If one were to classify the work of Stephen McNelly it might be something like, ‘surrealist-goth-phycedelic-erotic-pointalist-metal-drawings.’ The work of the LA-based artist is hard to pin down, but it certainly provokes some interesting feelings in a viewer. Equal parts morbid and humorous, McNelly’s work offers a kind of throw-back nostalgia to old skate culture, but expands into oddly beautiful realms of mysticism and personal expression.
As part of Madre’s exhibition in Oaxaca for this year’s Day of the Dead celebrations, “Los Muertos Nuevos” includes new work by Stephen. We sat down with him before the show opened to ask some questions about his new work.
A lot of your work seems to explore death and sexuality in a very surreal, often humorous way. Why do you depict these subjects?
I was raised and surrounded by women in my family. Around the age of 8, I started to recognize and see how America and western civilization would depict the female body, and its not-so-mentioned or publicly displayed body parts. With this in mind, and my ‘fuck you’ to authority and common social beliefs, I aimed to create a body of work that is rich with female genitalia and followed by the wicked and ugly worlds I wish to serve those conservative and oppressive people. In a way, I’m hoping to create a conservative’s nightmare. Something to shock and rearrange the brain, hoping for it to settle in a enlightened manner.
What roll does death play in your work?
Death plays a vital roll. The vagina to me represents the creator and beginning of life, beauty and magic— the opposite of death and destruction.
Would you consider your work to be ‘goth’ or ‘metal’? Is there any relevance to these terms nowadays?
I would consider it having a home in both scenes. And yes, I’d say these terms are still relevant today.
Where are you getting the inspiration from to create these pieces?
The overall agony I sense from the world we live in and it’s small glimpse of hope. I hate to break it to everyone, but if you haven’t noticed yet, women will save the world.
Why do you create art?
For a sense of accomplishment. Because I have to. If not I would just scream at the sky on my knees in the streets everyday.
You’re also in a rad band, can you explain that project?
Yes, I am in The Great Sadness. We are a loud-ass sludge metal blues duo from Los Angeles. Formed in 2013, Cathy Cooper and I found ourselves in deep dark states of mind with a lot of emotion to fuel a fire! She asked one day if I’d like bring my drum kit to her studio for a jam session we instantly connected, and ever since the bullets have kept flying!
Is there a correlation between your music and your visual art?
Not a direct correlation but I like to think of my art as a substitute for me screaming in the streets. When I’m playing for The Great Sadness I get to scream on stage at peoples faces! It feels great!
If you could share a glass of Madre with anyone (living or dead…or fictitious), who would it be, and why?
Follow Stephen and his dark creations @stephenmcneelyart