Artist Interview with Darlington’s Meg McWilliam – the council estate princess creating art that is both “inspiring and infuriating!”

The world feels like a black mirror episode across multiple fronts and yet, it all feels so normal now. I see and read things in the press and on social media, and for me, sometimes it doesn’t even cause outrage; it just feels completely normal. And I’ve never felt more disenfranchised and disempowered from our world politically, socially, emotionally and in my values.

@megmcart work

One of the biggest things that I personally struggle with, is the concept of individualism and appreciating what that actually means. For many, individualism seems to mean, valuing their personal and perceived rights above all else; their voice must be heard, alongside the advocating for the fallacy of their lived experience being the same everyone else and that we all matter equally. But for me, individualism is about respecting, valuing, advocating and wanting to understand others as individuals and treating them as….you guessed it, individuals!  It means really digging deep into individual needs, expressions of self and lived experiences that are entirely different from mine! The former is selfish and is at the expense of other people’s individualism, and the latter, is just about actually valuing individuals, as individuals. To me, that just makes sense – if you value individuals, then you value all individuals as individuals and respect differences. I get locked in an infuriating loop!

I also really question convenient collectivism; we group people together because we are humans and social creatures – I get that! But for me personally, sometimes grouping people together, removes the emotion and understanding that in grouping people together, we start to forget we are talking about real people…..individuals. And sometimes, grouping people together is based on how we perceive them and stereotyping, as opposed to how they would describe themselves and their own lived experience.

This is something, that time and time again, I just don’t get. And I completely see the irony of advocating for folx to look at the world in a different way whilst also, being firmly grounded in my own view. And sometimes, especially outside of the arts and culture sector, I step into spaces or go on the Daily Mail app, and realise, that there are SO many people that dismiss people, think their “rights” top trump everyone else’s, are so full of hate and don’t even come from a place of togetherness as humans and “what about us?”, and especially not from a place of understanding privilege and “what about them?” and instead, from an unrelenting place of “what about me?”.  It is so fucking depressing.

So, one of my ways of combating this black mirror episode, we’re all living in, is of course through art! And where, I might sometimes look out into the world and not always feel my view, is a shared one, within my Culture Vulture bubble it is and my love of socially engaged art on Instagram, means it’s a joyful escape and home. One such artist is @megmcart on Instagram; activist, artist and all -round good human, using her work to inspire social change and instigate discussion. Not that age is a big deal, especially in the artwork, where it is entirely meaningless, but I am so inspired by the confident of her artistic and political voice at 20 years old. It took me until approaching 30, to be as sure of where I stood and to not shy away from political topics.

@megmcart work

Meg’s work from my perspective is all about protest, social commentary, feminism, colour and collage……. it’s like my utopia in this dystopian nightmare that we are all currently living in. If you want work that is about challenging the Tories, advocating for working class artists, celebrating feminism, sticking two fingers up to the patriarchy, shouting that gender is a social construct, campaigning for the safety of women and against sexual violence….. well, this lasses work is for you and is done in a perfectly satirical way. Her work makes me smile, I am counting down until she secures a large-scale exhibition because this work needs to be seen by the masses and OF COURSE, I did a little Culture Vulture interview with her………

So here we go, listen up folx and met @megmcart

@megmcart work

Hiyer, so for my Culture Vulture faves, let’s start with a little intro?

Hiya I’m Meg; I’m a 20 year old artist from Darlington, in the North East creating my art which is most commonly known as Megmcart and I’m also currently a fashion student at Northumbria university.

Can you describe your practice?

I specialise mostly in Dada collages which are either satirical or camp…or both! I like to express my anger through collage about socio-political issues. I find it very overwhelming sometimes when the news is all doom and gloom, so art really helps me let all of my frustrations out as well as spreading information. I think politics can be very confusing to understand especially if you’re a visual learner like me; understanding it shouldn’t just be an academic, middle-class privilege so I try and make it accessible through my work.

@megmcart work

Oh I hear you! Tell us about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been very creative; I think that’s down to my mam. She’s always encouraged me to be creative even when I was in secondary school and told by a careers advisor that I needed to reconsider what I wanted to do in the long run as it was “hard” to get a job in the creative industries. I almost nearly re-evaluated my life and did criminology but my mam near on forced me to do fashion as she knew I’d enjoy it better.

You have such a powerful style and an aesthetic – how did that develop? 

I had a lesson at sixth form on Dada (Art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to war) and I just fell in love with it. I think from that point forward, I just developed it as I grew as a person because I was very young when I started this. I was 18 when I started posting my art onto social media and now, I’m 20 so it’s grown with me.

@megmcart work

Do you plan your pieces? 

Rarely. If I have an idea for typography or a snappy slogan, then I write it in my notes and my notes app is full of various ideas that I’ve either done or are there to inspire me. Most of the time I start with a blank canvas and go a-bit mental. Dada is about being random, so I don’t like to overthink it too much or I’ll just doubt myself.

Tell me about your piece Council Estate Princess? 

One day I had said a passing comment around the lines of “I’m such a council estate princess” on an Instagram story and apparently people hadn’t heard of that before?! My mams always called us council estate princesses for as long as I could remember, and it’s always been part of my vocabulary.

To me now, it kind of reclaims that working class label of “council estate” because some just think of negative connotations when thinking of council estates; such as “chav” or high crime rates when, in fact, I wouldn’t change where I’m from for the world. It’s taught me to be street smart but also a sense of community and empathy. On that piece I drew a lot of inspiration from my childhood but also made it colourful and positive because I only have positive memories of where I’m from, even if it was hiding from the provvy woman. AND half of the piece is actually a photo I took on 35mm film of the estate I grew up on.

@megmcart work

Where do you get inspiration for your work?

Usually the news, my upbringing and the drag scene. The drag scene especially helps me as I’ve met so many inspirational queens since studying at Northumbria. The artistry is just so interesting and beautiful. I love that nothing is taken seriously because I don’t take myself too seriously.

You’re an activist and an inspiration to me….where do you get your energy?

Usually from anger and frustration, I get so annoyed at the Tories; I can’t really process or deal with it unless I make some artwork. My mind simply can’t comprehend why anyone would support a party that’s so against people’s human rights.

@megmcart work

That was like nectar and I’m the same…..I also think folx are almost in a weird state of Stockholm Syndrome! Your work is pretty political – what do you say to folx who say art shouldn’t be political?

Grow up. Art is supposed to provoke emotion whether it be sadness, anger, joy etc. I’m very much aware of the fact my art isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but my art is here to inspire and infuriate. It’s not a successful art piece; if it’s not provoking a range of emotions.

Completely agree! What’s your relationship with Tits Upon Tyne and why are movements like this important? (I’m a hugely passionate supporter of them!) 

I first met Tits Upon Tyne in February last year and we very much clicked. We both want similar things and hold a lot of the same beliefs. The founder is very passionate about Tits Upon Tyne and their cause which really is inspiring. I think it’s so important for women creatives to really have a platform that is safe and won’t exploit them as they focus on getting to the destination they want to be; Tits Upon Tyne is doing just that in the music sector. Also, I really enjoy the creative aspect of the work I do for TUT, I’m doing something I love for a good cause.

@megmcart work

Tell us about what happened in Darlington town centre and your work being uncredited?

Basically, in my art foundation year I was told by the market management we would be all making a piece for the new market and 3 winners would be chosen, credited and posted on social media. Looking back on it now, it was free artwork for them in disguise of “exposure”. I didn’t hear back about it apart from one email from my teacher in June saying I’d won, and the market would be in contact.

At around the end of August still no one had contacted me so I just forgot basically. Later I was walking through the market and was very shocked to see my work on display without any credit, despite what I’d been promised as a winner. I emailed quite a few times and didn’t hear back but due to my social media campaign and an article by the Northern Echo, the management finally credited me 5 weeks later.

@megmcart work – the uncredited Darlington piece

Not crediting artists is something painfully common; how did that feel as an artist – to have your work uncredited?

It was very disheartening; as an artist I do rely a lot on commission work so getting my name and work out there is kind of a portfolio for me. Some of the comments on the article were also disgusting and mostly by the older generation which I’m not too surprised at, as in the past similar age groups have disregarded my work as vulgar (which is the point).

@megmcart work

Tell us about three artists that my fellow Culture Vultures should check out? 

  • @Haydnb_photograpy is an amazing photographer in the Newcastle drag scene; I’m absolutely obsessed with his work.
  • @Sally_tomato_x is one of my biggest inspos and has been since I started my account nearly 2 years ago.
  • @ghead_tra who also inspired my political work.

Oh – I love all three. Hoping to interview all three in the feature. What’s your dream artist collab?

I really want to do work for more zines; then I can collab with a multitude of artists, as I couldn’t just narrow it down to one and I always love finding new talent.

@megmcart work

I could see you and Sally playing with each other’s styles – which would be fun! Do you have any advice to future creatives? 

If you hate it don’t do it! I think if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, then you won’t be successful or happy. I’m lucky to enjoy what I do but if I’m not enjoying it or I’m tired then my work really does suffer.

Learning to say no, is on my 2022 personal development list! I know the year isn’t over yet, but tell us a highlight of 2021 so far? 

I think stocking my work in Treasure, (a shopping centre in Darlington). Before this year, I sold most of my work online and didn’t have a lot of support from people in Darlington or they didn’t really know about me or my work, so it’s been nice showing my hometown what I’m up to.

@megmcart work

Darlington has a special place in my heart (one of my best pals lives there) so I love that! Thinking of the future then, what’s coming up for you? 

I’m currently producing spiking mats with Tits Upon Tyne, which bars/entertainment venues have to qualify as a safe space to purchase. I think a lot of venues are using spiking mats as a temporary plaster to a situation and really aren’t thinking about what they can do in the long run and what measures can be put in place to protect people.

@megmcart work

That’s a big topic there and yes, many businesses love a bit of performative action and virtue signalling as opposed to actually putting in the work to hold REAL safe spaces. Anything else you want to tell us about?

Just keep an eye out because I have a lot of confidential projects in the works at the moment.

@megmcart work

Well thank you Meg – you are an absolute inspiration and I love your work. I’ve got some ideas for a commission – so can’t wait to chat more with you! Please check out Meg’s work and give her Insta a follow! Her grid is beaut and basically has the message of “don’t be a dickhead” which is a life rule, that I can firmly support!

You can check out Meg’s work on her website HERE.

You can also purchase your own anti spiking mat from HERE for your own personal use and safety.

Tits Upon Tyne Spiking Mat

(#AD) Middlesbrough Art Weekender; an eclectic mix of creative, festival lushness happening across Middlesbrough until evening of 3rd October // Interview with MAW co-founder Liam Slevin.

I’ve got a pure culture vulturing weekend ahead – it’s time for Middlesbrough Art Weekender, 30th September – evening 3rd October. MAW is the North East’s biggest contemporary art festival and it’s taking over Middlesbrough for the next few days to serve a whole lot of art from homegrown Teesside talent and beyond. Attending a festival like this is a great way to support artists (supporting artists can be as simple as checking out their work!) and galleries and indie venues; alongside enjoying a real eclectic mix of creative lushness.

I’m heading to MAW on Saturday (2nd October) and a feast of more than 50 artists showcasing their work via exhibitions, installations, immersive experiences, performances, workshops and activities inspired by Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage across Middlesbrough awaits.  I will be sharing my experience across the day on my Instagram stories – so feel free to check them out via @theculturevulturene

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is free to attend, family-friendly and accessible. The full programme is available at www.middlesbroughartweekender.com so you can get planning your visit – so if you’re in the North East of England, why not join me in some culture vulturing and visit too!? Top tip though, based on my previous year’s visit, I recommend plotting your route pre-visit so you can make the most of your time at MAW.

Ahead of my visit, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with MAW festival co-founder, Liam Slevin, to get the full low down about it all and for some vulturing suggestions. I wanted to do this interview with Liam in 2019, so I’m thrilled it’s finally happened; so let’s get to it and hear from Liam.

TRANSMIT, TRANSFORM, TRANSLATE by Stephen Hurrel
Image credit – Stephen Hurrel

Hi Liam, can you introduce yourself for my fellow culture vultures, peers and pals?

Hi, my name is Liam Slevin; I am an artist-curator originally from Ireland and living on Teesside for just over 5 years now. In that time, I co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and am now its Creative Director. I programme and run the festival alongside my partner Anna Byrne and Kypros Kyprianou

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

I studied Sculpture and Combined Media at Limerick School of art & design back in Ireland. I finished my BA just as the recession was kicking off and Ireland was devastated by it. Recession can be opportunistic for artists, and I was lucky enough to be part of a collective that opened up a gallery. That was the start of my journey……

For those, that don’t know or haven’t visited before – what is Middlesbrough Art Weekender (MAW)?

The tag line is a multi-site contemporary arts festival happening across the town of Middlesbrough but it’s a lot more. The creative energy that’s happening in Middlesbrough right now, is amazing and it’s great to see it all explode over one weekend of the year.

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

Why did you start MAW? What was the inspiration behind it?

I think everything should be a festival! MAW is an opportunity to platform and profile a festival full of artists, creative work and venues.

Quite right too! Tell us about this year’s weekender? What can folx expect?

We have a jam-packed programme of exhibitions, workshops (for all ages) projects that include Virtual reality works and a live lava pour.  This will happen across the following venues, The Auxiliary Project Space, Pineapple Black, The Masham, MIMA, Platform A, Gilkes Street Studios, Basecamp and a number of pop-up spaces along Albert Rd. Make sure to check out our programme page for what’s happening, venues and timings.

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

#1 Working with the estate of Gordon Matta Clark has been an absolute highlight. Jessamyn Fiore (estate co-director) has been so generous with her time and knowledge.

#2 The restaging of artist Russ Walker 1986 Degree show. The process of the re-creating and restaging of the work, alongside all his original documentation has been a really beautiful piece of work to be involved in.

#3 The Navigator North produced public works are all amazing, for the weekender they are putting on Stuart Langley’s Beating Heart and Dominic From Luton’s massive wall Mural. Two pieces that are impossible to miss!

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

#4 Jo Lathwood’s performance and ladder drawings. Jo did a performance a few weeks back out in Darlington and she was amazing. Speaking passionately and engaging about rocks is quite the skill.

#5 Anna Ridler; a lovely contemplative take on Tulip mania mirrored with current crypto currency obsessions. 

Anna Ridler ‘Myriad (Tulips)’ (2018) Photo credit: Emily Grundon

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

The festival is curated by myself and Kypros Kypraniou. We start with a basic word or sentence as a jumping off point.  We then tap into what’s happening nationally and internationally. This year’s theme is Infrastructure. We’ve all been through a wild 18months and the different infrastructures or lack thereof, have been very evident; MAW programme this year is a way for us to make sense of what’s just happened and how we can move forward. 

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

Tell me about the art trail? Can folx do that any time across the weekend?

Of course! The art trail is there is give people the best overview of the festival and what’s on offer. The art trail kicks off at The Auxiliary, from there folks are invited to meander over to Albert Rd, taking in a number of public art commissions along the way. On Albert Rd, we have 5 pop exhibition spaces, and this is where the main festival exhibition is housed.

DYAD

Advice to folx who haven’t attended MAW before? Where should they start?

Head into town, to a participating venue, grab a programme and jump in. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.

Tell me about The Dorman Long Tower Reimagined – A Virtual Reality Experience? That’s going to be so surreal as it was recently demolished……

We’ve been planning a project at the Dorman for a while now, so when we got word it was earmarked for demolition we had a lot of groundwork done for this VR project. For MAW, we’ve reimagined the Dorman as a contemporary art gallery and commissioned three very different exhibitions to take place in a virtual reality experience of the Dorman Long Towers interior and invites you to come and explore. The tower has been transformed into a VR contemporary art gallery, created by artist Iain Nicholls with assistance from Ste Bruce and Connor Clements.

Bobby Benjamin

I invited local artists Bobby Benjamin and David Watson to recreate a show that they have done through Dovetail Joints. They present traditional painting with a post-industrial town narrative. US artist Birch Cooper also exhibits hyper-realistic sculptures that can only be experienced in VR worlds, while new arts space WetDoveTail showcase their studio holders through digitally created 2D & 3D works.

Birch Cooper

For folx who want to stay out a little bit later across MAW and have some bevs – where would you recommend going? What’s on?

On Friday and a bit more arty, we’re working with local legends Bobby Benjamin and John James Perangie for a Picasso Baby x MAW collab. That’s on at Disgraceland and Gordon Dalton’s road move, filmed across the A66 is happening at Pineapple Black. On Saturday night, it is to Basecamp where Mouses will be making a racket. Mouses are one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Teesside; I think it was Stockton Calling 2016 and I’ve loved them since.

ESTATE at Platform Arts Centre Easterhouse Glasgow – Image credit Coulson & Tennant

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Any Teesside artists that are up and coming, that you want to tell me about and profile?

Loucey Bain, she’s great and is doing some amazing work.

What’s next for you after MAW?

Back to Auxiliary work; we’re changing how the space runs and are opening it up to other curators etc to run the programme. It is also grant writing time for us so there’s always that excitement!

Oh I hear you…..how can folx keep up to date with you and the festival?

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

Thank you Liam – you’ve really whet my appetite and I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. Check out my Instagram Stories (@theculturevulturene) across the day to follow my MAW Saturday visit or better still, why not join me and VISIT!? Get plotting and planning your route via: www.middlesbroughartweekender.com/programme and you can download the programme via: https://buff.ly/39ciuaq