From the Shadow of the Wind to the Windy City: Elaine Woo Macgregor at Chicago Art Fair 2023

Elaine painting in her studio, Wasps Patriothall
Elaine painting in her studio, WASPS Patriothall

Expo Chicago 2023

From: 13 Apr 2023

To: 16 Apr 2023

Expo Chicago Art Fair
Navy Pier in the Festival Hall
600 E Grand Ave
IL 60611

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Expo Chicago 2023: The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art features high quality artwork representing 170 galleries in 90 cities across 36 countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe; the tenth edition of the exposition runs from 13th – 16th April at Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois, USA. 

Cynthia Corbett at Expo Chicago 2022 - the Cynthia Corbett Gallery
Cynthia Corbett at Expo Chicago 2022. Image Cynthia Corbett Gallery.

There are nine galleries from London taking part, including the Cynthia Corbett Gallery, which will showcase the work of Elaine Woo MacGregor – this is indeed an inspirational story and a major coup for the critically-acclaimed young Scottish-Chinese artist.  

Elaine Woo MacGregor in her sunlit studio, WASPS, Patriothall
Elaine Woo MacGregor in her sunlit studio, WASPS, Patriothall

After studying for an Honours degree in Fine Art Painting at Glasgow School of Art (1999-2003), Elaine Woo MacGregor was quickly recognised for her cross-cultural, figurative work, receiving numerous awards (Dewar Arts, James Torrance Memorial, Hope Scott Trust, Art Paisley Prize, Velvet Easel, Travel bursaries, et al). She has exhibited in the UK, USA, Australia and Thailand, most recently selected for the ‘Reframing the Muse’ Platform at London Art Fair 2023, Saatchi Gallery. Her work is in international private, public and corporate collections. 

Combined with her own successful artistic career, Elaine also lectures at the Glasgow School of Art, The Centre for Lifelong Learning, Strathclyde University and Linlithgow Art School. In 2008 she had a marvellous opportunity to teach students at the Academy of Fine Art, Guizhou University, China.  

Elaine at Wasps Patriothall, Maman et Muses
Elaine at WASPS Patriothall, Maman et Muses. Image Alix McIntosh.

In February 2023 at WASPS Patriothall, Edinburgh, she presented a solo show of paintings entitled Maman et Muses. The all-consuming experience of motherhood is observed through intimate studies of the artist and her daughters Carina and Ramona, her young muses, with emotional insight and dramatic mood. 

To illustrate just two of the impressive works, Self Portrait depicts the artist, paint palette and brush in hand, her eyes looking rather weary but also a determined look of concentration. An intriguing charcoal drawing of a girl’s face, with a hint of Modigliani, is pinned on the wall behind her – a work in progress for a self portrait? 

Elaine Woo MacGregor, 'Self Portrait', acrylic on canvas
‘Self Portrait’, acrylic on canvas

And an impressionistic sketch of the sisters enjoying a carefree summer day at Ganavan Sands. The palette of soft aqua and flowing, fluid brushstrokes conjure up the translucent water and reflection of sunlight.

Elaine Woo MacGregor, 'Ganavan Sands, Oban', acrylic on linen
‘Ganavan Sands, Oban’, acrylic on linen

‘I am not interested in sentimental art but capturing a force and dynamism within a world of childhood. Portraits of my daughters explore bi-racial identity, rites of passage and ambivalences of childhood dreams and fear.’ – Elaine Woo MacGregor

Elaine is a pictorial storyteller covering diverse subjects: whether her art follows a fictitious theme there are elements based on real people and places to create evocative, atmospheric scenes. For the Expo Chicago Art Fair, she has created a series of narrative paintings based on the novel The Shadow of the Wind by the late Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Barcelona, 1945: a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to realise he can no longer remember his mother’s face. She had died when he was just four. To console him, his father, an antiquarian book dealer, takes him to a vast library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where his literary adventure of discovery begins: 

As it unfolded, the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable ever-smaller dolls within .. the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections.  It’s a story of love, of hatred and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.’ – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Isabella (Daniel’s mother) presents a languid, elegant pose and serene facial expression – in death she becomes an other-worldly angel. The use of bright yellow indicates strong Spanish sunshine as well as the sense of hazy memories of the past.   

Elaine Woo MacGregor, 'Isabella', acrylic on panel
‘Isabella’, acrylic on panel

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.  Elaine 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 turquoise-blue waves. 

'Beatrice Sempere swimming at La Barcelonata beach', acrylic on canvas board
‘Beatrice Sempere swimming at La Barcelonata beach’, acrylic on canvas board

Woo MacGregor visited Barcelona and Madrid last year to experience the architecture, beaches and a cross-country train journey, immersing herself in the cultural heritage and heart of the novel. Structured as a bewitching, Gothic romantic mystery, The Shadow of the Wind explores the importance of keeping memories alive, mingling reality and magical realism. 

‘Sometimes I doubt my memory and wonder whether I will only be able to remember what never really happened’.  Carlos Ruiz Zafón

An enigmatic portrait of Daniel shows the young man lost in melancholic thought, wandering, perhaps, along a tree-lined shore by the sea which glistens in an ethereal, golden light: ‘Dreams have no titles’ is taken from a quotation by the Surrealist artist, Max Ernst.  

'Daniel Sempere, Dreams have no titles'
‘Daniel Sempere – Dreams have no titles’

Another beguiling character is Penelope who falls in love with Julian at first sight but their relationship has dramatic, life-changing consequences. Here she is clutching a fan and a letterno doubt reminiscing her brief affair with Julian. As she wrote to him: ‘All I wish for you is to be happy… and that, although you may forget me in the course of time, one day you may finally understand how much I loved you. Always, Penelope’. 

'Lucid dreams of Penelope', acrylic on panel
‘Lucid dreams of Penelope’, acrylic on panel

The perspective is like watching an opera singer from backstage adding theatrical poignancy – without seeing her face, we can visualise the sadness and tears in her eyes.  

These ‘painted stories’ express such a sensitive, emotional and psychological connection with Zafón’s colourful, complex characters; translating the literary descriptions into perceptive, poetic portraits, they are brought alive from page to paint with enchanting, luminous imagination.  

‘There is a symbiosis between the way I paint, the narratives in my works and that of the author’s.  I fused my interpretation of his words and his ‘old Barcelona’, … my travel sketches, fashion photography, film stills and antique photographs to create these painterly dream-like visions’. – Elaine Woo MacGregor

With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this profile.

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