02 March 2013

Rob McHaffie, Schoolhouse Studios, Melbourne

Jake Walker:  Could you always draw or did you learn?
Rob McHaffie:  I think I always enjoyed drawing from a young age, my sister and I would draw creepy characters with huge noses and hairy legs to entertain each other. I spent a large portion of my youth visiting these two brothers Mark and Scott Wilcox who lived around the corner, they were very inventive kids who would build crossbows and read Todd McFarlane Spiderman comics. I remember the older brother Mark sitting me down and teaching me to draw a realistic face and from then I'd go around there after school, eat muesli, play basketball and draw comics. At high school I quit art after year nine, there was a bit of a push to study Science subjects in my family but drawing became quite a personal thing I would do to escape.
JW: Cool, I had a friend with an older brother who painted the most amazing sci-fi and fantasy images, he taught me how to draw flames, not quite as handy as a human face but I was grateful for the lesson none the less. 
Its interesting that you gave up on art at a scholastic level early on, because your work has always seemed like a diary to me, a visual record your little secrets rather than an attempt to make art as such. 

JW: Was it hard to to start showing your work to others?
RM: Going through the drawing department at VCA was fantastic for gaining confidence in showing work. There was only 15 people in my year level and tutorials were like group therapy, everyone was quite neurotic in their own way, so I had no qualms opening up there. Then I was exited to show in  artist run spaces after school. I didn't think about it. At the time I had a cumpulsion to make work and show it. I felt like I had to achieve personal things with art otherwise I couldn't convince my parents that it was worth quitting my engineering degree. I went a bit nuts and I became too busy showing a few years ago and felt like a tree that was exposing all of its roots. Trees fall over if they show all their roots so I needed to dig a big hole and bury the roots again.
JW: I have notice that recently your paintings have become less parochial, that is there are less images from your immediate environment. It seems like the works are dealing with broader themes, history, trust, love, spirituality, was this approach for a particular show or deliberate shift in focus (root burying perhaps)?
RM: I think I finally got over my anxiety. It was such a pressing force for a long time and the things that helped are those things, trust, love spirituality. I thought I could paint the world how it is or how it could be, with the hope that if I paint it how it could be then maybe it will head in that direction. Or at least I would head in that direction. That took me to Malaysia where the life there at Rimbun Dahan was quite utopia like. Intense flora and fauna, surrounding lovely architecture, I also found my Tao group there which was really lovely to share and learn I wasn't alone with my ideas. If we open our heart and move and create in harmony with nature life will be more beautiful for sure. But I'm still dabbling in the parochial. Pierre Bonnard's body of work for me is sublime and he only painted was was going on in and around his house.

JW: You've recently moved to Thailand and become a father, huge changes! And a welcome distraction from the painters mind I'm sure. Are you back with the brushes yet and if so what are you making, and when are you next showing your work? 
RM: Yes its been a delightful change waking  each morning with a smiling little cherub. Friends have warned me not to paint baby pictures but I can't help myself I've been drawing these little scenarios inspired by our life here. They feature a guy in a cowboy hat adjusting to family life and culture in Bangkok. George and Ron from MOP in Sydney have asked me to take part in their ten year anniversary show in March this year so I'll show these new drawings there along with some other drawings of people on the train in Bangers. I'd stare a lot at people on the train on the way to my Thai class and when I got home I could remember all these faces but no Thai words.
JW: Sounds awesome, I'd love to see a couple of drawings. If you could send me a couple at a larger size than 1100px wide I'll put them up on the blog too.

Thanks for the chat its been a great insight. I'm looking forward to seeing the new works!
Rob McHaffie is represented by Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney