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MARCH 31 TO MAY 4, 2019


Madeleine Mayo is an interdisciplinary artist who works with painting, sculpture and installation. Her works ride the edge between abstraction and figuration expressing sensuality and an often mythical imagination. Using humour and openness, she strives to challenge moralistic biases in a playful way by imbuing a vision of uplifting imagination with contradiction and imperfection. 

Mayo holds a BFA in Painting from OCADU (The Ontario College of Art and Design University) and an MFA from Concordia University. She currently lives and works in Montréal, Québec.


Andrea Mortson: Soooo much has happened since Spring 2019 when you had your residency at Struts. I feel like we’re spanning two different worlds to do this interview. It’s nice to go back there though. Do you feel like the same person?

Madeleine Mayo: I do and I don’t feel like the same person. I’m older, and I’ve made a lot of art since Struts, but the pandemic warped my sense of time. When I think of the way I was working through the wall paintings during my residency in Sackville, I am still working with a similar approach. I begin intuitively by generating a bunch of different shape ideas until something more or less sticks. That residency was actually a lot like my Covid experience, going back and forth from my apartment to the studio and taking long walks in between.

AM: Did you arrive in Sackville with a plan?

MM: I had decided to paint on the wall. It was an opportunity to focus on the shapes I’d been exploring without a ground, and to see things big. I didn’t want to make a mural, I wanted to make paintings that were somehow less enshrined in the world of painting — I wanted to make a space, or enhance the space somehow.

AM: And did you have a question you were exploring?

MM: I think the questions I explore in painting are about looking, what am I looking for? I was looking for and trying to invent shapes and/or symbols that would conjure up ideas about sex, sensuality, and the visual representation of an artist’s intuitive superpowers. I like the idea that intuition plus erotic energy mixed with colour and just enough abstraction can bake a painting that is enticing to a more sensate less thinking brain. I love smarts (and smart arts), but I believe that painting is about looking more than thinking.


AM: I definitely got that from the work—especially the sex and sensuality part. It also seemed that the space became a place for developing and recording a sort of language.

MM: Yes, this idea of language or hieroglyphs has come up before. It probably comes up because I often

work away making many parts and then I have to figure out how those parts go together. Language comes up as a way to organize, or as a way to understand the connections. Despite painting on the wall, I moved things around a lot reworking shapes to play off each other. Although I often work through parts independently the different images and forms I create, either in painting or sculpture, are often enhanced when seen together.


AM: I’m having trouble formulating my final question.... I had been thinking there was a hieroglyphic aspect to your work and then was reminded that you have an interest in ancient history. I’m wondering about personal and shared visual languages and their role as evidence of a specific time in history. During your research of ancient history, what connections, if any, do you make with contemporary creative practices?

MM: As an artist, I think it's inevitable to evoke ancient history somehow when using shapes and

symbolism. In my work, I am trying to find that sweet spot between affirming how connected I am to history and some unseen intuitive power, as well as how imperfect and silly I am. Ancient forms are magical in their elegant simplicity and evocative abstract nature. We have no option but to imagine the world in which they were created and to somehow imagine ourselves in that world. In this sense, the visual world of fantasy and fairy tales from my childhood, as seen through illustrations, cartoons, and colourful theatrical sets, help me to draw connections with ancient history and a contemporary creative practice all the time. ‘The Wizard of Oz’, for example, can feel more connected to me, to the magical realm of ancient history, than the Western canon of art history.

I also take a lot of inspiration from early feminist art and gender-bending fantasies that are full of symbolic and ancient historical references. I love the combination of ancient forms and contemporary culture as a move to affirm how deeply our visual sensibilities are rooted in simple shapes. This approach enables me to explore a worldview that is more grounded in nature, and/or our animal nature, while finding humour and connection in the ongoing human tendency to make meaning with triangles.

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