Fiona McMonagle is an Australian artist who has mastered the technique of watercolour. She likes to play with it in various ways, which means she doesn’t want to remain only in the confines of paper or canvas but transfers the technique into digital animation or three-dimensional space. When it comes to the topics she likes to work with, she's always been interested in ones that tread the line: “I have always been drawn to imagery with a bit of an edge, or that I’m unsure about. I also like the contrast of a really soft, delicate medium mixed with a tougher subject and that ambiguity,”. In her work, she focuses primarily on the representation of women in popular culture which naturally touches also on the topic of sports.
Her paintings celebrate the prevalence of women in sports and simultaneously reflect the resistance which women face in typically male sports. She mentioned to the Australian newspaper Herald Sun that she is a big sports fan, so she tries to connect these two passions – art and sports – in her work: „I’m passionate about women’s sports and trying to get recognition for them. I think they are really undervalued“.
She started working with watercolour already at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she felt this technique was a challenge for its difficulty and spent more and more time devoting herself to it. Eventually, she became so familiar with watercolour that she started using it as her primary medium and found her own ways to work with it. And what does her creative process look like? “I do a few sketches and smaller works to work out the palette – but only loosely. I will have a think how to approach something but while making a work the watercolour process is so immediate I have to leave myself open to whatever direction it is going to take me.”
One of the disciplines Fiona McMonagle captures in her work is women's boxing. In 2014, she painted three life-size portraits and created an animated film that she describes as a moving watercolour technique. The Ring shows the passion and perseverance of the four female boxers Wonka, Myrtle, Mischa and McMonagle herself, as they train in the ring. The author has a personal relationship with boxing, she has been involved in the sport herself for over ten years. „When I first started that project I did consider making it more about me being able to fight. The funny thing about boxing is that boxers make it look easy but it’s actually really complicated and a very skilful sport. With that process I really threw myself in, I got to know the boxers – including the world number one at the time. I tried to educate myself as much as possible, there is so much history there. I wanted to have a good understanding about it, I wanted it to be genuine. Although there are many layers to this work, at the core it's about women who love to box. There are no pretences, they are really genuine about it.", says the author in an interview for the Australian magazine Artist Profile. Women’s boxing has been banned in many countries for a long time and has been included in the Olympics only as recently as 2012.
The artist has also dabbled with football. One such case is a 2016 piece titled The Huddle in which she depicted players during halftime. Here, she decided to literally draw her figures out from the paper and placed them in a three-dimensional environment. The delicate watercolours have thus made their way into life-sized cut-outs. She captured the entire team of all 11 players huddling in a tight circle (hence the name) to listen to the strategy brief and words of encouragement by their coach. McMonagle’s athletes don’t represent a specific team but rather point out the growing media recognition of women in sports, as well as the challenges their face, for example, the much lower pay in comparison to their male counterparts.
Fiona's most recent sports-inspired work is a large mural in Melbourne's Citizens Park. The work consists of three large panels. Here we find a panel dedicated to the athletes from the Australian Richmond Harriers, which is also the oldest athletics club in the state of Victoria. The middle panel shows young female football players standing with their backs to the viewer. The panel is meant to represent women's sports and multicultural diversity. In the third panel, we see children playing cricket - a very important sport in Australian culture. The panel is meant to depict the past, present and future. And as the author herself expressed to Yara City Arts: “The challenge was how do I translate my artistic language into a large-scale mural. In the end, I came up with using acrylic paint, but using it in a way that could not mimic watercolour completely but still had a very painterly feel... My main goal was that it represents the community and that the community are happy with it… I would hope that this work would inspire young girls to take part in all sports they may take an interest in. I believe that if you can see yourself represented then you’re more likely to take part in activities that otherwise might have intimidated you.“
Fiona McMonagle was born in Melbourne. After completing her undergraduate studies in painting at the Victorian College of Arts she has been successfully exhibiting all over Australia both in solo and group exhibitions. In 2015 McMonagle received the University of Queensland's National Self-Portrait Prize and in 2016 she was included in the Biennial of Australian Art in Adelaide.