Art, Off the Cuff

“Off the Cuff” with artist Mike McMeekan

Share this story

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Durban-born, Adelaide-adopted artist, Mike McMeekan shares a lighter side of his life as well as some of his favourite art pieces with JournoNews.

My secret pleasure … I try to avoid secret pleasures – they often have a way of coming out into the light.

My first job was … The clerk to a teller at a notorious two man agency of the Standard Bank in Point Road which had been robbed many times. We both had to wear side arms, and I, an 18 year old novice was given one. I felt like Dirty Harry.

My most annoying habits are … As a sufferer of post nasal drip I need to clear my throat constantly, sometimes I need to spit and whilst I am cautious about the where and when; sometimes I have limited options. It can be embarrassing.

A clear childhood memory is … Family sing-a-longs around the upstairs piano.

What makes me really nervous is … Letting my family down.

The best advice my parents gave me was … My father drilled it into me that a real man never lifts his hand to a woman. (I apologise to all the feminists in advance)

If I wasn’t an artist … I’d like to have been a Classical historian/philosopher.

I’m most thankful for … My spiritual epiphany during April 1979.

My favourite meal is … most everything my wife cooks for me.

 I know it’s good for me, but I hate … restricting my eating of sweet desserts.

 A book I love is … I love books, plural, period.

A song that resonates is … anything by Bob Dylan.

My ‘happy place’ is … my home/my studio.

My most embarrassing memory is … Falling into the swimming pool at the school gala. After being called up to receive the senior swimming trophy, I was tardy getting down the grandstands so tried to cut the corner of the pool and fell in fully clothed in my school uniform in front of the whole school.

My hidden skill is … at my age if it was still hidden it would be non-existent.

If I was a dog, I’d be a … hot one!

It’s a bit corny but I love … my family.

I’m most at peace when … at home, surrounded by family.

Country I’d love to visit … Italy.

Favourite quote … “When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding.”  Robert Henri

Favourite works of art … That’s like saying which is your favourite child. If pushed I would choose works which encapsulate a moment of import. Thus I’ve chosen two paintings – one from South Africa and the other from Australia, two drawings, a sculpture and a conceptual work.

container sign of times- sold

‘Sign of the times   A painting made in South Africa and representative of my observations after the ‘Rubicon’ speech made by PW Botha in 1985. It arrived out of my many musings around Durban docks and represents the beginning of SA’s ‘diaspora’. The image is of a series of containers, little worlds within worlds.




Parachilna Gorge   A painting completed after my first trip into the Australian outback and is of an iconic Australian landscape. This painting was chosen to represent Australia (with three others) on the Osaka Trienale, one of the worlds great art shows, was bought by a big collector in London who is also an appraiser for Sotheby’s paintings and who told me that the work had what he had been trained to look for – that is an ability to survive the artist’s death.

Machu Jericho

‘Machu Jericho’  A pastel drawing representing the coming collapse of apartheid by showing Dick King marching around the Voortrekker monument like the ancient Israelites marched around Jericho. The scene is set in ancient Machu Pichu a mysterious but dead and abandoned civilisation, gone the way of the dodo just like I imagined apartheid would go. None of us realised how close we were to the end however. I was particularly impressed that Coral Vincent, the then head of the Black Sash Society bought the piece off the Natal Biennale exhibition.




‘Dad’  In 1992 we received a frantic phone call in South Africa that announced my father had suffered a series of fatal heart attacks and wasn’t expected to last the day. We went into chaos mode and arrived two days later and he was still hanging in … in fact our arrival was such a boost to his health that the medical staff referred to the old man as their ‘miracle man’. I had not seen him for a number of years and he had always been such a big and healthy man that this view of him was shocking to me. I documented his hospital stay in drawings knowing that they would be in effect death bed images and so it turned out, this one is one of my favourites drawn quickly and in my personal notebook.




‘Passion’  This series of assemblage sculptures were originally intended as ‘breakers’ between paintings representing the passion of Christ. The paintings were terrible but I fell in love with these works and they have featured in numerous exhibitions in both South Africa and Australia and always garner good reviews. It was a labour of love making them and they somehow manage to capture the essence of the story for me.


Beaded Carrier


‘Beaded carrier’  A continuance of the 1985 theme but this time a personal journey. This piece is from my last South African exhibition in 1996 and represents the leaving of our homeland. A beaded boat carrying all our possessions. It was one boat of many all covered with different skins, and other things such as rhino dung, paper, mud etc, and each with a series of made ‘containers’ which carried our memories, past, present and projected into the future. Works from this show were included in the Munich Art show ‘Contemporary South African Art’.