Lisa MacDonald is an artist based in Jersey, where she has accrued decades of experience in illustration, textile art, teaching, fine art practice and most recently design and entrepreneurship. She has exhibited widely in Jersey and in London since 2001 and also runs a successful product design company called MollyMac.
Jersey – what comes to your mind?
I grew up in Jersey, then went and lived in London and Norwich for a while. I’ve got four kids; and when the first two were coming to primary school age, we came back to Jersey. Living in the UK felt different. Jersey is the only place that’s really felt like home to me. I think it’s because there’s an identity that comes with living on an island that you don’t really get anywhere else.
What is your most memorable experience or accomplishment?
Obviously, there are personal things like having survived and brought up kids. But in terms of being a visual artist, even though it hasn’t always been easy to forge my life creatively, I have always worked as an artist. It has taken on different guises, in more and less commercial ways, but I have managed to be an artist for most of my working life.
I had an exhibition at the end of last year called Heart in a Jar that was really successful. It felt like it was a personal subject that became more universal, and it was really well received. Even if it hadn’t, I make art instinctively; so I would still be making art.
If you could own any artwork, what would it be?
I was thinking about this. I would really like to pick a female artist but if I’m absolutely honest, there are two paintings in my life that have completely blown my mind. When you grow up on an island, you don’t have access to the National Gallery. I walked into the National Gallery when I was about 20 years old. And I know this sounds ludicrous because I had seen lots of art in books but when I first saw Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, I felt like my breath was taken out of me. A similar thing happened to me much later when I went to a Chagall exhibition at the Royal Academy. I walked into that room and I was astonished. I could not believe how brilliant those paintings were. You see them reproduced, and it’s nothing compared to seeing them in real life. So I would love a Chagall, the Bathers would be too enormous!
What do you think is the best way to connect with or experience art?
If you don’t physically see art, you don’t get it in the same way as I did when I walked into those galleries. The same goes for a sculpture park, for example. It’s just completely different to books or online. For me, there’s no substitute to being physically there.
If there were a movie about your life, what would be the name of the movie and which actress would play you?
Well, I thought about this; and obviously, I don’t want to choose anyone who looks like me – it has to be someone really beautiful like Angelina Jolie or Cameron Diaz. The film would be called ‘Let’s keep the happy song going on in your head’.
Did you always want to be an artist?
Art and craft were there for me right from the beginning. I remember when we were seven years old, we had to make egg cosies in art at school. Everyone else made one, and I made nine.
I grew up in the 60s at a time when there wasn’t a lot of art happening in Jersey. Art was pretty undervalued. I can remember being mortified as a child because I didn’t have access to art materials. I would steal lined paper from my father’s briefcase again and again and again. I don’t think it occurred to anyone to actually buy me art materials. It’s a very different situation for children now.
I was really lucky when I went to secondary school because there were a couple of teachers who were very inspirational. One was Pat Miller (you’ll probably hear her name again and again). She’s legendary – a really incredible art teacher who is probably responsible for more or less an entire generation of artists in Jersey. There’s another fantastic teacher called Pat Robson, who has also been a huge influence on a lot of people. They both really encouraged me, which is probably why I’m an artist.
How much do you feel it’s important to have an artistic network around you?
I think it’s really good to have people who you trust to criticise you. I don’t know if it’s important for my creative output, because I would produce art anyway. But if you’re aware of art happening locally or even nationally, I’m sure that informs. One of my kids is a sculptor living and working in Hamburg, and it’s been really helpful having that kind of feedback and support. In fact, all my kids are involved in the arts.
One of the things I gave my kids is an environment where they knew you absolutely can have a career as an artist if you work hard. As a consequence, they are much more confident than I was; and all four are working in their own creative professions.
You mentioned wanting to support women artists. What have you experienced being a woman in the art world, and do you feel your experience has been typical or atypical?
I have thought about this particular issue quite a lot, and I haven’t come up with a meaningful answer. I think it’s very difficult for a female artist to be taken seriously. It’s often still seen as a side hobby for women as we all took it up when we were bored one Wednesday afternoon. There are more female artists and more females going to college to study art, so I hope the younger generation is being taken more seriously. You do see some evidence of that, I think. Being an older woman artist is also a massive issue; it seems like you can get taken more seriously when you’re young and pretty. You have to be confident to be taken seriously, and I feel that’s still hard for women artists. But I am only speaking from my experience.
Tell us a bit about the work you are currently making.
My career has gone through lots of different phases. I started as a cartoonist working mostly in black and white; then I started using paint and stitching into the paint. Now I’m just using paint and trying to create the same depth of colour in one medium. I like it to keep moving. I think that’s probably the value of never being particularly well known: you can keep changing. You can tell one of my paintings from a hundred paces because it’s very much my own style, but it does change!
I think the work that I’m doing now is a bit more optimistic, looking towards the horizon. They’re really more optimistic than the Heart in a Jar exhibition. I try to evolve, so this is work mostly since the beginning of the year. I always work on around 25 paintings at the same time. As I finish one, I introduce new ones. Do other artists do that? I’ve got lots of paintings in this room! What will I do with them all?!