Josie McCoy's Valencia Studio

Desire, identity, authorship and art’s relationship to popular culture imagery – Josie McCoy talks about her work

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Plymouth-born artist Josie McCoy has a studio in London and Valencia. She talks about her work and creative process. Take it away Josie…

Josie McCoy's Valencia Studio

My work consists of portraits based on film and television characters.

Through the transformation of imagery found in films, television programmes, the internet and magazines, I aim to show an alternative view of familiar film and TV actors. This shift in context allows the viewer to engage in the works on a personal level, using their own store of references and past experiences to add to the works.

Josie McCoy's London studio

Itend to favour close-ups that are poignant or those which have some resonance in my life. Recurring themes include fear of death, love and moments where the character is feeling particularly insolent or determined.

I use a similar aesthetic language to the popular culture I am appropriating, such as the bleaching out of pop videos and unblemished perfection of magazine images. The paintings also refer to the type of source material I use, and include the minute abstract shapes formed by the television screen and photographs I work from.

Although the subjects of my paintings often seem uncanny or masklike, they are painted with genuine fondness. The work aims to explore issues of desire, identity, authorship and art’s relationship to popular culture imagery.

My creative process begins with viewing and selecting scenes from films and television programmes. I note down the moments I like while watching, and then photograph the television using a manual Pentax SLR camera.

Sometimes there are many stills I like within one second and I will photograph all 24 frames and then select the best images to paint. I have created a number of series in this way from films including The Fifth Element, Moulin Rouge, Mr and Mrs Smith and Sleepy Hollow. These can be seen on my website in the section entitled Time Series. My main interest in making these works is to explore further the poses adopted and shifts in expression of a character that would otherwise be missed due to their movement.

Another form of source material is from images found on the internet or in magazines. I use these when there is an actor I want to paint but can’t find a suitable image in the TV programme or films available. If I’m painting someone as a commission then I take up to 50 photographs of the person so I can get to know their face before I start the painting.

Once the photo film is processed, I tape all of the photos to the studio wall and start the process of selecting the best images. If I am preparing works for a solo show, I will select images in order to create a dynamic between the gazes of the subjects.

Once the images are decided, I draw lightly onto the canvas, using a slide projector and the negative of the photo I am going to paint.

I paint in very thin layers of oil paint using a lot of odourless solvent to dilute the paint– the first layer is transparent and has a watercolour quality. I then build up the density of the paint. I drag a dry brush over the surface to blend what I’ve painted and to give an even finish. Each painting takes between four and eight layers of paint for the skin and up to 15 for the features. I paint at least four paintings at once to allow drying time between layers. A painting generally takes three months complete.

I am continually fascinated by the idea of taking a split second of time from a film and painting it in this incredibly slow and labour intensive process.

The colours I use are a mix of muted, pastel colours for the skin with stronger colours for the features, hair and background. I often use pale green for the skin, to reference old master painting techniques (in which green was an undercoat giving luminosity to the surface colour) or pale blue, to imply the glow of a cinema/television screen on someone watching.

You can see images and more information on my website:

(images: from the top, Josie’s Valencia studio, and Josie’s London studio)

This is an article from our Plymouth ArtsCulture magazine, which you can read for free online, or buy your own copy to cherish and hold.