MAGDA CORDELL MCHALE
Artist, Futurist, Educator
She was a founding member of the Independent Group, which was a British movement that originated Pop Art, which grew out of a fascination with American mass culture and post-WWII technologies. Later, she was a faculty member in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning.
McHale’s self-expression characterised both her academic and artistic endeavours. Although the latter part of her life was publicly devoted to her research into sociology and “futurist” studies, she regarded herself as a painter first and foremost. She conveyed something of her drive when talking of her art practice: “I’m a binge painter. I can go on for days until I’m limp and all wrung out. I have tremendous amounts of energy.”
McHale’s artistic works were characterised by expressive figuration and heavily influenced by the Art Brut of continental painters such as Jean Dubuffet and Wols. As a rare female voice at this time, McHale’s preoccupation with the female form explored existential questions. Her textured, impasto surfaces depict distorted forms that at once reflect the resilience of the human body and describe mid-20th-century anguish. McHale’s work was acknowledged in articles and exhibitions of the day; the influential critic Reyner Banham included an illustration of her work in his 1955 article “The New Brutalism”, in The Architectural Review. McHale showcased her monotypes and collages in a 1955 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and her paintings at the Hanover Gallery in 1956, with later exhibitions at the University at Buffalo.
Contemporary critics dwelt on the works’ sensuous, aggressive and primitivist qualities. “Her representation of women is not concerned with traditional notions of beauty or traditional cultural values . . . The result may be monstrous and uncompromising, but in this age of corsets, cosmetics, automation and celluloid sex, it might do us no harm to be shocked back into the realisation that there is still latent in the human being a savage instinct, fecundity and energy.” Despite this new vista of art, she remained in her own work unswayed by the freedoms and allure of popular imagery and maintained her commitment to figuration. She later explained: “I am a European painter and for me that figure, that shape, is still superior to all that.”