Mandy McCartin

Mandy McCartin is likely to emerge as one of the leading British artists of the 90s, when the Serota cartel, who stole all the limelight, are, at last, exposed as thin, heartless, pontificating poseurs.  Right through that Dark Age, McCartin went on painting, ignoring all the cries that this art was dead, simply because painting was what she wanted to do with her life.

The results were stupendous, stripped of any pretension, raw, visceral and wonderfully vivid images of ... what exactly?  Like any really good art, it’s hard to say, to enclose their living resonance in phrases.  Street life, night life, low life, sex life. They’re all too pat. The only thing they’ve got in common is life, and life can’t be summed up without losing what makes it live.  But life can, somehow, be caught in paint, or at least in the hands of a master of the medium like McCartin.  I’ve rarely seen anyone use so much of what paint can do, scratch, drip, rub, scrape, dash, touch, brush, glaze, wipe, spread, mark and line.  She works the surface like a brilliantly inventive, passionate lover, but that’s just on the skin.  Beneath it, glowing through everything is the colour.

Wanting the world, she conjures the whole spectrum. Why should she leave a colour out?  Rainbows reach down into the darkest corners of human life. Feeling the need for a flash of emerald, gold or amethyst, she strokes it in. And her pictures glow with a radiance that comes from within, scintillating blues, baking reds and troubled greys.  But those are just the hues, the sunset, club-lit, night time air that breathes through her subjects.  What are they? Tough people surviving at the rag end of comfort?  Yes, but herself, really, and everyone, wanting to be hugged.  Her art is a profound excavation into the wounds of loneliness and fear and a glorious celebration the sealing heal of love.

In 2013, I negotiated the gift, via the Nerys Johnson Contemporary Art Fund, of the painting Tube Girls to Sheffield Galleries, because McCartin was born and grew up in that city. Unbelievably they turned the gift down because, though they accepted it was an ‘extremely strong work of art’, Tube Girls didn’t fit into their collection of Con Art.  What a tragic loss for the people of Sheffield!      

In her excellent little book on McCartin, the poet Cherry Smythe wrote about the toughs in her paintings saying that their 'menace is defused in a comic realism which makes their hardness handsome'.

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Tube Girls 1993

184 x 137cm

oil on canvas

Two Skins 1991

152x122 cm

oil on canvas