The Surreal Mind of Stephen McMennamy
Isaac Perez Solano,
In July, 2016; when everything seemed to be absolutely obvious. Social media agency Laundry Service began measuring client campaigns, determining whether using personal, casual organic photos like those on Instagram rather than pics purchased or found on free photo sites with glossy photos and perfectly set up backgrounds work better than traditional photos. What’s more interesting is the unconscious revelations that can be found if you dive into Stephen McMennamy’s feed on Instagram. The mind behind Combophotos is developing a new vision of surrealism that explores contradictions and the power of imagination.
In this exclusive interview, a version of which first appeared in the pages of the 12th issue of ODDA Magazine,McMennamy talks about his life before “Ghost”, how skateboarding help him become more creative and what it is like working with Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Into drones these days and always working on developing new creative content.
Q: As a Creative Director yourself and after working with big brands, can you give us a broad overview of your background?
A: From as early as I can remember I’ve always looked for outlets to express myself visually and creatively. So out of high school I ended up at Savannah College of Art and Design, which is where I first got exposure to the concept of melding the worlds of art and marketing together. I concluded my school career at an advertising portfolio school in Atlanta called the Creative Circus. From there I started my ad career in smaller boutique agencies, where I fell in love with the idea of making a profession out of creative problem solving.
I eventually made my way to a very large ad agency, where I’ve been for many years. My time there gave me the opportunity and budget to work on some amazing projects, but taking on more of a management role has resulted in me becoming less and less hands on in the creation of the work. Fortunately my Instagram feed has given me a chance to get my hands dirty again and making and creating what I really love doing
Q: How do you go about developing a career like yours?
A: Starting small and taking chances. It doesn’t happen over night, and being in the right place at the right time and with the right idea is always helpful.
Q: What does sensibility mean for you and your work?
A: I like developing work that challenges me both on a technical and creative level. My photos are usually puzzles that I spend a lot of time in my head trying to solve, but the finished product doesn’t appear necessarily complex, which allows them to connect with people.
Q: How does it feel being an artist in this century?
A: It feels like being a part of the evolution of art. The definition of what makes something art is always up for debate, but there’s no question that technology is playing a huge role in so much of what’s happening in the art world these days. Technology has allowed for so many forms of creativity at people’s fingertips which is rapidly unlocking new mediums all the time, all of which can spread like never before. But regardless of whether something is or isn’t art, I’m just grateful that people are using tools to create and discovering new outlets of expression. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of crap is getting made, but I also believe the cream always rises to the top.
Q: Ordinary life, politics and pop had always been a kind of religion for artists and it seems that you manage the way to make the result look easy. Can you explain how you piece together your own of narrative?
A: How I go about executing on an image is seldom easy but the final product often appears to be very simple. To me, that process is unintentionally reflective of my message, things aren’t always, as they seem.
Q: But it’s actually a very personal narrative since you have included images of your daughter (in Combophotos). Is it an ode to the “instant/modern world”?
A: Maybe an ode to the things around us, and having told them a story where the sum is greater than the parts. My family surrounds me so they get swept into that.
Q: How would you describe combophoto: as a movement or concept?
A: Definitely a concept.
Q: What prompts your vision when you have to work out an idea?
A: The visions are inspired by day-to-day life and things that strike me a unusual pairing or things that sometimes just make sense. It’s the game of identifying patterns in the world and then chasing them down to put them together.
Q: What do you think is the most important role of you as an artist?
A: Create interesting imagery. To stop people for a moment and take a second look.
Q: Actually, you have a very persuasive way of expressing yourself. Do you see your work of art evocative or provocative?
A: At times it’s a mixture of both. It’s usually not the intention to be provocative, but there are always those who are sensitive to any expression.
Q: But at some point you play with irony, right?
A: Absolutely. Some of the images can be simple and whimsical, while some of them go much deeper.
Q: If one can take the time to review your work from all perspectives, you seem to enjoy exploring the greatness of the everyday. How do you react to this?
A: I like creating visuals that people react to. Especially when it can cascade from an initial reaction to a “wait a minute, there’s more to this than I initially realized.” The second look is always a great response.
Q: I would like to say that what you have done in the past 500 posts on Instagram, it’s like a new era of Surrealism. What do you think about that?
A: I appreciate it and anytime someone finds value in my ideas.
Q: Is this how you react to real life?
A: I recognize patterns or mixtures in the world around me and try to capture them.
Q: Now that you art has stepped out of the Instagram timeline, what does your idea stand for?
A: It’s a hobby for me. It’s a challenge and something that I enjoy, especially when others enjoy it.
Q:What have you discovered during the first 10 years working in the creative field?
A: There’s advertising everywhere. I like to make the craft an art. Not just to pander, but to influence people with humour or creativity.
Isaac Perez Solano
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