As long-time fans of Magda Archer, we knew if we ever got the opportunity we had to ask her about her 2016 piece YOU & ME FOREVER O.K. which features her beloved fox terrier Albert. You can immediately feel the love radiating from the work, so we knew there had to be a good story behind its creation...
Last week that opportunity came and we caught up with the London-based artist and illustrator as she answered some of our burning questions. If you’re not immediately familiar with her, you may recognise Magda’s work from one of her many fashion collaborations with houses such as Marc Jacobs, Comme Des Garçons and Jenny Packham - which have been featured on stars like Dua Lipa and Harry Styles.
As with much of Magda’s work, what appears on the surface as poppy and superficial usually has a genuine sentiment and deeper resonance below the surface.
Magda shared with us that it was Albert’s passing and the physical absence of him in her life that inspired YOU & ME FOREVER O.K.:
‘I suppose I was just missing him a lot & wanted to tell myself that it would all be alright. When we lose an animal of course we miss their character and their traits but most of all we miss their physicality, their presence.’
In creating art with Albert at the centre, in a way Magda could bring the physicality of Albert back into her creative space and her life. We see him in front of us, yet he is still apart; he almost floats as he sits in his neon setting without a clear foreground or background to fix him in space. We can see him, but he is not among us. He's beyond our grasp. Yet there is comfort in this approximation of closeness, and the text furthers that intimacy. Depending on how you read the piece, it could be Albert’s voice instructing that they will be together forever or perhaps it’s Magda giving one last command. Maybe it’s both.
‘Albert was a quirky dog, he would sit on a step and his two front legs would be on the next step down. Wherever I was he would come to find me & just stand close, never demanding, just wanting to be close. Sometimes we would meet noisy or unfriendly dogs and Albert would just stand, staring straight ahead, blinking. He wouldn’t get involved in any unnecessary aggro. Like most terriers he would dig, he often had ‘a project’ on in the garden, he would eat his dinner and go straight back to it.'
Not only do we adore this piece, but the aesthetic of Magda’s work fits in seamlessly with the culture of kitsch pet memorials. Her art sits comfortably in the realm of kitsch, with its cutesy animals, bright colours, and catchy slogans. YOU & ME FOREVER O.K. then, naturally enters into the conversation with dead pet kitsch that we see in pet memorials around the world. These memorials are often brightly coloured, with either overly cute or overly realistic depictions of the pet, which point to our discomfort with directly facing pet death-which is treated as a cheap imitation of human death- but it also to our discomfort with grief and loss more broadly. Pet memorials are often seen either as not-at-all-serious or overly earnest; there is little room for an acceptable remembrance of a pet.
Magda's art too can put us in an uncomfortable spot. Her direct, often tongue-in-cheek phrases are paired with seemingly contradictorily cute, happy animals. The ask us to look below the surface and find the real feeling and meaning beneath in order to really see the piece.
Additionally, her use of found images reminds us of scrapbooking - an act that is inherently nostalgic and inherently feminized - suiting the pet loss/grief narrative of this piece well. Creating something new from what's left behind and could otherwise be discarded. For many of us, although we may not transform the image of our passed on pets into art, we're likely to have photos and general ephemera in our possession as a keepsake of their time on earth.
As with the act of preserving a copy of something as one does in scrapbooking, Magda’s works are often available as prints, embracing replication. So although Albert is sadly gone and his relationship with Magda cannot be replicated, there are now 55 little versions of Albert out there in the world again which is very sweet. He is now forever preserved and shared in this likeness.
And what about 'forever'? We asked Magda whether she thinks pets stay with us after they die. She does not:
‘I see Albert regularly in my dreams but I don’t think pets stay with us…they wait faithfully somewhere else until we are together again…”
Magda and Albert's forever will come, but not until Magda herself has died. YOU & ME FOREVER O.K. is an acknowledgement of one's own mortality, recognising that the this moment of sweet reunion comes only after death, which we spend most of our time trying to avoid contemplating. It's a sentiment anyone who has lost a loved one can relate to. One day they will be reunited, but until then, they're just waiting for forever to start.
Rest in Peace Albert 🖤