some lovely bits of writing, words and sayings on pieces of crumpled up paper that I’ve found on the street or in the park.
Where do you draw your inspiration for your colour palette?
I only use colours I love. I can’t use maroon – don’t look for it because it’s just not going to happen. Once in a while I’ll tear something out of a newspaper or magazine where I like the combination of colours and I’ll save that to use at some point. I love sugary combinations and colours that remind me of well-loved objects or clothing.
What made you first want to pursue art?
I pursued art because I was only ever quite good at three things at school: art, writing and piano – and I mean quite good. I wasn’t amazing anyone with my incredible talent but I was genuinely interested and those are the things that have stayed with me. I loathed school and didn’t feel particularly liked by the staff, so going to art school was a huge sigh of relief for me.
I heard you like to paint to music. What’s your recent working soundtrack?
I do paint to music and I have extremely wide taste. In the last week, I’ve been playing two albums back to back – Eels’ Wonderful,Glorious and Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait. I’ve been playing vinyl because, to my ears, it’s a nicer sound, but I’m a big fan of Spotify too. I just painted a picture for a packet of gum in the U.S. and they let me include my own playlist inside the packet – that was fun.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on a new screen print plus an assortment of things for the opening of the HOME group exhibition in Manchester. I’m quite interested in making cheap posters at the moment and hope to put some into HOME. I like the Gilbert & George thing of making art affordable and many people who like my work could afford, say, twenty quid, but not much more than that.
Can you tell me a little about what you’ll be doing at the HOME exhibition?
For the opening of HOME I will be including a small collection of paintings based on a juxtaposition of beautiful objects and the disappointing language of the internet. ‘Excitement & Disappointment’ is one of the themes within the group show. Then I will have a collection of posters that I’ve made recently, plus a few surprises – things that I’m working on at the moment and even I don’t know how they’re going to turn out yet!
You’re also involved in the project Broken Grey Wires. I understand both of these projects will incorporate your painting of a blancmange, Thank God, I’m Normal, which is of particular interest to Blancmange, for obvious reasons! Can you elaborate on the piece?
Broken Grey Wires is another group show I’m involved with. It’s a show on mental health. That’s right, the show will include my painting of Thank God I’m Normal – the painting of a pink and white blancmange. This painting is based on a friend of my sister – a man called Richard who died too soon. He was a costume designer with the best taste and style, and that was an expression of his. He was funny and interesting – a real one-off. I think that painting is a serious one. It might look flippant to some, but I know that the grey paint is a sign that I’m being serious.
What are your personal feelings about blancmange?
My feelings about blancmange....I LOVE everything about it! The look of it, the milky colours…the fact my Dad had a major soft spot for it…the band of the same name…the suburban connotations. Plus! Let’s not forget the word ‘blancmange’. It’s poetic – the glamour of suburbia.
One of my favourite of your creations is your poster, Magda Archer Print Queen. Can you tell me about the piece?
The Magda Archer Print Queen poster – that was fun to make. It’s biographical. I told David Shrigley it was biographical and he said something great: “Oh, I love things that are biographical, especially when they’re truth or fiction”. That piece happened because a friend and I were waiting to order some food in a pub and the barman ran out from the kitchen and said, “All food’s off!”. We walked down the road to this little kebab shop to get some food and I was struck by the leaflet, which was quite beautiful – beautifully trashy. I got to thinking how we all get this sort of stuff posted through our front doors and yet no-one ever really reads them. I wondered, if I borrowed that style, whether anyone would read mine. The title came about because I was discussing the success of another printmaker with someone in the Jealous Print Studio, where my prints are printed. I said, “When will people realise that I am PRINT QUEEN?” Then I thought, “gotta use that one!”
I thought it would be nice to end on a really mundane question, so, finally: In 2010, you released the book What the Stars Buy!, a collection of found shopping lists and the celebrities you imagined they might belong to. What’s on your shopping list?
My shopping list…If I bought what my heart tells me, it would be Mr Kipling cakes, Mother’s Pride bread, R. Whites lemonade and Cadbury’s chocolate, but my head tells me to buy sugar-free muesli, almond milk, Burford Brown eggs, multigrain bread, organic fruit, plus I always buy Tea Pigs Extra Strong Earl Grey tea. I’m fussy about tea but only when I make it.
Interview taken from Blancmange Magazine: http://www.blancmange-magazine.com