Artist Michael McGregor Has Found His Hidden Beaches

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Michael McGregor is an artist living in Los Angeles, California.

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

Sheltering in place at home alone, but I feel a lot of people about because I live in this old commune-esque property in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles, that was built for the Theosophical Society in 1912.

It’s all small single-person units, so it’s very interconnected, while also being quite isolated. It has a crazy history. Krishnamurti lived here (and the building next to me was built for him). Aleister Crowley and Aldous Huxley lectured here. It has a wild history.

What does your face mask look like?

Standard medical blue. :/  But in early March, Bob Dylan released a new song (which is a pretty poignant eulogy for the 20th center American dream), and I was thinking about his Rolling Thunder masks, and then I was googling Bob Dylan Masks and found a Planet Waves cloth mask. The aesthetic was like AliBaba meets Spencers. Should have bought it.

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment?

I was so good at first! Proper sleep, proper early morning wake-up, proper walk before sitting down to work and getting through the day, but all that’s gone out the window. Now it’s kinda just what it is, which I’m not really sure what it is. A hodge podge, broken up by quick cigarette drives around Beachwood, and longer cigarette drives north to hidden beaches where I can get a discrete and socially distant quick dip in the ocean.

A hidden beach.

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time?

Constantly changing but how about that recent Arthur Russell collection! It’s been out like six months now and I feel like I’ve been listening to it my whole life, which is the best feeling. And to have more music from one of the most profound artists of the 20th century is something to be very grateful for. Makes me feel good to be alive! And not only that, it’s some of his most stunning material ever released (no surprise, but like WOW, the hidden gems). This album makes me feel really grateful to be alive.

I’ve had a collection of William Carlos Williams poems next to my bed for a the last few months. I randomly opened it the other day to “This Is Just To Say” and that felt right. Classic WCW. High truth, through simple phrasing.

Yesterday someone in my building left some books out front and I hesitated to, but I did pick up Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed. I’m kind of a sucker for Old Hollywood off-screen drama, and this seems to be brimming with it. I’ve yet to open it, and tbh, I’m kind of scared, because the quotes on the back of the book are insane but it seems like it might be a book version of those E! Mysteries & Scandals or E! True Hollywood Story with AJ Benza, when E! was dope in the early-mid ‘90s. I don’t think a lot of redeeming things will come out of it, but it seems like maybe some good gossip. 

Here are the quotes on the back of the book:

“God put me on this earth to raise sheer hell.” —Richard Burton

“I don’t have a drink problem. But if that was the case and doctors told me I had to stop I’d like to think that I would be brave enough to drink myself into the grave.” —Oliver Reed

“I was a sinner.nI slugged some people. I hurt many people. And it’s true, I never looked back to see the casualties.”

“Booze is the most outrageous of drugs, which is why I chose it.” —Peter O’Toole

Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?

Working on a lot of art, on and off, with no pressure, or real plan. There’s a series of rainbow sherbet sunset landscapes I’ve been plugging away at, while also making a bunch of large still life drawings. Every time I get stuck I paint oranges in bowls, usually bowls in the antiquities collection of some prestigious national museum. Mostly trying not to overthink anything and just go with the flow. 

I’ve been doing drawings of bathrooms for the last four years. One day I was feeling particularly restless so I posted a story asking people to send me photos of their bathrooms, which is… a kind of weird and forward ask, but it was cool. A lot of people sent me photos and I did about 30 bathroom drawings that afternoon. From people’s homes in Greece, France, Japan, NYC, Mexico, all over the states.

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

I started teaching myself Adobe Suite, LOL. In the morning, I try to do some of the tutorials. They make me feel archaic, but it’s kind of fun. I found some great clip art libraries from the late ‘90s and have just been fucking with those, which is a sill way to kill time.

Also, juicing…like hand-squeezing orange juice. I like the rigor in the am. With blood oranges, so tart, really wakes ya up.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar?

Oh man. My friends run a food pop-up/editorial thing called Cash Only. They were supposed to have a Ramen & Katsu Pop Up with Dave Potes, who used to be the Ramen Chef at Yuji Ramen in BK. Anyway, that was supposed to be March 14th, but lockdown kinda started the day or so before, so it got cancelled, but my friend Brian had already purchased all the necessities for the Katsu and that morning he made it anyway, and let me come over for 11am early quarantine-Katsu before shit really went LOCKED down. I will never forget that Katsu don. It was very beautiful.

At home, I got pretty good at making frozen dumplings crispy and soft, and without them breaking, which feels like a major victory.

What’s your current iPhone wallpaper and what’s the story behind it?

It’s this weird photo of Sade reflected off a broken mirror. It’s been my background for over 5 years, which makes me think I’m going to change it today! TBD on what I change it to! 

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far?

I bought a 4 yard x 72 roll of linen the weekend before lockdown. That ended up being a crucial purchase since all the art stores are closed. Think it might just last until the stores reopen. 

I also got three 32oz bags of Bob’s Red Mills Extra Rolled Oats. There was seemingly a shortage, but my aunt sent me three big ole bags so I’m prob good until the next pandemic. 

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

Kim Chong Hak. He’s a Korean painter in his 90s. I first came across his work in Seoul a few years ago and he inspired me to work on some landscapes, all of which are inspired by morning, or sunset walks in Beachwood Canyon, up near the Hollywood reservoir, between this crazy old house that the Beatles and Moby and now supposedly Banksy lives in and this other insane house that Bugsy Siegel built and then Madonna lived in the 1990s. Hollywood is very LOL but I like the history of the area. 

Kim Chong Hak, Untitled, 2012

Any unexpectedly memorable moments of quar so far?

There is currently bioluminescent algae in the Pacific. After sunset, it’s causing the waves to appear neon green-blue. It reminds me of the “Is this the world rehealing?!?!” meme LOL. But really, it’s a reminder of how magical the natural world is.

Find M. McGregor on Instagram @themcgregor.