Elaine Woo MacGregor graduated with honours from the Glasgow School of Art in 2003. Since then she has exhibited at home and away – Edinburgh, Art Miami, Expo Chicago Art Fair, the British Art Fair, at the Saatchi Gallery, Platform 2023, London Art Fair – as well as being critically recognised through numerous awards. Woo MacGregor specialises in meticulously-researched, figurative studies, often in a dreamlike setting using mark-making and imagery to create atmospheric scenes; although these narrative ‘portraits’ are often fictitious, elements are based on real people and places. It’s most exciting to visit her light, bright studio to observe neatly arranged, colour co-ordinated tubes of paints, sketch pad, paintings and a diverse library covering art history, design and illustration from French Impressionism to Chinese costumes and classic stories.
This creative space is where the artistic process takes place: ‘My paintings embody a cultural fusion of east and west from my perspective as a Scottish artist brought up by traditional Chinese parents, the first generation in their families to emigrate to the U.K. in the late 1970s. Their experiences of British-governed Hong Kong, formative years in Communist rural China and life in modern Britain has shaped their views of the world’. – Elaine Woo MacGregor
And in turn, her family background and national identity will have shaped her own experiences, growing up in Scotland and as an expressive, cross-cultural artist. Last year at WASPS Patriothall, Edinburgh, her solo show Maman et Muses illustrated her role as a mother, through intimate portraits of her two young daughters. In Self Portrait and Maman, Black Sands (see above) she appears lost in private contemplation, perhaps reflecting on memories and time passing.
Elaine is an imaginative, pictorial storyteller taking inspiration from art history, popular culture and literature, such as the novel The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Barcelona, 1945: a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday, no longer remembering his mother, who died when he was just four. His father takes him to a library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where his literary adventure unravels through this bewitching, Gothic romance.
Zafón’s female characters are enigmatic, full of power and mystery. Beatrice is a pampered girl whose wealthy father has already arranged her marriage to Pablo, when she meets Daniel. This painting portrays a slim, sun-kissed young lady on a sandy beach as if looking at a camera lens for a snapshot against a swirl of aqua-azure waves.
Beatrice Sempere is a perceptive, poetic portrait translated from page to paint, the sea shimmering with a flow of colourful, calligraphic brushstrokes in luminous, semi-abstracted style. ‘The solitary figure features heavily in my work, exploring themes of identity, love, transience, redemption. I paint stories and memories of people based on my personal experiences and others found in books, films and photography.’ Elaine Woo MacGregor
Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) was a wealthy American heiress, the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, who tragically did not survive the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. She became an influential art collector, bohemian, socialite – always a glamorous, fashionable lady. In this photograph by May Ray (1925), she’s wearing an ornate gold evening dress by Paul Poiret and a headdress by Vera Stravinsky.
At the outbreak of the second world war, she offered assistance to artists – the German surrealist artist Max Ernst was imprisoned in France and in 1941 Peggy funded his journey to travel with her to New York. Elaine has crafted a romantic, ethereal portrait to convey Guggenheim’s vivacious energy as her green and blue-tinted gown billows out behind, like a silk parachute. With her shoes taking dainty steps as if en pointe, she appears to be dancing through a tropical jungle, a letter to Max clutched in her hand. The painting has been selected for the LA CitiBank 2024 curation.
Having studied vintage photographs of Peggy, this dress is taken from a fashion book by a Spanish haute couture designer, with the earrings based on those she frequently wore. Ernst, whom she adored and married in 1942, was described in her memoir as akin to a beautiful white marble sculpture. ‘He had white hair and big blue eyes and a handsome beak-like nose resembling a bird’s. He was exquisitely made.’ – from ‘Confessions of an Art Addict’
In the late 1940s, she returned from New York to Europe to create her beloved home on the Grand Canal, Venice, which features one of the finest collections of modern art in the world.
Elaine Woo MacGregor is represented internationally by Cynthia Corbett Gallery, which will showcase these paintings at the LA Art Show (booth no. 710), ‘The Most Comprehensive International Contemporary Art Show in America’. Los Angeles has emerged as a world-class destination for art, the LA Art Show continuing to lead the way, with innovative programming to present painting, sculpture, works on paper, installation, photography, design and video. 2024’s Show will welcome 120 galleries from 23 countries, and is set to generate $30 million in sales of 20,000 works of art, and will host 70,000 visitors. This is indeed a fantastic opportunity for this young artist to exhibit her work, at such a prestigious Contemporary Art event.
Another of Elaine’s recent art themes has paid homage to 19th and 20th century French artists, set along the Côte d’Azur – Dora Maar, Marthe and Pierre Bonnard – for paintings imbued with intense colour, light and space. With a passion to source artistic ideas through fiction, fashion and film – the golden age of Hollywood – Elaine has been researching the life of the elegant actress Audrey Hepburn. This is the theme for an exhibition in London this summer – Revisiting Scottish Painting from The Glasgow School, Elaine Woo MacGregor & Alastair Gordon.
2024 is certainly starting on a most successful high note for Elaine – she has recently been named the inaugural winner of the first RSA Blackadder Houston Mid-Career Travel Award. She is making final plans for an invaluable research trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai to explore places from her childhood, reconnecting with her Chinese heritage to bring a stronger personal narrative to her new work: ‘Being recognised for my hard work and dedication means the world to me. This motivates me towards achieving my goals. I look forward to embarking on my adventure to China with my sketchbooks and camera.’ – Elaine Woo MacGregor
With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this feature.