Richard MacDonald is a classicist. His sculptures balance the heroic and epic with the human in pieces that breathe and pulsate with life. Despite the static nature of marble and bronze, MacDonald manages to capture moments of movement into iconic visions. His work has led to continued collaborations with Britain’s Royal Ballet and the Cirque du Soleil, commissioned monuments around the world and international exhibitions. Now in his fourth decade as a sculptor, the California native is as vital as ever – and has very definite opinions of where the art world is going.
- S.T. You didn’t start off as a sculptor…R.M. No, I started as a painter and illustrator – I worked with Fortune 500 Companies, as well as the NBA, NFL and the Olympics for 12 years. I first got into sculpting when I created a sculpture study to better understand a painting that was commissioned for the 1984 Olympics.S.T. Movement and sculpture seem to be mutually exclusive. How do you capture the right moment to sculpt?
R.M. By working with live models in motion. I never work from photographs, and someone in a static pose doesn’t work if I want to convey movement. I never know at the beginning what a piece will look like at the end. So working with a live model helps me get there.S.T. How did you start working with Cirque du Soleil?R.M. We were brought together through our work with charities. Lincoln Mercury wanted me to create a piece a piece to raffle off in every American city for a touring Cirque du Soleil show with all the proceeds to benefit free arts for abused children. I then met with Guy de Laliberté, Cirque du Soleil’s founder, and that was the start of our exciting partnership.S.T. To the point where you have a permanent exhibition of creations inspired by Cirque du Soleil at Las Vegas’ Bellagioand City Center.R.M. Yes, and I’m the only artist/sculptor to work with Cirque du Soleil.S.T. Who do you collect?R.M. My collection is eclectic: American and Californian impressionists, contemporary Chinese artists like Jian Wang, Chuck Close – he’s dynamic, intellectual, clever, talented. I also have a John Singer Sargent and some Wayne Thiebaud.
S.T. What do you need to create?R.M. Space, really: I work many pieces in many mediums, after all. My California studio is 25,000 square feet.S.T. In sculpture, you are largely self-taught—
R.M. That’s because getting a formal training as a fine artist is getting harder and harder – it’s just not taught anymore. For the last hundred or so years, actually from when modern art took off, classical training has been devalued. Math is still taught from Euclid’s theories, but the contemporary movement has created a lot of emperor’s new clothes while making fine artists outcasts.
R.M. There is a lot of spectacularism. Damien Hirst is a brilliant marketer. His Mother & Child – the cow and calf sawed in half: is it art? Tracy Emin – my cunt is wet: do I care? Artists like these are at Art Basel and are championed by the Saatchis, Larry Gagosian and Christie’s and Sotheby’s. But new fine artists – often excellent artists – are ignored.
S.T. What inspires you?
R.M. Art history. Donatello. Rodin. The classics. But I also find inspiration in African and Asian art. Impressionism and expressionism – it’s art that I do.
S.T. You’re successful and prolific – the absolute opposite of the tortured artist who dies penniless and is celebrated afterwards. How do you manage this?
R.M. I never run out of ideas. The question is always whether I can run fast enough to catch up with them. I have assembled a good team on the business side, so I am free to create.
S.T. A team? Most people think of artists as lone wolves.
R.M. I often have four apprentices working with me, and I’m often working on as many as 50 pieces at one time – some of which can take years to complete. So it’s important to have good galleries and the right people involved so I can focus on the art.
S.T. Many artists today work in teams: Jeff Koons.
R.M. But I personally create all my own works.
S.T. And finally, what quote encapsulates your approach to art?
R.M. That’s easy. It’s from Edna St. Vincent Millay:
“ My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -It gives a lovely light.”