Darcy McCrae: Paintings From The Drinking Tree


Artworks by Darcy McCrae

Darcy McCrae is in Doomadgee, an Aboriginal Shire in the far north-west of Queensland with a population of roughly 1400.

He’s been living up there for a few months, working at the airport and spending pretty much every spare minute painting. I tell Darcy that it sounds almost like a self-imposed residency, and he agrees that it has been both highly productive and a massive lifestyle shift from living in Northern NSW with his fiancé.

‘Compared to what I’m used to on the east coast, coming here just blows your fucking brain out,’ he says. ‘Everything’s fenced here, all the houses have six-foot fences and wiring because the kids just go around and destroy everything. But they’re fucking cool, man, the locals have been pretty good to me.’

Darcy is chatting to me over the phone after knocking off work at the airport. He’s on his daily walk home, through the desert. On weekdays he finishes at five, comes home and then paints into the night, ‘until your eyes hurt and you hate it.’ On weekends he paints all day and night uninterrupted. When he runs out of materials, he gets them freighted in and then he mails the finished canvases back to Blue Boy Studio in Northern NSW to be framed.

This year has been fruitful for Darcy. Earlier in 2019, he had a solo show called Bastard Lantana at Yeah, Nice Gallery in Mullumbimby and he sold 15 paintings; every single work that was exhibited. It was a surprise for Darcy, who says his work is influenced by ‘folk, primitive and naïve art’. His portraits are simplistic and stripped back, but very distinctive. He’s worked hard to find his own style.

‘For a long time, I’d have four paintings and I’d just be painting over them continuously because I just fucking hated everything I was doing,’ he explains. ‘To the point where the paint was so thick on these things, they were just unusable. But then I started getting a good run and I ended up with too many paintings to have at home.’

Some of Darcy’s most recognisable paintings are portraits of boxers: shirtless, gloved and poised to fight. He says the boxers are fun to paint; they were inspired by an old Muhammad Ali book that he found in a house he used to live in. Conceptually, Darcy says his work ‘just paints itself’ and there’s not a whole lot more going on than what you can see in the picture.

‘I didn’t go to school or anything. My paintings don’t really have any political angle or deep meanings, I just make paintings that I want to see and that are simple and effective.’

It’s a fairly anti art-wank sort of a statement, and I wonder if Darcy is sceptical of the way that art tends to be discussed and debated among critics and academics. ‘I wouldn’t say I’m against it,’ he clarifies. ‘I’m indifferent to basically everything. I’m not smart enough to have any footing on any of that kind of shit. I don’t really get into it.’

In the end, he says, it’s up to the viewer to make their own interpretation: ‘Certain people will be really into certain paintings and they can derive their meanings from that themselves.’

Darcy is 30 and has painted all throughout his 20s. He used to live in Melbourne, where he did a few solo DIY art shows at cafes and galleries and he played in a noise-punk band called Worm Crown. He explains, ‘In Melbourne, I feel like no one really gives a shit because there’s so much awesome stuff happening. It’s hard to crack it.’ But the Bastard Lantana show was a bit of a breakthrough.

‘I was on the verge of a full fucking nervous breakdown the whole night,’ he says. ‘It was so full on, people were just vibing it and I didn’t expect it to happen like that. I was buzzed for ages, fully overwhelmed. I just felt like a phony the whole time. I don’t know where that came from, but I felt like some kind of imposter the whole time, it was pretty weird.’

‘It was a real cool moment. I think that kicked it into gear again for me,’ he says. ‘Getting that response for the pictures, it really gave me some energy to keep doing it.’ Darcy’s next show was a group show at the same gallery, alongside Ozzie Wright, Marty Baptist, Jacob Boylan and a few others. It was another success and he sold a few more paintings.

His next show is called Paintings from the Drinking Tree and will showcase a bunch of the works that he has painted during his stint working in Doomadgee. He explains that alcohol is restricted in Doomadgee, which essentially means that mid-strength beer is available but wine and spirits are outlawed. (A first offence for possession of alcohol can result in a $50,043 fine and a second offence can result in six months prison.) The ‘drinking tree’ is a tree just outside the dry zone and it’s a place where people go to get drunk.

‘All these paintings have been made here, so I thought that was a pretty catchy kind of name. They’re definitely paintings made from here and how I feel from being here,’ he says, explaining that he actually doesn’t drink anymore.

‘I used to try to manufacture inspiration with drugs and alcohol, to try to get into some kind of zone,’ says Darcy. ‘I’ve had a lot more success being off that kind of shit. It’s good to be able to make pictures from your sober state of mind—it’s all you.’

But he’s keen to clarify that the collection of paintings aren’t about sobriety or indigenous affairs or the North Queensland desert. For Darcy, making art seems to be more of an exercise in unconsciousness, rather than in trying to create a clear conceptual message. He says he paints impulsively and that this interview is the first time he has tried to put into words what he’s doing with paint.     

‘This is probably the most I’ve had to think about painting and why I do it… ever,’ says Darcy. ‘I feel pretty rattled from trying to figure it out.’

darcymccrae.com

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