A Modern Day Renaissance Woman: Tracey Moberly

Welsh artist Tracey Moberly is a woman of vast talents. You just have to look at the multiple practices that she uses in her work! working as Tracey’s assistant was one of my first jobs post-college, and the experience influential for me going forward in art. I’m delighted to share with you her insights into her work and practice below.

Tracey Moberly

Your work has a strong line of community involvement to it. Would you like to talk about that?

Yes, definitely. I’m just finishing one of two residencies in a South Wales Valley village named Fochriw. Fochriw is quite an isolated Welsh Valleys area, initially built up around the coal mining industry. Since the decline of coal mining, there’s little or no industry or manufacture left and unemployment statistics are high. Fochriw is not a place you would pass through, so you would need a reason to go to there. It has many socio-economic problems, but also a fantastic, unique community.

The main aim and brief of the first project Spinning Yarns Weaving Community was to bring the community together and identify role models that would lead, by identifying and assembling a core steering group for the project. The whole project is based on this community. The industrial scars left from this post-industrial village have now knitted themselves back together to its former rural beauty. Sheep from the local farms far outnumber people, they’re left to wander and graze on the oaks of roads and in gardens. I began with teaching the groups how to spin the raw fleece we found on the hedgerows and within the housing, gardens and fields; this followed by teaching them how to dye the wool with natural dye-stuffs such as lichen, madder, onion skins or cochineal beetles.

From there the project developed looking at the people, the communities, in their houses and homes – focusing predominantly on this as the theme running throughout the project.

This then resulted in professional photographic portraits of people inside and outside their houses, almost Grand Budapest Hotel style… Another residency I am doing with the same community, with a particular focus on the school and a craft group is called Hour Eyes. This is a community photographic project: I’m giving set days and times to children and adults to take photos of what they are doing at these moments. It is becoming a cultural heritage archive of this community. The response has been great – 1,200 photographs to date. I am half way through the project and we have just had a preliminary exhibition with the work so far. It’ll culminate in a large outdoor photographic exhibition where I am also cooking my Cushendall Curry with a group involved in the project for the opening – at which the group chefs will be awarded their food hygiene certificates. For the curry we are using locally sourced meat from the nearby farm and a vegan curry. There is a documentary being made on the Hour Eyes project for the Wales Film Festival 2018. The Spinning Yarns Weaving Community project will also result in a final show, with a book/catalogue detailing the journey of the project from start to finish and a lot of artworks- textile banners, sound installation and photography. The first exhibition I did with this project was at the National Portrait Gallery in London. We were invited to create a response to the Picasso Portrait exhibition that had been curated there, which we did in the form of fabric self portraits titled Face-It. The exhibition title was called Everything You Can Imagine is Real in which I was exhibiting some of my own work.

What did you do for Everything You Can Imagine is Real?

Everything You Can Imagine is Real was an exhibition Inspired by the Picasso Portraits exhibition that was current at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and a response to it, curated by Martyn Ware from the band Heaven 17 and Illustrious. I produced a       self-portrait, which I made from the app TriTrace, designed and made for me by

TriTrace – Self portrait 1 (2017)

Jonathan Moberly (the app can be downloaded for free from the AppStore). The artwork was made in response to Picasso’s cubist portraits, where I developed the female form of the triangle, the upside down triangle the symbolism representing the female form in history. I have a rare condition of enhanced colour vision found predominantly in women and called tetrachromacy. It means that I can distinguish between colours that may appear identical to most -four colour cones instead of the usual three. It is also responsible for colour blindness in male children from the X chromosome.

Tetrachromacy? That’s interesting as an artist – that means you are literally looking at art differently!

Yes, I’ve always wondered why this has never been identified in any art movements throughout history. This is probably because it is predominately a female condition: if it was male, then it would be a household name with people having a fuller understanding of it. It also has massive implications for the arts world specifically through art history. When one of my sons (who is colourblind) and I went to be tested in a North East England hospital research department, I was shown a painting by a red/green colour blind person. The painting was described to me before I looked at it as vibrant red poppies in a luscious green field. When the image was presented to me, I saw a grass landscape which was the colour of old dead straw, instead of the luscious green I had expected and the supposed vibrant red poppies were depicted as small smoother images which were shaped like poppies, but were a slightly darker shading of the straw colour. This opened a huge range of questions to me regarding colour, sight, the reliability of art history and the questions posed within art between male and female. Especially with that of a colour blind male artist to a tetrachromat female.

It further put into context every argument I’d ever had about colour through youth and adulthood; such as if something like a wall was mauve or lilac, or whether the Central Line on the London tube map was red or dark orange. I knew I was seeing colours differently to many other people. Although happy about my own findings and enhanced colour vision, I was more concerned about my children’s colour vision and the implications it has for them and many other colourblind males. I hope to do a project further down the lane based on this with my sons.

Your work is in so many mediums and has many different outcomes – can you talk about your practice?

Although I work in a multitude of different mediums, my work is of the same overall structure and theme which I have been working on since I was seventeen. This is best explained with the term ‘ethnomethodology’, which is a perspective within sociology which focuses on the way people make sense of their everyday world. I call it the chicken wire effect, so I can explain it through a visual structure … If you can imagine a piece of galvanised steel chicken wire, with the artwork metaphorically positioned inside the hexagonal gap in the centre of each section. Each of these hexagonals has six leads or strands leading into forming the next hexagon – where another art work is metaphorically positioned. The six variables or the strands from the hexagon are the options the next artwork has, with the medium and form it takes as a response to the last artwork.

For example, if the art work was a performance, then some of the six strands could lead to (1) a person’s response to the artwork suggesting it, like a painting at a gallery; (2) someone recommending a film based on the subject of the artwork; (3) a suggestion that a ballet may have resembled some of the movement within the performance… Selecting the most logical response of these suggestions, I would follow it up, and this journey and response would create the next artwork. For example if I chose number (3), the ballet that may have resembled some of the movement in the performance, then I could go along to the ballet as a follow-up and be given a number of variables that would produce the next artwork. I could reject the statement in the ballet and continue on the original theme of the artwork, creating and experimenting with more; I could be knocked down en route to the ballet, which would result in me changing focus on the artwork and including the accident. The variables are non-quantifiable, but the links are endless, just as our journey through life is.

I could be inspired by the movement within the performance liking it to my performance and go on to produce a new dance artwork – I try and keep it to six, but the outcomes and new artworks created are infinite. Themes and mediums are always different, but each artwork follows on from the next. Some artworks go off on tangents and others go in twists and turns within the metaphorical chicken wire structure. I change media in response to each artwork, so for example I make bricks that make buildings; or intricately embroider fabric from text messages; or make large mosaic structures; or work in photography and film; or write books, or poetry and so on…

Approaching all mediums in a similar manner, I believe that every form follows a similar structure pattern: for example that using a piece of fleece one spins it into a yarn, then dyes it with a natural plant dyestuff, then knits it into a jumper, is fundamentally the same as cutting a piece of wet clay, firing and colour/glazing it to make bricks, then building a wall out of those bricks. Because I approach all mediums in a similar manner, I can weave them together much like the pieces of wire in the chicken wire – and keep crossing between mediums. Saying that, everything must be organised and planned out: if you have seen my diary, everything is colour-coded because I’m in a different city or town every few days, and it would become very hard to keep track of everything if I didn’t organise it this way. I’m never usually more than four days in the same place. But once something is in in my diary – if changes happen that’s fine, I go with the flow, but it has to be organised in the first instance. With all of my work, it’s pretty much like that even though it might not at first instance seem it!

Tweet-Me-Up! (2012)

Tweet-Me-Up! (2012)

whenever I can, I really like doing mass participation projects. Like with one of my projects, Tweet-Me-Up!, I have used a mobile phone and social networking to invite audiences to participate in creating evolving digital exhibitions of photography, art and action – subgenres and              counter-cultures that teeter on the mainstream. Another project I like to do is to make a curry at the openings for projects, and it’s become a bit of an institution. Cooking is such a social experience, and I love to use it as a way for people to engage and socialise, the whole chopping and the talking, making the curry as a group thing. There was a Tunisian artist whose work was all about cooking and tradition: I helped him do this piece a huge meal at Void Gallery in Derry last year – this was linked into a project, and the curry I do for Heart of the Glens Festival, in the Curfew Tower in Cushendall. Every year the title is: ’Stay Here & Make Art’. Artists and writers residencies happen here every year where people go and stay in a Curfew Tower, which is the symbol of the town.

What artists inspire you?

There are or were some artists whom slightly inspired me, specifically when I was doing A’levels at school and foundation level before my degree – Egon and Gustavo Klimt. The main inspiration I got from these were their skill and craftsmanship of life drawing prior to the stylised work they became known for. What inspiration I gained most from artists like this was that if you master a basic medium, then you can transform and develop that medium into your own stylised approach. Movements inspire me more than individuals – I liked Picasso, his peers and that period of art history. My favourite and most inspirational movement is undoubtedly the symbolist movement, incorporating both art and poetry – I am also published poet and write prolifically – it was from this movement I became interested in synesthesia and did a masters thesis on both. One-offs of artists work have inspired me such as Judy Chicago’s car bonnets; again I like how she mastered the craft of car body spraying and then the politics of the art along with the designs she created from the mastering of the craft.

I also feel that if you let yourself get lost into other people’s work you don’t really come out with anything that’s new or original. When I listen to music there isn’t a full album I really like, there may be an individual track from any given album and this is the same with art and artists. I like new fresh things I suppose. I’m not saying that what I do may be perceived as entirely original but it just seems tainted to me if I were to approach a piece of work or a project with someone else’s work in mind. My work such as             Text-Me-Up! where I archived and used all of my text messages from the first that I was ever sent. This is an original piece because I came at it with no notions of other peoples work and was a new piece of technology then. This became a book; a series of exhibitions and developed into my exhibition and installation at Tate Modern           Tweet-Me-Up! and is constantly developing. I lecture on it as history within universities as none of these generations remember life without mobile phones and texting.

Your work has strong social engagement elements have you worked with schools?

Yes, I am currently working as both Creative Agent and Creative Practitioner in Welsh schools based on the new Donaldson Report. I also work closely with schools when I am doing large community engagement projects. Professor Graham Donaldson was commissioned by the Welsh Government to consider new assessment and curriculum arrangements. He identified ‘progression steps’ to provide a more coherent basis for learning, teaching and assessment. I am working alongside a number of agents and practitioners with the Arts Council of Wales on creative learning through the arts as an action plan for Wales. I’m involved in some extremely exciting creative projects. Working with the geography department with the head of geography Nicola Webber in a school in Senghenydd, Caerphilly. The focus was to increase higher levels in maths and english through creativity as a creative practitioner. It became a model project that the Arts Council used to illustrate the programme During the time I was working with this particular year group I’d been invited to Ludwigsburg in Germany which is twinned with Caerphilly to exhibit there in a show called  and it was here the Mayor invited me to create work with the city and refugees in the city. I invited ten of the group I’d been working with at St. Cenydd School in Senghenyddand, their teacher, along with ten pupils of the same age from Novy Jicinin in Czech Republic and fourteen refuges in Germany. Gained funding for it and titled the project Yourope, it involved twelve different nationalities.

Yourope (2017)

The project we devised was to make up the flags representing the countries that the participants were from so we made twelve flags by taking 10,000 photos of our host city of Ludwigsburg. You can see the work, photos, film and tv coverage in the link http://www.text-me-up.com/arts_residencies/Yourope/ This has now progressed further as the City of Ludwigsburg holds its 300 year anniversary as a city this year where they are up-cycling the flags and making into bags along with postcards and information on the Yourope project for visiting delegates. The flags included Kurdish, Turkish,                Czech Republic, Wales, Syria and Brazil to name but a few. The second project I did in this school is titled Caerphilly Chronicles, it is a project worked on as creative practitioner with Sara Sylvester and Nicola Webber. It is a book based on working with poetry; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Welsh myths and legends – it focuses on Caerphilly Castle which dominates the town and is the second biggest Castle in the UK, the first being Windsor Castle. The book is titled Caerphilly Chronicles and just available on Amazon and other stores.

I am running projects in two other schools as a Creative Agent; the Creative practitioners here are producing an animation in one school and augmented reality work with fine art in another.

Your practice makes good use of social media and technology with Instagram being used as a tool here and Tweet Me Up! making good use of Twitter?

Because I’m working all the time, I see everything as my work – the internet seems like the most useful platform to be putting stuff up on, really. People think I post my life on Facebook, when in fact it’s all work- and exhibition- related. It’s accessible by anyone: it can reach people who might not be interested in going into a gallery. And I find you can reach people through other interests outside of art that way as well. Here is a link to when I started this in 2005 and titled it Mobilography – this was at the very beginning of mobile phone photography technology!

What work is coming up for you soon?

Oh, I have a lot of things coming up this year. The Spinning Yarns Weaving Community project is coming to an end and I’m putting an exhibition together, with all the photography/soundscapes gathered from those involved (including photos of those involved), their homes and their routines – I’m making a book out that project.              The Hour Eyes exhibition will also be happening in a couple of weeks.

Next week I am going to Hull where I am co-directing two plays with Tam Dean Burn, written by Tenzing Scott Brown (the alter ego of Bill Drummond) as part of                      The Heads Up Festival in Hull – Daffodils and Death Forty Bunches Of Daffodils deals with Bill’s commitment to give away forty bunches of daffodils to forty total strangers each year for the rest of his life. It also celebrates the slow death of photography as a form of documentation, this will be challenging as the play is written about Bill and myself. Totally Wired marks the death of Mark E. Smith; the killing of seven baby blackbirds by Drummond and the Second Coming of Christ in the form of the fish known as the freshwater shark:- The Pike. The last play I co-directed with Tam and wrote with Bill was part of the Hull City of Culture and titled Your Darkest Thought.

At Easter, Bill and I then leave for North Carolina USA where I will be directing two more plays by Tenzing Scott Brown, for the second half of a feature film which will be released in cinemas. March 29th an exhibition titled Power, which I’m doing with Martyn Ware and Sarah Hopkins (Printmaker) launches at the Trafalgar in Sheffield – we want to celebrate the visual and sonic beauty and legacy of the UK steel industry.

I have also started a new project working with bees and beekeepers, as photojournalist and an artist. The BEES project aims to bring together beekeepers from across South East Wales to develop a local/regional Queen Bee breeding programme to work towards sustaining pollinator population and improving ecological resilience in bees. We also want to raise awareness of bees, beekeeping and its importance to biological systems and diversity with organisations, schools and the general public, to encourage and educate new beekeepers. I’m really excited about this project.





Impermanence and its Lasting Impact: Shane Finan

Shane Finan, a Sligo-born artist currently residing in Dublin, is a man who wears his influences on his sleeve, and it’s riveting to hear him discuss them in detail.  His work is uniquely his own, and I’m happy to give him a platform to discuss his art and his process in this in-depth interview.

This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.

So, what are you currently working on?

Shane Finan standing in front of Everything’s Ephemeral (2016)

Well I tend to have several things on the go at the same time. I just made a list yesterday in an Excel document, it’s the only way I can organise my life these days! At the moment there are seven or eight different art projects ongoing, and I have to keep track of what stage they are at and what I need to do with them. Some are in the documentation stage, some are in the fledgling ideas stage. Probably an interesting one to talk about for my practice would be the project I’m doing with the Pierre Auger Observatory, because I just finished the research and I’ve just started onto making something.

I should probably explain.

The Pierre Auger observatory is based in Malargue in Argentina. They detect showers of cosmic rays, which are radioactive particles that are constantly moving through space. A lot of them hit earth and pass right through it and continue on their journey – their intergalactic journey.  What they have in Malargue is thirty square kilometres of water-pools with sensors, in a desert in the Andes, that are there to detect these rays. They are set up to detect why these showers happen and where they come from. And only this year, they published a paper saying that the major showers come from one specific area in the universe. This is ongoing research. Why that happens? We don’t know. But it’s great for speculation. From my point of view this is fantastic – it could be communication from aliens, an exploding star… you could come up with or create anything!

surface detector from the Pierre Auger observatory

The project came about around twelve months ago, when I got in contact the director of The Pierre Auger observatory. I dropped them a line and I said, ‘Hi, I’m an artist and interested in getting involved in making something off the back of the research that you have?’ And they said, ‘This is great, we would love to have you, and anything you need let us know. Tell us when you’re coming!’ As an artist I have found this reaction sometimes, and it’s always very heartwarming when people are interested. The director put me in touch with a few people who have written papers, and so over the following months I gained a very small knowledge of what the observatory did. My method is so based in research – I do so much reading. I read a lot of theory. I read magazines, newspapers. I love reading material. Reading in general, and listening – I listen to a lot of music constantly, sometimes podcasts too. I also take photographs and collect physical material, drawing up sketches, and being on site when I can. I get lost in my research. I like to have a lot information streams coming at me all the time. I would say if you were to measure it, research is around 70% or 80%, and the actual execution of a piece is quite quick in most cases.

When I’ve gotten through the research I begin to get a picture of what I plan to do. For instance, I will probably be doing a digital installation off the back of this – it just fits with the material that I have. For me, medium is dictated by the best idea communicated by my research, whatever that ends up being. That doesn’t mean I’ll always make something! Sometimes I will realise through the research phase that a project won’t be going any further. I might write a paper about it, which I’ve done a couple times before, or I might just leave it and let it disappear into the ether.

I chose digital installation because I feel I couldn’t express it through a lot of other media. Film or painting wouldn’t get it across across. I want to disseminate what they are doing in the observatory – the type of work they are doing, and the type of research, but also the idea of technology in its highest form being used for a purpose which is experimental and undetermined, I guess. We don’t know where this is going to go, and when the funding finishes up in ten years’ time this will all be cleared out – the buildings and technology will move on to another purpose. They might give some of the 1,600 water tanks to the local farmers, but the observatory will be gone.

Maybe what they learned will be useful at some point. We have this huge experiment – a staff based in western Argentina, from all over the world. And then at the end of it, you know where cosmic rays are coming from, and that’s it! You have this piece of information that maybe ends up playing no part in human progress, but it is fascinating nonetheless.

Technology seems to be a recurring theme to your work. 

I tend to focus on transient ephemeral things that disappear over time – things that change the relationship between people and place. Technology is one of those things that is constantly shifts and is constantly in flux…  something else I’m interested in is the idea of lost technology or lost ideas. I started a series called ‘Antikhytera etc.’ in 2016, that is all influenced by this idea: lost technology.

The first piece from this series was a project about the Chernobyl disaster – Mugwort, Wormwood, and how little we know about the end of the world. (I made that title as long as possible so it can’t be repeated.) At the time I was looking at the history of the Cold War era coming to an end, and the influence of that on a place like Ireland in a global community. There were a lot of great ideas in the technology from the Eastern Bloc, lost after the wall came down… there was a lot of propaganda in the West, that led to the belief that behind the Iron Curtain there was no such thing as a good idea, but these people put cosmonauts in space!

Mugwort, Wormwood, and how little we know about the end of the world (2016)

It was something I was interested in, so I checked out everything around the Chernobyl disaster. Which was an interesting personal event as well, because it only happened four months after I was born. My mother told me a story of bringing me out into the town when I was in the pram, and it was raining –there was so much fear and paranoia, that this could be acid rain. So she rushed to get me into the Quinnsworth Arcade [in Sligo town], to take shelter. That kind of hangs with you for the rest of your life. in fact, I looked back at my research from my first year in college and found old notes on Chernobyl, and realised that this had been rattling in my head for a long time.

All that led to me looking into the history of Chernobyl, and specifically the history of the name Chernobyl – which caught my attention, because Mugwort and Wormwood are both etymologically linked to the word Chernobyl. Mugwort was also the star that heralded the end of the world in the Old Testament. There is an interesting relationship between the blinding light which comes from a radioactive star, and a blinding light that explodes from a centre inside of the USSR. The Chernobyl disaster really marked a point where it was visible to the western world that something disastrous on a global scale could happen beyond the Iron Curtain, and it could affect people beyond it. This notion of the local-global and the end of the world, it’s striking. And what is an end?  Is the fall of the Iron Curtain an ‘end’? It caused a major social shift. That question made me think about location and social identity based on the local – which led me to Wormwood Gate in Dublin, which my partner Amy found along one of the points on the old city boundaries. I wanted to do something local that was responding to a global idea. I was very heavily influenced by the Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich and her book Voices From Chernobyl, where she interviews eyewitnesses, and explores the experiences of individuals and how the disaster affected their lives.

Can you talk a little about your practice? You mentioned the relationship between people and place as an important theme for you, as well as the notion of transience, the ephemeral – how do these concepts influence how you work? 

Something that I think is relevant to my practice that I haven’t mentioned yet, and I should say before talking about the piece, is that I stopped working with galleries, and generally with all traditional exhibition spaces, around six years ago. Around 2011 was the last time I showed in what would be considered a gallery space. I will work with artist-led studios and art centres, but generally I like to work in spaces that aren’t art related at all. I like to work with places that are transient – as an art space, but also transient as other spaces, and this links to my thoughts on the idea of commonage or the public sphere. The public sphere was essentially a place where everyone would meet up at a specific spot (like, say, the drinking well), and this is where you would have all this communication, because they all have to go to the well anyway. But they don’t just use the well as a place to get water – they use it as a place to have conversations, to open up dialog and to get news. Really, this dual use of spaces resonates with me, and I want to be a part of something like this. There are legitimate criticisms of the theory surrounding this concept [of the public sphere], and I’m aware of that, but as an ideal for me it is fantastic.

Beyond the Black Stump (2017) at the Charlestown Arts Centre (a multifunctional art centre / library / music hall / community space)

I find audiences extremely important, and I think that when you are dealing with places that are established you are dealing with audiences that are already established also. In galleries, or on that route, I’d be speaking to the same audience as every other artist. Artists speaking to other artists is fantastic in a sharing ideas sort of way, but it’s not the be all and end all. I have had some success selling paintings a few years ago and that was going quite well, but I started getting pigeonholed a little bit by galleries who wanted me to do more of the same. You know what I mean? I’m not going to do more of the same, because I’ve finished that series and now I’m moving on to this series. I don’t want to work that way.

So in Wormwood Gate in Dublin, I set up the work. It featured lights that were triggered by pressure sensors, and the sensors were activated through interaction from viewers. The layout of the sensors matched the shape of the biohazard symbol; the layout of the lights formed the shape of the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl plant, days after the reactor fire. The idea was to create an impression of an exclusion zone, but one that could not be properly interacted with unless people stood on all sides (a minimum of three people). Otherwise there were constant ‘gaps’ in this zone. The piece becomes an ‘inclusion zone’, inviting people to move closer and become a part of the work, rather than remaining outside and forbidden to enter. I wanted it to act like a public space of some kind – a point of discussion, of mystery and reflection.

With research being a huge part of your process, how have you found the task of adapting your language to the audiences less versed in much of the theory you’ve been reading?

I suppose I communicate through my visual language anyway. My visual art is a form of communication as far as I’m concerned, and I think that if you spend enough time with an art piece you will understand it even if you have no background in art.

I don’t think I change my practice for an audience. I like to keep the ambiguity that I put into my work. I don’t change my practice for the audience – I don’t want the ideas to be in their face, but I don’t want to be to ambiguous either. I want people to read into the work the way they want to read into the work, which makes me think a little of watching the new season of Twin Peaks. There was one episode that I just watched there, and it has half an hour of mad avant-garde 1950s-style filmmaking, with a nuclear bomb going off, followed by another half an hour of black faced people coming through speaking in tongues! And as I watched this I felt: anyone could enjoy this. And I love that David Lynch is doing this in the form of a popular TV programme to entertain and confuse the hell out of people. He doesn’t compromise, but he trusts the audience to work with him to find meaning. If it is well written and well made, they will get something from it.

Funnily enough, when you make me think about this, I guess one thing has developed since 2011 –  I kind of insist that I do a talk with every piece that I do now (I do like to talk! haha). And I practice quite vigorously for these talks, to the point where they become kind of performance pieces and part of the work. I don’t generally talk in a very straight line either, but I always try and communicate in the missing pieces for people who might not know my background, or don’t know my way of working, so I try and bring that across in my talks. And I find that people are often interested engaging in conversation and dialogue after looking at the work again in a different light. So yeah, that has become more of my practice since I stopped working in galleries.

You have such a broad set of tools when it comes to approaching a project – how do you see yourself as an artist?

I’ve been reading about specialisation. One thing that jumps out is the book Chronicles, by Bob Dylan. It’s a fantastic book, where he really defines his point of view as a musician. The artist as musician – he’s not thinking [wholly] about songwriting or revolutionary causes, he’s thinking about being a musician as the thing that is important to him. It’s a form of identity and that singular identity of ‘this is what I do, and this is what I do well’ has been reviewed in what I have read over and over in other sources. I think sometimes that’s the only way to really perfect something – a process or a practice. But saying that, I like being scattergun. I’m not a specialist in anything, but I can be good in a lot of things, and I like that. Sometimes it can be disappointing because it can lead to having more failures, when I have grand ideas for projects because I’m got good enough at programming or I haven’t figured out how to paint something well enough. But it allows me a broader scope, which I’m grateful for. This way of working also opens me up to collaboration with people who have better skills, and that is an important part of my work. A lot of what I have done recently has been collaborative, and I love to develop ideas with other artists or people with other skills or ideas.

You can find out more about Shane’s work through his website: http://shanefinan.org/visual_art.html


Ways of Showing: Andy Parsons

Andy Parsons is a Sligo Based artist whose work has been shown in Amsterdam, Dublin, London and Tokyo. Andy is not only a painter. but a curator, critic and facilitator. In this interview we talk about these many facets of his practice and how they effect each other. from his Floating World project with Glenn Holman to the Per Cent for Art scheme Play Spaces and his concurrent painting at the time.

This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.


Andy next to his self portrait

How would you describe Floating World?

Floating World has used the Artist Book as a catalyst for complex participatory projects. Floating World was started by me and Glenn Holman in 2002 – we were very interested in making artist books and putting them out into the world, somehow. Books as a format has a lot of benefits: it’s cheap, you can move it around easily… it’s a format that people understand. You open it and you flip through it. It can be in many places at the same time. The books could be shown in different venues, some gallery venues and non-gallery venues. You could fit a whole show into a box and send it somewhere. Or that same box could fill a whole room.

It was, and is, an unusual model because we asked people we knew that had an interest in books, to make books. It was and is a very informal structure where a number of artists contribute books, me and Glenn being the administrative… kinda curatorial centre of it. The books were very short editions, some of them were one-offs.

The first thing we did was the now defunct ICA book fair, that went really well, and we sold the books in the ICA for about three years. We then configured it so it could be shown in galleries: what we did culminated in a big show called Unfolding the Archive.

Unfolding the Archive?

Unfolding the Archive was a show curated by Riann Coulter alongside Donna Romano. It was all of the Floating World artists responding to things in the NIVAL (National Irish Visual Arts Library) collection in NCAD. They had this huge collection of old books and publications posters, what you might call ephemera from the production of art since the 19th century. Really interesting stuff – unpicking the mechanics of art making. What each artist did was to make a book or [something] book-like, as well as create other objects alongside it.

And your own Involvement?

So I made an artist book about making a raft, but in order to make the book, I had to make the raft! The raft was used to draw on, so it was a drawing board which I sort of sat on to make drawings of the lake isle of Innisfree. Because one of the things I was responding to was a 1st edition of Yeats’s poetry, that and a brilliant poster from the 1970 which I found by accident.

And the show itself?

For the show this is plural – there was one in NCAD and the F.E McWilliam gallery. There were the books and then there were the objects. So for me there was the book about making the raft and the raft itself. there was quite interesting things about the nature of artist books, in essence the artist book was the thing the raft was made to make the artist book, there was a flipping the traditional hierarchy. Normally you get a big art object and maybe publications are made as a peripheral thing to it.

What have you been doing since Unfolding Places?

Since then, me and Glenn have concentrated on a project, The Rebel(s), it’s based on a 1961 movie called The Rebel by Tony Hancock as a starting point. Basically The Rebel(s) is an artist’s book that uses the Movie as a starting off point.

The Rebel(s), promotional poster

For me and Glenn, the project is also interesting because it’s about not really understanding the art world, but really liking to make art! And in the film, even though it is quite satirical and quite reactionary in some of its positions it takes on the art world and the making of art… at the end of the film Tony Hancock’s character goes through a series of mishaps and fails spectacularly as an artist, and his life is trashed, by [the end] he is back where he starts making this godawful sculpture. So it’s about navigating through the art world and taking the all the shit, and then still wanting to make art despite all that.

So for instance, there’s a private view scene at the end of the film where Hancock’s character presents the work he has made to the public. With that in mind, we recreated a private viewing in my studio here, and we made cardboard cut-outs of the kind of people we’d want to come – Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Charles Saatchi and Larry Gagosian at the viewing. If you have seen the film Lonely Guy by Steve Martin, there is a fantastic scene where he has a party in his flat with cardboard cut-out film stars,  which was kind of the inspiration for it. That idea of re-staging things but differently but also being quite funny and poignant.

A little bit like The Raft, you create all this stuff – you make all these objects, you do all these quasi-performance type things, and then weeks of work can be like one photograph [in the book], and it’s, like, 128 pages. That’s why it took a year and a half!

Glenn lives in Suffolk but spends a lot of time London. So, we decided that Floating Worlds would be based between Sligo and London. When we started it, we were both in London. I feel that distance has improved it, in the sense of… rather than leaping in and following impulses, you have to have that “cool off period” where everything has to be done via Skype or email. It makes you more analytical. You can’t just have enthusiasm and follow it up – everything has to be that bit more meticulous. Without Skype, you would be stuffed, but I’ve been over there and he has been over here a lot. A lot of the things have been made quite independently, but there is a shared authorship.

What do you think of the book now that it is done?

The book is kinda quite sad… I think it’s quite funny, but also quite sad. Still, there is this sort of redemption in it. It comes from our love of making art, despite the cynicism of the workings of the art world. We couldn’t have made this twenty years ago. I don’t think we could have made it ten years ago! It’s about being old and still wanting to make art.

The other thing about it is that it’s happened while at the same time we have made our own personal, not collaborative, work as well. These pictures you see around have been done exactly contemporaneously with the book.

Would you say that the book has influenced your painting?

Yeah – I think the making The Rebel(s) has made me think about conformity in the art world, and how much of it there is. I think it has kind of emboldened me to make very, very… unfashionable work. I suppose I care less about what an audience might think of these objects, because making the book has made me think of the patterns of behaviour that we ride – and sometimes fall into – in terms of creating exhibitions, or creating bodies of work, or even how one behaves in the art world. Why try and tailor ones responses to the world to fit into patterns one could discern from other practitioners, or from critical theory? I think to myself, just make the work!

I have an aesthetic I call “ugly beautiful” [laughter]. There’s a deliberate and knowing awkwardness about the way they are painted, but there are quite lyrical bits in there as well. I could iron out those kinks, but I kinda like them.

Could you talk more about your current painting?

The new body of work are all portraits – they’re all very big. Life size well, size- size actually. Each one is made through a process of dialogue, where I ask the sitter where they want to be depicted and they select a personal place – somewhere where they want to be pictured.

For instance, Tina Brooks – one of the first really big ones I did – asked to be depicted on Dorrins Strand, where she lives. So I took the big piece of paper down to Dorrins Strand, drew the beach, and then Tina visited me in the studio and I super imposed an objective painting of her onto the beach scene. So, the background and the figure are done objectively. I’m intrigued about not using photography, and very little of my work use any photographic source material at all.

Portrait of Tina Brooks

There is almost an element of making as hard and as awkward and as annoying possible for oneself, I think, that is quite interesting. It gives them more what I feel is a bit of more…  authenticity?

Take the one of my dad. The central part of that drawing, I shipped it over to my Dad and it was done there in the front room. If it wasn’t done like that, it wouldn’t have the same legitimacy it has as an image. It is about my relationship with him; it’s about his age, it’s about time. It’s also about him, a person from a working-class background, who’s sitting digesting these enormous piles of books. It has a narrative but how essential it is that each one has as strong a narrative? I don’t know. they each have it. But that is almost a by-product of the process – they aren’t mapped out, it’s incidental. Those books, they were there, and I drew them, but only because I was recording what was in front of me. And it was only subsequently after that I was thinking about them in more narrative terms. It would be a lot easier to go photograph the scene, stick it onto a lump of acetate and use an overhead projector and just map it out there, but there is something about taking these big lumps of paper and just doing them that gives them something I couldn’t get otherwise.

Andy’s Studio

What I want from my work (even if it means it will never leave the studio!) is that it at least has an ambition, an aspiration of providing the viewer as much as possible and as profound an experience as possible.



With those goals in mind what artists inspire you?

This isn’t going to sound very contemporary… I was in London a few days ago, and I was looking the Frans Hals and the Rembrandt paintings in the National Gallery. I’m intrigued by Hals’s multiple, multi-figure portraits. Then the Rembrandt thing, where you look at one of his figures and you are acutely aware that it’s a person looking back at you. And it has a life!

Both are very contemporary – whenever you encounter one of them, you are acutely aware of your own mortality, and the fragility of life, and all these things that art should do. You question, you find beauty. It’s all there and they never age… in the sense that the way you as a viewer interact with them is always just as intense.

I’m not wedded to making art with paint. But I think I’m sort of intrigued by the idea of makings art that has some of the resonates of Hals and Rembrandt. And it’s less about style actually? My work doesn’t aspire to be pictures in domestic galleries. they are huge things I guess that shifts the function? maybe its to do with getting older? It’s quite interesting to look at work from ten, fifteen years ago: it was much more abstract and how descriptive these ones are in relation to that now.

I realise now I’ve always wanted to paint the same sort of thing, about people and places, but I’ve kind of meandered for years and found oblique ways of presenting it. Whereas this body of work is very direct. I think what really underscored it is this idea of collaboration, of working with people to make these things; where the subjects of the pictures are not passive, they’ve helped to make them.

I have worked a lot of collaborative and community-based work, and what one might describe as kind of socially engaged work. I kind of feel that is in these pieces, it’s almost like these two paths that have been working in parallel. One was object making, and the other one was curating various education projects, and these two paths were running in parallel – and in this these two paths have converged.

Speaking of Community based work, would you like to talk about Playspaces?

It’s an interesting one to talk about, especially in the context of what we were just saying. It’s a Per Cent For Art project commissioned by Mary McDonagh . It was very ahead of its time in the way that the commissioning it was framed. It was purely a socially engaged piece of work in its conception, [at a time] when that wasn’t as prevalent a methodology. The idea was it would provide context for a series of public-art works space projects. It was about reclaiming or re-imagining public spaces as something we could use societally, rather than something you would drive past. It was about working in the community with a bunch of artists doing, like, theater, performance, video, sound, painting, drawing, sculpture… it wasn’t about making objects or artworks per se, but to make Playspaces outside. To play outside in the world not so much to elevate it, but to celebrate it. To celebrate the beauty of it – not as an art thing, but as a thing as of itself. To be enjoyed. It was quite radical bit of work, I think. I curated it and project managed it. So I think if there are any plaudits to be handed out – Jean Marie Perinetti, Naomi Draper, Laura Mahon, Sinead Dolan, Tony Kenny.… those artists did a great job of coming up with amazing, interesting, playful things. We did a thing at the end that was like an open day, that was like a giant village fête, and all the play we did in the workshops was done outdoors in front of everybody. And then it just went away again. Yeah, very interesting to make a really big Per Cent For Art project and not make anything? Well, to make things that were temporary. Working with a bunch of kids over a quite a long time. Hopefully helping them think about art differently, think about public spaces differently. I think their idea of art was very much in line with what they learned in school? So when we were doing things like making these big sculptures that you could ride around on like bikes, or jump in or out of. It was expanding their understanding of what an artwork might do. It might not be a 2d work that you hang on a wall and look at. Think about Play differently! Not in a polemical way, but as an experience.

I think Playspaces is a period where I focused really intensely on socially engaged work. it’s like how I said socially engaged work has influenced the development of these portraits – it just follows on in different forms really. Like the project I’m doing recently, for Kid’s Own, called Virtually There. It’s a beautiful project whereby kids in a school setting Skype you while you’re in the studio, and you work alongside one another. With my [contribution], the piece I had just finished was this massive self-portrait, and when I was working with the kids, they were making their own self-portraits. There is this lovely idea of what the kids in Killkenny would do, and what the practitioner would do. Projects like that have the same kind of impulse that drove Playspaces – which is to try and enable children to get as much out of art as they can, and to think about it differently.

You can find out more about Andy’s work through his website link below



Welcome to Painting in Text. in this art blog I will be writing about exhibitions and conducting interviews with artists that interest me and I know you will love too! I hope to create discussion that opens up understanding of art from different Perspectives- even though art is a deeply subjective thing, I feel that subjectivity is also one of its greatest strengths. I look forward to sharing what I learn along the way as I look back at art, and assess its future.DSC00047