Artist Grace Songolo recommends, “If you want to know part of Janet talk to her; to know her better, read her poetry; to truly know Janet, be open to her art.” Gallery owner and artist John Powers states, “In her collages of the past decade, Janet Mackaig has achieved that rare artistic triumph in which the artist provides a glimpse of her inner world that somehow resonates with the inner world of the viewer. When I first looked at her work, I marveled at its seamless combination of the exotic and the mundane. I see images of her far-flung travels that easily exist with animal-headed humans and her ordinary house cat. Or, is it an extraordinary house cat in the midst of ordinary animal-headed people? It is a process that is both playful and deeply personal. But isn’t that how the mind works when, on that rare occasion, we let it freely wander? We can easily move from comedy to tragedy to violence and back to comedy. It is an endless loop that never exactly repeats itself. In Janet’s world, we learn so much about ourselves and the unseen around us that we become childlike again. The question about her images is not “why?” but rather “why not?” And to me, that is the ultimate compliment to an artist.
Critic James Scarborough writing an art review of Janet Mackaig’s work writes, “Dogs and cats in unlikely situations, pasted onto human bodies; but this is not Pop Art. “…She accumulates experiences not things. A variance of Surrealism, perhaps, though the images don’t jar; rather, they bring together unexpected elements. No. Janet Mackaig’s work is more of an epic poem, or at least a mock-epic poem. All of the elements of narrative are there: lived and then embellished experience; things worked over by the imagination; a sense of compression, meaning condensed into the work like a coiled spring and then released into the work like a coiled spring and then released by each viewer’s experience of the work. One step further. The work offers a cosmology. On one level, the work resembles Persian miniatures,precious and laden with sacred and secular meaning. On another level, the work resembles Hindu images, people become animals, animals become sacred,imparted with divine powers. Mackaig’s work points to a metamorphosis-in-process by which sacred forms express secular ideas.
First of all, mention must be made of the backgrounds. Consider the following sources: Rhonda, Spain, Miyajima, Kyoto and Fukuoka, Japan, the Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa, Assisi Italy, Bucharest, Romania, the Yangtze River and Beijing in China. Mackaig does not cull these images from magazines. Rather, she visits these places. She photographs the places she has visited. They are exotic as exotic can be. Each component part of each image resonates with personal significance for the artist. Whether it’s a place she visited, a person she knows, a pet she has cared for, an anecdote she has heard, their convocation in the computer and their eventual meaning on the canvas, the sum of parts is greater than the whole.
Then one must account for their jarring presence. Jarring both in the sense of startling juxtapositions as well as in the abrupt, planar compositions. Mackaig populates the images with animals as unusual situations or with animals/people hybrids in mundane situations. In “On The Brink,” a cat skirts over chunks of ice with snow capped mountains in the background. “A Day For A Parade” whose dog-people on horseback. “Halcyon,” a dog-man has just water-skied under a river’s bridge. “Life is a Bitch” shows a bar scene with a man, a woman and a bartender each with dog and cat heads. In “Flying High,” a cat drives dogs in a safari wagon through the sky.
These juxtapositions are coupled with a pasted-on, planar composition that gives the work a sudden appearance. This results from their means of production. The artist takes pictures of places she had traveled to. She then scans these images into a computer. Next she scans in images of these images into a computer. Next she scans in images of the various people-animals. Once stored away, she digitizes the image, prints it onto fabric that she then stretches onto canvas or board. Then she works over the synthetic image with paint. This is like the cut-and-paste function of editing text documents on a computer except that she does it with images. Just as text-editing takes on a certain texture from the process, so too do the images gain a richness of synthetic experience. That the artist does not model these displaced / replaced images in pictorial space, shows how much this new reality is to be considered separate from that which inspired it.
It is easy enough to relate the work to something like Synthetic Cubism. Mackaig has analyzed her life experiences into pieces and then put the pieces back together into new synthetic whole. That’s one of the premises of early modern art. It is also easy enough to say she is a Russian Constructivist in that the value she brings to the piece is more as a general contractor keeping the parts in balance than as a creator. She takes the fragments, desensitized because they have been edited out of their original context. There is indeed a resemblance between both movements. She isolates fragments, intense personal fragments of her life, and then rearranges them. If Mackaig’s process ended there, her aesthetic would be based more on machines than on human experience. But the fact that she paints the images, not so much from a photograph as on a photograph, suggests a more personal, intimate relationship with the work. Face it, Juan Gris, Alexander Rodchenko, these guys were scientists in the day they dissected reality. ((?)) Mackaig rather clones it. Better yet, she creates hyperlinks. Just like a Web Document. You click on the highlighted work or else on an image and you are taken to another site. Same here. The significance of each piece is not so much in an overall created reality, but in the amount of experience each fragment contains. For the artist, she knows what to look at a) water-skiing dog is to register a) it’s her son, b) it’s a pet, and c) they have traveled there before. This compression that is so apparent in all the work shows its origin, a computer, as well as a series of life experience. Furthermore, when you think about it, the poems that accompany each work show the same process. As William Wordsworth wrote, poetry is an intensely felt emotion recalled in tranquility. Same here. The artist has had these experiences; she digested them, just as a computer digests visual and textural information, and then compressed them into a new whole.
But what of this? In his Essays, Montaigne wrote that the proper educational text for the student was the world itself. Not books, for books made on soft, but the act of getting out and testing one’s mettle against the world and learning from the process. The result? A certain nobility and grace because with knowledge of the world one could always remain poised and calm; even slightly detached and ironic. Mackaig’s paintings are comforting. They show knowledge of the world; they show the ability to bear life’s tribulations with equanimity and even a sense of humor. Mostly, they celebrate the fact that they are alive. “Martini Time in China?” Happy Hour in a bar scene out of Star Wars? A parade on horse back in Spain? Vacations, loved ones, loved pets: the work shows that Mackaig has absorbed her life experiences, has made sense of them, has profited from them. In her work we can see joy in synthesis, happiness in a broader perspective: Hers is a synthetic hum, tying together the loose ends of a busy life, making order out of chaos, acknowledging that each event, each person, each animal is an endless chain of remembrances, both backward and forward. That, yes, life is a bitch and life is a dog’s life, and that life is a halcyon for a citizen-of-the world/artist like Janet Mackaig.”
Critic Peter Frank comments, “Appropriately, the century ‘of collage’ is winding down (or if you would, culminating) in a confluence of technologies that, at least together, permit an almost seamless collaging of once insurmountably disparate elements. We now witness, even expect, the fusion of the cubists’ abrupt juxtapositions of form with the Surrealists’ abrupt juxtapositions of context — a fusion that results in a likewise abrupt but ongoing, juxtaposition of meaning (or is it meanings?). And, at this millennial juncture, the medium (as in Marshall McLuhan) is no longer (just) the message: it is the means to a message, a more and more often mixed means, to a more and more often mixed message.
Janet Mackaig has been mixing means, messages and metaphors for awhile now, but in translating them of late of “smoother” (and smoother and smoother) media, her mixings approach the contextual seamlessness of cinema — without the additional factor of time, of course — or the once-removed but superficial seamlessness of photography, a medium much less obdurate than it looks, one whose visual authority Mackaig retains in her montaged imagery but whose impermeable surface she relinquishes for the grain of color photocopy, the subtle haze of the digital laser transfer, the(comparatively) emphatic tactility of paint. The struggle this painstaking method implies, to maintain the presence of an image in great part through its physicality, invoices the marriage of retrograde and futuristic technologies — a marriage that is itself nothing if not collage.
Such an evaluation of Mackaig’s recent work — that is, as an ongoing effort not simply to master but to invent techniques appropriate to our age –should not preclude consideration of her view of the wider world, a view powered by wit, wonder and indignation. Mackaig collapses time and space (or should we say times and spaces?) into pictorial (as opposed to physical, Rauschanbergian) combines whose visual as well as contextural dissonances speak without intellectualized convolution to our postmodern sense of anachronism, spatial simultaneity, and polycultural hybridization. Regarding a Mackaig painting or print (especially but not exclusively those that have been realized digitally), we suddenly make a little bit more sense out of the stream of non sequiturs that issues from our televisions, telephones,radios and computers. More importantly, we suddenly know a little more how to make a little more sense of such familiar but incongruous information.
In Mackaig’s pictures the intimate not only co-exists but coordinates with the momentous, the exotic conflates with the banal, the antique embraces the contemporary in ways that seek to disrupt the compartmentalization of experience into now and then, here and there, yours and mine. Sometimes Mackaig’s work show not the seams, but the armatures of its schemata,revealing their underlying structures (be they narrative or formal) and instructing us thereby how to merge all we know with all we suspect. Other times, as in dreams, Mackaig’s apparitions absorb their armatures thoroughly and what we know, what we suspect, what we imagine and what we could not previously have conceived of come to occupy the same place(s) at the same time(s).
Ominous or hilarious, crude or elegant, trivial or portentous, Janet Mackaig’s juxtapositions — or, if you will, interpositions (rather more of a piece than juxtapositions) — seek to show that there is no such as more coincidence. Coincidence, Mackaig avers, is never-ending and never mere.”
Poetry of Janet Mackaig
at the waters edge
filling in the
looking into the past
the subtlety of life