Raised in the US and currently based in Prague, Trevor McDonald somehow prefers to stay below the local art radar. His body of work, however, is nothing short of impressive. Painting, old Czech posters, and scanned collages made from natural objects blend in Trevor’s artworks. They explore sexuality, primeval geometry, and deeply intimate experiences in a fascinating, hard to formalize way. Here, Trevor McDonald sheds some light on his techniques, the expat experience, and what contemporary artists you need to check out right now.
Moving from the US to Prague and making art: how did it happen for you? How would you describe yourself at the moment, an American artist, an expat artist, a European artist, perhaps?
In fact, I would not really want to describe myself in any of those ways. I've been in Europe over 12 years, and I consider Prague home for now. The US wasn't holding me and I wanted to live a dream. So I jumped without looking and spent many years in Moravia (a region in the south of the Czech Republic) devouring the new life I had there. It was a pretty magical time for me to paint and develop a clearer voice. Then Prague, the capital of Bohemia lured me in and things got kind of weird. In a good way, I think. Although I am not sure.
Did you have any artistic training? Do you think it’s important or relevant?
I do have some training, but I feel sometimes that can kill your intuition or natural sense of wonder and creativity. I do think it's vital to continually delve deeper and train yourself. For me, it's the only way one can become a Shaolin monk, you know? That being said, I've seen my share of talentless dandies conning their way up the art world ranks with the blatantly stolen ideas and souls of others. Whatever works for people, I suppose.
Would your art be the same if you didn’t move from the US to Prague?
I don’t think so. I did have a core web of things I wanted to develop before I left the US, but most of my work so far has been overly personal stemming directly from my environment and people in my life.
Your technique is quite special. What is your process? How do you establish the balance between collage and painting?
I would say there is a lot of free association involved. Sometimes I work straight from a simple line drawing and automatically create positive or negative space using something like sand as a foundation. After that I begin painting patterns or what not to create an environment that suits the subject matter. Others times, I just start painting and see what happens next.
Does anything digital have a place in your work?
I do use photography as a tool, and I like to play with those images to see if new ideas develop, but I don't dwell too long in that world. Other people are much more talented, and I think my strengths are elsewhere. Although recently my friend Marielle Tepper, a wicked artist working out of L.A., hooked me on doing these digital scanner prints. I just put things in the scanner and go with it. I think of this as a way to do collage, and it’s a lighthearted way to explore ideas quicker.
How would you define the subject or the subjects of what you do? Any areas or topics that are particularly interesting?
For me, it’s very personal. A sort of art therapy, I guess, childhood memories, something important and honest. A lot of it is also about sex and something dirty. Things I do with the scanner, they are more accessible and playful; vegetables, fruit, toys. The reason I do collage, it lets me see and use an image and bring elements together I normally wouldn’t. It’s fascinating how you can go to a farmer’s market, pick an Italian cauliflower with its fractal florets and just see all these amazing patterns in there. Then we eat that and it becomes the energy our cells need to do their thing, and on and on. I believe the world is full of beauty and amazing images, and it just sort of counteracts all the bullshit that happens, you know?
What are your influences and inspirations?
A lot of my stuff comes from nature and human history. Aboriginal art with its tradition of dreaming reconciled a lot of concepts in my head. I would try to sleep at night and just be barraged with patterns flying at me. Used to drive me crazy until I managed to manipulate them and start to play. They come from everywhere, like when you close your eyes and look at the sun and all these patterns come that have been in existence through all our history. There’s also a connection with modern science here, with physics.
In Central Africa, they used have these sculptures in the middle of the village, lets say where people could literally come and nail their wishes into the totem. Shaman, voodoo stuff basically. I think the power is in the intention but it’s captivating, the stories that end up creating the final artifact. It’s sacred stuff. Just think of your mom saving a lock of your hair; that's your DNA. That's your code dating back to when you would feast on a fresh kill in the middle of a dark primeval forest. Now they can clone you.
Anyway, people just never take time to find out about things. My friend Marek Schovanek who recently had this great exhibition at DOX, a local art center, he uses beeswax. Bees feed the world and are so fragile and they are dying out and this is an amazing subject.
Any current artists, photographs, or designers that you would recommend to check out?
Check out Cesar Santos, he’s Cuban. Also Michael Reedy, I love his detail and precision and how he just goes into the human body in his work. I relate a lot to his way of blending literal aspects of the body with images of inner worlds. Fuco Ueda is a Japanese artist, she does a very sensual think with plans and sea life, a lot of detail.
How is Europe treating you? Do you think it is easy being an artist in Europe these days? Supporting yourself with your art and nothing else: if possible at all, what do you need to do? What about state support?
I don't really think it's easy to be an artist anywhere. William Burroughs is a huge inspiration to me and I love this cut-up thing that he did. I think it was in Naked Lunch somewhere that he was talking about having a string of many boring jobs. Guess you just have to do that.
Do you feel you are part of the local art community in any way?
I would probably say no, not really. I’m not even sure what art community is. I guess my strategy is just to shy away and do my own thing. Communities are trendy and people steal from each other and usually I don’t like what I see.
Aside from paintings, do you plan to expand into other formats, media, or doing entirely different things like fashion etc?
It’s overwhelming, in a way, all the things I want to do. But it's step by step really. I've sold enough paintings recently to raise money for my next project which calls for some video production and different printing methods. Hypothetically I'd like to move into set design for theaters and even fabric design for fashion as you mentioned.
What do you think your future looks like right now?
Wasn’t it Einstein who said the future comes soon enough or something like that? I may have shows and exhibitions coming up in Turkey and also probably South Africa where I was born.