Megan Hales


Megan Hales is an Eora/Sydney-based artist who has refined her extraordinary skills over ten years as a painter, muralist and fabricator. Exploring the ever-tightening nexus between natural and human environments, Megan’s paintings are inspired by everyday chaos, presenting moments where nature intrudes on familiar urban scenarios. With an incredibly detailed hyper-realist approach – infused with hints of the carnivalesque and nods to Australian New Wave films – her cinematic paintings are thrilling to experience.

Hales first exhibited in our annual curated group survey Painting Now 2023 followed by launching our 2024 calendar with her first solo exhibition Space Invaders. Here, to mark the announcement of her representation with Michael Reid Sydney & Berlin we visit her Sydney studio and discuss the inspirations and creative processes that propel her practice.

For more information about works of art by Megan Hales, please email dean@michaelreid.com.au

Could you tell us about your process? 

There are three parts. The first is the brainstorming, which comes to me instinctively. I keep lists on my phone and if I’m still excited about an idea weeks later I know it’s good enough to paint. The next (hard) part is working out how to make an abstract vision sing in a rectangle composition. I start figuring out lighting, perspective and scale in digital sketches with heaps of reference images and photo shoots, which all get ripped apart and put back together in paint. I’ve previously done sculptural and multimedia work but I’m now committed to canvas, as a simple framework that makes literally anything I can think of possible to realise as an image. And I still feel like a sculptor because I’m thinking about the physicality of subject matter and how it would sit in the scene I am creating. The third part is painting, my all consuming happy place. I spend as much time as I can in my studio working on several pieces at once.

Your work has a cinematic quality and can appear hyperreal. How and why did you arrive at this style and approach?

A smooth surface feels both genuine and magic to me and there are so many different things that happen in a piece. Like pushing and pulling of details by blurring and hardening lines to create focal points, working on red grounds for deep dark spaces and straight onto white grounds with translucent pigments for glowing light. And intuitive balancing acts of shadow and sheen, earthy and artificial colours, patterns and disorder. All of which are built up in three layers usually, with all sorts of brushes and movements.

I think the cinematic quality is teased out in a few ways, but mostly by exaggerating perspective, colour, proportion and lighting. Conceptually I like each painting to have a unique narrative proposition, a distilled suggestion of drama in which tragedy is met with comic gesture. I particularly enjoy films and books that cross genres – tragedies delivered as comedies, romantic horrors and psychological thrillers as adventure epics in the landscape. A 1978 Australian film that covers all of these while striking a chord with what I had in mind for my recent show Space Invaders is Long Weekend written by Everett De Roche. I hope for my work to increasingly hold such scope.

Tell us more about your recent show Space Invaders, and also your first works shown with the gallery, in Painting Now 2023.

The pieces in Space Invaders are about shared living arrangements between people, their bits and bobs that culminate under one roof and the critters and elements that seep in through the cracks. I love how in the seconds you clock a gecko on the edge, a turbo fly at bedtime or an electrical device at boiling point, the world on the periphery disappears. If this is the outward narrative of the work, it is interrupting an inward one – home being a place where we fester with our thoughts and psychologies. These make their way into all my work simultaneously – in Tug of Love, for instance, where a stress-yawning dog is implicated in a troubled relationship.

These pieces are toasty and small with tight compositions because that’s how home sits with me – cosy and claustrophobic. And the title, Space Invaders, simply plays on boundaries, both inside a home and of a home environmentally, while triggering the nostalgia so many of us associate with these places. My works exhibited in Painting Now, on the other hand, are honing out – to the porch, carpark, pub and local fish ‘n’ chip shop.

These works are bigger but the small details are crucial. I see smears and scratches as delightful proof of life, especially alongside commercial graphics blotted through our fields of vision. Zooming out to the big picture I’m looking for something iconic and openly familiar, though the seeds are usually autobiographical. For instance, my pair of paintings Happy Hour and Blind Date were spurred on by time spent on the South Coast, where my mum lives and my dad used to fish. The coaster in Happy Hour is a  reference to the Tomakin club. And Blind Date takes from a visit to the Tomakin servo, where my brother saved a Huntsman spider from the perils of a trailered boat, tragically named in vinyl ‘Wasted Seaman’.

What does the rest of 2024 have in store? 

I have a few things in the works that I’m really excited about. One of which is another show upstairs at Michael Reid Sydney late this year. For this I’m tempted by the concept of “the servo” as an institution we all visit, and a visually absurd subject on the border between the landscape and infrastructure. Looking forward to sharing as things develop.

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