This month we welcome Eleanor Macnair to the Monday Muse interview series. She is an artist who uses PlayDoh to recreate photographs. Yes the PlayDoh of your youth used to create photographs, which she photographs and then tears apart to start all over again. I can't remember how I found her, but I was drawn to her use of the medium and her skill at recreating the works of art. When I contacted her about potentially being a part of this interview series, she kindly agreed to participate. She has her work in galleries all over the world and lives in England. I hope you enjoy reading her interview and I hope to convince her to be a guest on the podcast to dive a little deeper.
1). How did your journey to re-create photos with Playdoh start and what was your inspiration?
Strangely it all started at a photographic pub quiz in the summer of 2013. The quiz was run by artists MacDonaldStrand – and one of the rounds was to remake a photograph in Play-Doh. So I really borrowed their idea, but they don’t seem to mind! There followed a chain of events which lead to me experimenting by posting a few images on tumblr which quickly proved popular. It’s never been an intentional art project but more of an experiment – although I never thought it would go this far. One book and nearly 6 solo exhibitions later I’m still not sure where it will end.
2). How many containers of Playdoh do you go through in a year?
After I have shot the models I take them apart and reuse the play-doh. The practical reason for this is play-doh does not last for long out of the jar – I usually have about 24 hours maximum to work on a model before the edges crack and dry and they start to fall apart. I like the idea of the models being ephemeral and disposable – a sideways comment on our disposable, throwaway age. The result of re-using the play-doh means that I don’t get through too many pots – apart from white play-doh as the colours can bleed into each other and so the white needs to be refreshed every so often. I think in all I have about 300 pots. Some of them I have been reusing since the start of the project.
3). When you feel your creativity is lacking or unfocused, what do you do?
Each model takes around 7 hours and then the time to shoot afterwards, so it’s quite a feat of concentration. I usually find the most difficult thing is to decide which image to do. I always allocate the time to the project and then just make myself sit down and do it – so there is personal discipline involved. I like to listen to podcasts as I model as it helps to keep my mind focused.
4). How has failure, or apparent failure set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I’m never fully happy with the finished images but I always (or nearly always!) post the models on my Instagram and my blog anyway. I think it’s important to show where you go wrong as well as the times when you nail it. People get scared to experiment and feel that they can only project a perfect image online – I think it’s more interesting to show both sides.
5). If you could have a billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
Perhaps ‘Do as you would be done by’. My parents were never religious but I remember my mum told me at a young age that she kind of believed in this saying, and it’s stuck with me.
6). What is your biggest problem, stumbling block or issue in your daily life?
Not enough hours in the day and not enough hours for sleep.
7). Who inspires you to be your best self?
Everyone! Friends, people I read about in books, see on the street. I think being open to many different ways of living and being and realizing that none is necessarily right or wrong – just finding what works for you.
8). What would you be doing right now if money wasn’t part of the equation?
I would probably move to the countryside, travel more and spend all day making play-doh models! My income is currently from freelance work combined with play-doh print sales – so I’d like to give up the other freelance work. But then again, I think that grafting is good for you. I suppose I try not to fantasize about having lots of money because it would make me unhappy with what I’m lucky enough to already have.
9). What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I’ve done ballet from a very young age and I’m not sure if it’s absurd or not but it’s something that if I no longer do it I feel like a part of me is missing. I love the physicality of it.
10). What three things are foremost in your mind right now?
I’m due to have a baby in June so that is pretty forefront in my mind right now… and international politics aside I’m wondering what play-doh model to make next and what to make for dinner.. So nothing at all profound!
Thank you Eleanor for sharing a glimpse into your process. As for your answer to question #10, I can assure that having a baby is a most profound experience, I wish you all the best.