Despite the familiarity of the materials used in their production – primarily biro, ink, and watercolour – the works of Felicity Macreath have a taste for the wonderful and weird.
This is true also for Felicity herself, she tells me over the phone while leaving a room in which the Mario theme plays loudly, courtesy of her step-kids, and finds somewhere quieter to talk. She is perpetually modest – ‘I’ll just do the rambling thing and you can make it nicer,’ she says of our conversation for this piece – but her works display a mastery of materials and a freedom of conception all the more remarkable because she is entirely self taught.
Her involvement with art began at an early age, and has always been linked to moments more wonderful than regular reality. Growing up in a very small village, Felicity first became interested in art purely in order to find something more entertaining and exciting than the quiet life that surrounded her. A key experience, she tells me, occurred during a visit to her grandfather’s house in Milngavie: ‘It was so boring I was let up to the attic to explore’, and it was there that she found a collection of old New Yorkers that enchanted her – particularly the art of Chas Addams, the cartoonist who produced in his macabre but humorous work the characters of the Addams Family.
Felicity became fascinated by grotesquery, and while this is an element that survives in her work to this day, her poster for the Scottish Writers’ Centre 2015 Speakeasy is an exercise in elegance, capturing perfectly the magic mix of boldness and secrecy that defined the Prohibition era we’re invoking at the event. The shady, martini-sipping figure in the top right corner of the work references Aled Lewis’ cover for The Great Gastby, while a flapper girl in a cloud of smoke in the bottom left clutches a book hollowed out for hooch.
Felicity herself has always found the contents of books similarly intoxicating, though it was ultimately Philosophy she chose study at the University of Edinburgh after a first year of English Literature. She continued making art throughout her studies however, usually posters and pictures for use by her friends, and she also lived for a time in London where she had a stall with her sister at Camden Market, and designed posters for the bands performing in the area. Nowadays she works in a coffee shop and restaurant, and, as well as producing pictures and posters as she always has done, is looking to start designing children’s clothes, as well as undertaking commissions for murals and decorative artwork in children’s rooms and nurseries.
Despite the colourful palettes and energetic lines of her visual works, the writing Felicity likes best is usually clever and clear and melancholy. She has recently been fascinated by the short fiction of American writer George Sanders, who tells stories that are, in Felicity’s words, ‘usually very sad, about the failure of a life, people who slip between the cracks, little vignettes that stay with you for days to the point that you’re looing round and thinking, “everything is weird”.
This willingness to see beyond the obvious with a fresh eye is also apparent in Felicity’s own works, though she never likes to stray too far from the familiar. In her caricatures, for example, she tells me that she doesn’t like exaggerating her subjects too much, preferring instead to capture an accurate likeness, and place it in a context that will startle, and allow the viewer to see things in a new way.
It seems that this defamiliarising tension is what produces much of the power of Felicity’s pictures, which, in their bold colours and clear outlines, seem to resound at once with an echo of the dying glamour of old New Yorkers and glitzy movie posters, but also with something more fantastic. Her work conveys the curiosity and hope of a mind equally skilled at both observation and imagination: content not only with recording things, but also discovering them. In doing so, her work shows an exuberant predilection for delight, rather than reality, reflecting her lasting belief that, if you just look closely enough, there are things out there far more wonderful and weird than you could have ever imagined.
Copies of Felicity’s limited edition poster will be available to purchase at the Scottish Writers’ Centre Speakeasy, Tuesday the 24th of November, from 7pm in the CCA, Glasgow.
To see more of her work, head to her Facebook page here.