Interviews with Artists

Robin Megannity

Interview by Brian Mountford

Published February 2015


Robin Megannity's work attempts to exploit the dramatic potential of techniques appropriated from an academic heritage, whilst embracing the formality and cultural weight inherent in a painting practice.


Do you feel that you can project an idea clearly within your painting? And if so what is that idea?

I would consider my work to be nebulous, fluid and interwoven rather than lucid and clearly defined. There are many themes and ideas that filter through my paintings but I attempt to leave these implicit. On the most broad and generalised level I am interested in authenticity and its value – artistically or otherwise. Obviously this is a fundamental principle in art from the most heroic to the most cynical, everyone is attempting to find the most authentic or honest approach, directly or indirectly. In some of my most recent paintings I am attempting to tackle ideas of artistic authenticity head on. Painting naturally provides a self-aware and stylised attempt at something revealing or emotionally committed. I am very interested in the ways that art can be both revealing and deceiving.

We'll Swim, oil on canvas, 2015

I can see as a painter your work has a traditional painting style, where do you think this fits in the world of contemporary art?

My decision to try and learn about some of the classical or academic approaches to painting was not informed by any hostility towards other directions in contemporary art, I would like my work to be presented and understood in context. There are many contemporary artists who make quite direct references to specific art-historical traditions either as pastiche or homage, to provide a context or to undermine certain characteristics. Methodologies of painting are loaded with systems of meaning and unavoidable associations and are therefore very engaging conceptually and practically.

Why do you paint when there are plenty of other ways to project an idea?

I think that painting really interests me because it has a this grand, austere position in history as something very serious, emotionally committed and authentic but in practice it is approachable, playful and domestic. There is therefore potential to really explore these two positions, to disrupt the message or make the reading uncertain, to find where the borders are between the playful and the philosophical or profound.

The Luxury Experience, oil on canvas, 2015

I notice in your work the subjects are usually undergoing some form of transformation or holding things, what is the significance of this?

The objects are intended as devices to suggest a narrative or at least the possibility of a narrative. Sometimes they are there as diversions to undermine or work against another system of associations in the picture, an unnatural or inconsistent relationship between the expression in the figure and the associations of the object they are holding for example. I often use objects that are loaded with associations to see how I can play with cliche or try and manipulate the way it is read by how it is included in a scene or how I handle the paint. The decision to include a certain object, piece of clothing or scenario can happen intuitively or from a creative impulse but more often than not they are related directly or indirectly to an art-historical reference, a theme from literature or some contemporary social anxiety.

Your paintings are a lot like scenes from a stage play is this premeditated?

The fact that all the scenes are staged is very important and I want to make this explicit and undisguised in the paintings. I intentionally make the relationships between the figure, the objects, the scene and the way it is lit somehow unnatural or forced. I hope that as well as giving the image some kind of tension or awkwardness it also makes it apparent that there is some fiction involved. It is not my intention to present portraits, the figures in the images are there as actors, I try to suppress their identity rather than draw it out. The emotion, or lack of emotion is acted and self-aware. I do however want any drama to be understated, the figures are kept still and indifferent with little or no action or implied movement.

Being an artist situated in the north of England (Manchester) has this affected your work and the way you think about painting?

I don't know really, difficult question to answer! Inevitably your background and your environment must have some influence but It's easy to fall into cliche when you start on regional identity. I have been painting at my studio in Manchester for almost 2 years and so far so good. There are not a huge number of galleries but there does seem to be a reasonable amount of support for emerging artists.

I have read many interviews with artists where they talk about their work, but hardly any of them say what they don’t like about their practice. What do you not like about yours?

I think it is very natural to have doubts and uncertainties about your work, in fact its probably essential. I am at what I feel like is a very early stage, the direction of my practice has changed dramatically from a couple of years ago and it is only recently that I feel I'm starting to move in the right direction and find the right context. I worry that the intention behind my work and the context in which I would like my work to be placed is not yet evident in practice. I often feel overwhelmed by the maze of ideas and information I am trying to articulate, developing as an artist needs to be patient and considered but when things seem to be developing so quickly around you it is easy to constantly feel under informed and overloaded.

I can see you possess a lot of skill, do you think a good painting needs to be skilfully made?

Thanks! I think that for a painting to be good or skilfully made it doesn't necessarily have to be confident or proficient or show virtuosity. Vulnerability, awkwardness and indifference can be a lot more powerful and interesting. Academic technique can be a safety net and make work saccharine or timid but by the same token work that is dismissive towards conventions can appear very affected and conceited. The technical and material aspects of a painting are there to demonstrate the attitude behind the work and reinforce the set of references, there is no hierarchy in method. The current direction of my practice began with research into historic painting strategies, academic methods and established conventions. This was partly just to get me going and to learn about the possibilities of the materials but it also allowed me to attempt to make some visual or material reference to the very serious and imposing work from paintings history. Learning about techniques in this way opened up some interesting possibilities and conceptual positions but it can also become a bit of a trap and can make my paintings too cautious.

What influences do you see in your own work?

Influences are wide ranging and ever evolving, there are many contemporary painters and artists of all types that I admire but I have found that if I get too obsessed with a painters work it can be a hindrance. I become too conscious of style rather than following the attitudes and ideas my work should be concerned with. My greatest and most rewarding influences probably come from writers, over the last few months i have become increasingly conscious of how literary devices and narrative techniques might transfer or might have already transferred into my work.

Why do you work from photos? And what are you gaining by recreating the photo as a painting?

Initially when I started painting figuratively I was working from life and was very hesitant to start working from photographs. I liked the way that working from life made me a bit uncomfortable and under pressure, it was the furthest I could get from the immediate and intuitive abstract work I was making previously. I started working from photographs out of necessity because I couldn't afford to pay models for repeated sessions. However I am now comfortable working from photographs and it fits well into the ideas behind my work. The photograph adds another layer of removal between the staged reality of the scene and the fiction of the painting object. It allows some distance to develop and makes the process impersonal. By making the photo into a painting the image gains a new context, it is now considered in terms of the history of painting and so you are forced in some way to read it differently. The painting process also allows me to alter and edit the way the image could be read using the nuances and affectations of paint.

Too Much Romantic Here, oil on canvas, 2015

Last question (laugh’s) where do you see yourself and career in ten years?

Who knows! I have a lot of things I would like to try, letting my work develop, keep learning, keep changing, I don't want to get trapped in a style or approach. My painting practice has been a gateway into the possibilities of sculpture, installation, photography, film and much more besides. My only ambition is to keep going.


Robin Megannity lives and works in Manchester. Recent exhibitions include Compression, Bureau Gallery, Manchester, Morphol Scowl, Piccadilly Place, Manchester and was the proud recipient of the Bankley Open Call Prize 2013.

If you like this why not read our interview with Graeme Durant


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