From self taught artist, to two-time Archibald Prize finalist.
“After about two years they just feel dead, you know, it’s not me,” Australian artist Marc Etherington says of the different jobs he’s had, like working at a bingo supply warehouse, or at Edmonton airport loading planes, or doing public works. “And now I’ve finally found what I like to do, and that’s painting.” it’s awesome because Marc is a lovely dude who speaks with an honest-to-god, I-don’t-know-how-I-got-here sort of humility. And his paintings of pop culture scenes from television, movies, and music are funny and sentimental, and basically just really cool. Dude’s a legend. And after just giving painting a crack for something to do while living through a Canadian winter, he’s now a two-time Archibald finalist, the most important portraiture prize in Australia. We caught up with him in our most recent Monster Children mag, to find out more.
You describe yourself as self-taught, what does that mean?
I’ve never been to art school or anything like that. I actually started when we were living in Edmonton, Canada, you know what the winters are like, I was housebound and I thought, “Oh, I’ll have a go at painting.” My father-in-law over there was real supportive, he went to art school back in the 70s and he was like, “Keep going.” So I did.
So run me through your day, what’s your process when you’re painting?
Get up, get the kids ready for school. The whirlwind, get breakfast made, get their lunches made, and then drive them to school. And then get a coffee… I gave up coffee for three years, and I just got back into it in the last month and I just love it, man. Coffee is the best. Then usually I’ll get an idea of something and I’ll be like, “I’ve gotta go and do it now,” so grab my paint and try to get it done in a day.
Are you working on anything right now?
I’ve got a show in March, so I’m doing ten big canvasses for that. I’ve been watching a lot of detective shows and I’m doing a series of paintings about a detective who’s solving all these crimes and his wife gets murdered and then he just gets vengeance on all these people. It’s funny because you’re sort of coming into this serious art world, you know, you’ve done the Archibalds, but your art’s often about movies that are so far removed from that culture… like Cliffhanger. (laughs) I just paint what I like, and I think it hits a nerve with people my age. It’s a nostalgia sorta thing.
Tell me about the Archibalds, what’s the process first of all?
Anyone can enter the Archibalds, it costs $50 to put in an entry, you can only put in one. I entered it for two years and didn’t do any good, and then I painted Del Kathryn Barton who’s quite a well-known artist, and it got in. And then this year I painted Ken Done and that got in too. If you have an art show, you’re lucky to get a couple hundred people to come, but if you’re in the Archibald, they get a hundred thousand people walking through. It’s good too because when I’m painting at home I feel like I’m a weirdo, and Mum and Dad are sort of like, “What’s he doing with his life?” And then to get into the Archie it kind of gave it validation I guess.
So what have you learnt from all this, do you feel like you’re improving?
I’m definitely improving but I feel like I’m losing something as well, as it kind of gets better.
Right, because you were so fresh.
Yeah, you lose that roughness, and that’s what I really liked. I love my kids’ paintings because they’re straight out of their head. I find now I’m more meticulous, whereas before I’d just paint it. One thing I’ve learned is to encourage my kids to just go for it. ’Cause look at me, I was in the Archie and stuff, which is crazy…
I’ve got a request. I’d love to see a painting from the movie Two Hands. I reckon it’s the ultimate Heath Ledger movie and a rad piece of Australian pop culture.
That’s one of my favourite movies, dude! I had the DVD when I was living in Canada and I lent it to one of my wife’s friends and never got it back. Two Hands was awesome, love it. I love Brian Brown in that one, Pando. Yeah, that would be good. I’ll look into it for ya.