What Paint Can Do: Eileen O’Sullivan

 

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Eileen O’Sullivan next to her painting Spending Time, Coffee (2017)

Eileen is a young painter from Meath, currently residing in Dublin. I came across Eileen’swork while doing research for the blog, and her paintings caught my attention instantly. Her use of colour is so eye-catching and carefully considered, I just had to find out more! I was glad I did – talking to her even for a minute will show you how enthusiastic she is about her work, and that enthusiasm is infectious.

 

 

Let’s talk about your current exhibition.

Meanwhile, Rummage until Combined is my first solo show – it opened on the 25th of October and it’s running until the 22nd of November. I was introduced to Catherin O’Riordan, the director of So Fine Art, through Neil Dunn, who was an artist who was a year or two ahead of me in college. He introduced me to Catherin, and I’ve just been working with her since. I was in her exhibition Young II,  In summer 2018 Catherin and I Planned my first solo exhibition. For this exhibition, I wanted to show a group of paintings together so they could have a conversation, between one another. And I hope that the contrast between the paintings will enhance their features. As an example, Concreate Mixer which is a much more expressionist and energetic painting contrasts with Continued From Before that has more elements of realistic representation. Paint is so versatile that it allows me to do both.

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Concrete Mixer (2018)
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Continued From Before (2018)

Paint is fascinating to me. For me when I’m painting, it’s more about creating something out of paint, really using the materials. I like to push the paint to its limits. To keep pushing myself to see what else I can do with paint, or what else I can draw from it… I don’t see myself like Jackson Pollock where he draws attention to who is making the marks – for me, the material makes the painting. I’m not doing some performance, the property of materials spark an interest in me, and that’s what I hope to get across to the audience.

I’ve always had a need to make things from other things. I think that there are so many options for how you can go about creating. I used to work in the ASTI [Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland], on the reception desk, and one of the jobs I had to do every day was open the post. It’s just something inherently in me to make stuff out of materials around me, so I started collecting all the envelopes that I opened for work – I made Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, loads of other things, just from this one material.  I’m really influenced by what’s around me every day, and it’s just something about me that I have a need to create.

I’m kind of funnelling my creativity through a specific prism – I’ve gotten so used to paint that that I really connect with it and it really excites me when I go to galleries, and I’m like, oh, look how they made those marks, or the surface of that is really lovely. I love Joseph Albers, who has this book called Interaction With Colour – it’s a whole book of tricks around painting, how you can create a sense of space with paint. There are so many tricks that you can do with it, and that fascinates me. Amy Sillman as well, she talks about paint in a way I really connect with. She gave a talk about what it means to draw, to mark, to explain, to map… she uses loads and loads of different verbs to describe what it means to draw. I just think it’s exciting; it fits with my ethos, that you can do so much with relatively little. I think creativity is for everyone, but you do it in your own way.

Let’s talk about that process.

Well, when I first come into the studio, I’ll put up a huge page on the wall. And then I’ll either listen to music or listen to documentaries, and while I’m doing that, I try and get all the things that are in my head out and onto the page, so I can start fresh.

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Selected Observation (2018)

Before I paint, I like to choose between a few different ways that I approach painting. So sometimes I will put like all colours out around the pallet, and mix about the colours as I go. Other times I’ll have like, say, three colours, and I’ll mix them up, and then use those colours and the colours derived from those three to make the painting and no more. At times the colours develop in tandem with the image, and other times it’s completely separate. A friend observed that I don’t really use colours transparently very much; a lot of the time, you can’t see one colour under the other. When I put a colour on top of the other, that one becomes the most prominent. I use colour solidly.

I tend to work on a lot of paintings all at the same time, so they all kind of develop together. I might have around ten works going at the same time, and some of them could be in the studio for like two years before I feel like they are finished. My paintings are formed from lots of layers built over time. Some pieces might take me a year and a half to make, but during that time, I actually spend more time planning than painting. The mark-making is quite immediate in a lot of them, but there is a lot of time in between, to see how they are developing

How do you begin a painting?

I tend to work from photos. Most of them are either ones that I have taken myself, or photographs from my mam’s family album. I feel if I have a personal connection to them, it makes more sense to me.

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Living With a Painting (2018)

The categories that I have for the images are things that are intimate snapshots of things,

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Fabrication (2018)

where I think the colours are really interesting; it could just be that wall against that grey, or something that I think would look really cool to take and put into a painting. Then other ones are more kind of about body language or composition. A lot of the time I crop photos – I’ll take the photo, but it might only be one area that I’m interested in. So I’ll print that and cut it, so that I just have what I want and the rest of the information isn’t getting in the way. I go through my photographs and select ones that I feel merit being translated into paint. That is kind of how it’ll start, and then when I’m going through the process of adding different layers, I’ll go through them again to try and find the element that the painting needs. But it could be, you know, ‘I really think this painting needs more circular shapes to balance those harsh lines’, or ‘I need something that will frame that section of the work’, or ‘I need something that slows it down’… fast marks that really need something that has more time built into it, something slower, something with more detail to be observed. If that makes sense?

I suppose, you know, ‘sometimes the person’s just there so you can look at the window.’ I have that written on my wall in the studio. And what I mean by that is that sometimes I’ll include a human in a painting as an excuse to draw what the person is standing beside. You might think that the object is more important or exciting than the figure, but an individual is a natural focal point that you can draw someone in with, and then you have an excuse to draw the window.

I really find the names of your paintings intriguing – can you talk about that?

To be honest, I kind of hate naming paintings, because I don’t think that you can put words on a visual thing. They’re like two different languages. Words will never describe what you see visually, or how you interact with the material. But I don’t like calling things untitled, it feels a bit sad! Sometimes I’ll call things after a theory that I have been researching – I love reading about behavioural psychology, other ways of looking at how people work, all that kind of stuff, and I think that kind of links in a lot with how I feel about painting.

I’m not so much interested in portraying a very specific message through my work. I do have different topics that I like to portray to the viewer. But for me, they are more a platform for the material. It’s a process of doing, of making. I always say, it’s not a poster – it’s not trying to like explain something specific. It builds itself up from… you can reflect and put meaning and onto that afterwards, as a viewer.

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5 Languages (2017)

I called one of my paintings Five Languages, which comes from an idea that you have five different ways that you can show love. (1) You can show someone love by giving them gifts, (2) you can show someone love by saying affirmations, (3) you can do things for people and (4) you can be a time spender, or you can (5) show love through physical touch. Those are the kind of things that I love reading about, and I can talk about that all day. How do you translate those kinds of things into a visual and get that across to the viewer? Or for instance, there’s another kind of concept that interests me, the idea that you tend to a need when it comes to the fore. So it’s like, you won’t do something until you need to do it, so you won’t process something emotionally until you’re ready to. It might lay dormant for a while until you’re prepared to deal with it, and that is kinda the same thing to painting. I can leave a painting there, and then I’ll really need to put some like pattern on top of this! And then I’m like, I have to let that sit and then I might do three or four levels on it. But I definitely think it’s linked to your emotional being, without sounding really airy-fairy about it. I think it’s good to think about it in the holistic sense. But I’m still trying to understand this side of my creativity.

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Blend to Make (2018)

My process is definitely affected by my emotional connection to things, so I find if I’m in a certain mood I’ll look for a certain kind of information. I might look for something more familiar, or if I’m in an indifferent mood, I might look for something more of a pattern.

                                                                       Let’s talk a bit about your influences.

I love Jules de Balincourt. I’m mad about his work – I saw his show in London, and I was just enthralled by it. The colours alone are a huge influence. I also love Diana Copperwhite, I was lucky to have her as one of my tutors so she was influential, learning from her and Robert Armstrong (another of my tutors in college), it really developed my practice.

My peers like Elinor McCoughy and Emer Murphy are really close friends of mine. We work differentially, but cos we talk so much about art I definitely feel we influence each other. I shared a studio with Alex de Roeck, and he is so good at throwing new artists out that I had never seen, that really helped broaden my horizons. I think you learn a lot from your peers.

Do you Feel your practice has changed since college?

Yeah, for sure. Especially the layers of paint are so much thicker now. I had a few of my older paintings at my mum’s house, and I’m like, oh god, the paint is so scabby!  Also, I think they are a lot more chaotic now and a lot busier. Whereas before they were like like two, maybe three colours, now it’s like one million colours all kind of mushed together, trying to push and pull in a way that creates a space for people to mentally move in and out. Hopefully that way, I can engage the viewer’s creativity.

You can find out more about Eileen’s work through her website link below

http://www.eileenosullivan.com/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

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