Impure Things: Ronnie Hughes

Ronnie Hughes

Ronnie Hughes is a Sligo based painter from Belfast. Ronnie is also a lecturer in the local IT and is a well respected figure in the Irish art scene. I met Ronnie through local exhibition openings while I’ve worked at The Model. It was great to sit down with Ronnie over Zoom to discuss his studio practice and his views on painting and drawing. Ronnie touches on his studio practice and views on painting and drawing. We also discuss the evolution of his practice. You really get a sense that Ronnie has given great thought to the development of his practice when he talks about changes in his work. We had a really thoughtful discussion, I hope you enjoy.

Talk me through a day in your studio.

When I go to the studio, I have sets of paintings to work on. I tend to focus on two to three things at any one time. This is something I have done since I was at college. I might have a family of paintings that are related to each other but like all family members, they diverge and do their own thing. And I quite enjoy that. It’s almost like spinning plates. You are always putting a fresh problem in front of yourself.

I don’t use the wall space much unless there’s a show coming up. I have a particular space where I like to work. So, I focus my attention there and sort of blank out everything else. If I am waiting for paint to dry or figuring out what to do next, I’ll just put the work aside and use that time to sit and look and think for a while. They’re usually never too far away but sometimes, I leave them and come back to them in a month or two.

The studio is quite big. It’s fantastic to work in – especially in the warm weather – but it can be a cold studio in the troughs of winter. There are certain things you can’t do in the winter months because it’s too cold. I work around those limitations now. I figured out how to dress for the studio in winter, and I use the summer months to get a lot of drawing done because you can’t be sitting down to draw in a cold studio.

Ronnie Hughes in the studio

You have said in other interviews that the surfaces you paint on dictate the outcome of the work.

Yeah, I sometimes make a feature of [the surface]. If I’m working on linen, there might be raised bumps that I can use as marker points to make some sort of lattice structure. The painting develops from there. You can get similar types of patterns from plywood. Obviously, the different textured surfaces make a difference in themselves.

I don’t see purity as an important factor in art, generally. I feel the opposite is the case. Impure things elicit responses from people, and that is what I’m interested in. If I’m making a painting that is ostensibly abstract, it creates reactions in people, and I’m not completely in control of those reactions, but I can steer people in certain directions with my own particular use of formal elements. That’s something that I think about a lot.

Order/Disorder, 1991, oil on canvas, 229 x 241 cm

I’m interested in pattern. It has always appeared in the work in different ways. In my recent work, I’m exploring the construction of a pattern. When you think about it, what is a pattern? Whether visual, musical or psychological, it’s a structure that creates expectations for certain things to happen. And when you have that kind of structure, you can play off of it; you can frustrate the structure or use it to unleash something else. Even before I went to college, I remember reading about the Golden Mean [the Ancient Greek ideal of a desirable middle between two extremes], when I was an A Level student studying art. I have read a lot about it since. For me, it’s extraordinary that there are certain types of pattern relationships that run throughout almost everything. There is a book by [lecturer and water researcher] Theodor Schwenke called Sensitive Chaos which is about that idea. I find that all fascinating. It feeds into my work.

Commute I , (2020), Acrylic co-polymer on plywood, 93.5 x 73.5 cm    

You have mentioned in the past that paintings should be viewed as objects. Could you explain what you mean by that?

The Space Between, (2015), acrylic co-polymer on cotton, 188 x 183 cm  

Well, I think it’s important to say that paintings are not just two-dimensional. I think it’s a bit reductive to talk about paintings in terms of two dimensions. And I suppose the likes of [essayist and art critic] Clement Greenberg who talked about the flatness of painting, would have set a precedent for this. That may be of interest to some people but that was never the case for me. Like a lot of painters, I’m profoundly interested in the materiality of what I’m working with. It’s not this two-dimensional surface. In fact, it’s the four-dimensional character of the work that really fascinates me. What I see is that the work holds time within itself.

Some believe that abstract art encourages people not to think. I don’t really agree with that. I think of my paintings, in cultural terms, as prompts to reflection or contemplation.

Totem, (2009), colored pencil/ paper, 158 x 141 cm [Installation shot Goethe Inst, Dublin]

The process of how a work was made is embedded in its surface in various ways. If you look closely at a Rembrandt, you can actually see the evidence of touch. You see the making of the work even though it was painted a long time ago. It’s still held within it, and I like that about painting. That kind of intuitive thinking. I’m very conscious that I’m making a thing. There is a big difference in looking at a painting and then seeing its reproduction as an image. Nowadays, most will see it on a computer screen. Even when I’m documenting, I make an effort to retain that sense of the work as an object – lighting it with a particular shadow for example. For me, it’s really important and it’s hard to even say why. I’m certainly very conscious of the depth of the structure and what happens on all the sides of a painting.

It’s interesting that you mention time captured in the object because I often perceive a sense of immediacy when I look at your paintings.

That’s funny because there really isn’t a lot of immediacy in my process. A few years ago I had to catalogue all of my work for my website. I routinely take photographs when I’m working on the different stages of the paintings, mainly for comparison’s sake.  There is a level of objectivity in seeing a painting on a camera screen that isn’t possible when standing in front of it. I’ve used other ways too, to almost sneak up on paintings and try to see them objectively. I find myself looking at them in mirrors and through windows. When I was sifting back through these images, I was horrified to discover some paintings had taken me five years to make and I hadn’t realised! They keep on mutating and there is so much going on that I don’t always notice the time frame.

How did the switch from oils to acrylics come about?

Revise, Amend, Replace, Translate, (1994) Oil, wax, acrylic on canvas, 213 x 244,

My earlier paintings were very physical, and the technique I used called for bucketloads of paint and turpentine. At a certain point, I started to have problems with my breathing and contact dermatitis. My hands would continually be covered in paint and solvent. I had been working with oil paint for around eight years, so the switch to acrylics created quite different outcomes. It was challenging but there were a bunch of advantages to it – particularly the drying time. Before, I might have poured something on to a painting surface and waited two weeks for it to dry. I would have had these large paintings occupying floor space in the studio that I was paying rent for – twiddling my thumbs for two weeks. There’s a big difference between two weeks and two days.

Have acrylics become an advantage to your productivity?

Plinko I, (2020), acrylic co-polymer on plywood, 36.5 x 30 cm

I don’t know if it was an advantage or disadvantage but certainly a change. I had more control over the amount of pigment when I switched to acrylics. I could decide how opaque or translucent I wanted the paint to be. And I could control the finish – whether it was gloss, eggshell or matte. I could make a kind of textured glaze; those types of things were important to me. But at the same time, I missed the consistency of oil. Whatever your mix, the colour of oil paint doesn’t change as it’s drying. The fact that acrylic changes tone is still a pain. You could be trying to correct something and think you’re all done but when you come back in a few hours, it’s slightly too dark. Oil stays open [to reworking]. But generally, I don’t mind. I’m used to working with acrylics, and I have a grasp of them now. All mediums have their pros and cons.

Drawing is an important part of the process for you. You have said that it is more central than painting…

Hybrid Cabinet, Installation shot Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, 2010

Around 2006, I started making an awful lot of more drawing work. I’ve never been a person to keep notebooks. It was never for me. I teach now, and I know for some of my colleagues, it’s very important to maintain things like journals. I can see how it’s important – my wife is an illustrator, and she draws furiously in journals – but I have always felt that, if I have the time, I want to make things out in the world. I did a couple of residencies in New England, in Vermont and Connecticut, back in 2006 and when I was there, drawing became very important. I started to draw much more freely, not stopping myself from drawing in a representational style. Things like signs from gas stations, trees and various objects. I ended up doing this whole extended series of drawings. It became something quite freeing for me when approaching a new painting. I suffered before from the temptation to keep developing a painting. In painting, you don’t have to do things in the exact way that they should be done because you can always do something else with the work tomorrow. The drawings were a lot more precise. By their nature, they don’t give you the same license to make mistakes and revise.

Assorted New England drawings, Installation shot Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2008

That particular mentality of precision became part of my practice in the studio. When I got back again, I started fostering a more drawing-like approach to my painting – in the sense of drawing something out from the process. I have been interested in that act of expressing something that is hidden or latent throughout my entire career. Looking back at my degree show, I made figurative paintings but they were about plants and natural forms growing out from figures. This idea of nature coming from within has always been there in the work. Those theological questions of randomness and design are of interest to me.

Lull, oil on canvas, (1988) , 183 x 244 cm, [degree show]

Has your role as a lecturer influenced your work?

Around eight years ago, I had to deliver a series of design lectures about visual literacy. That helped crystallise things for me because I had a lot of vague notions about that stuff, and I realised then that you can’t really get up and share vague notions with a class of students. I had to go and read about things like Gestalt psychology, how we perceive images, formal aspects and other factors that help to construct meaning. I began looking at various modes of perception – subliminal as well as conscious. That has also caused a big shift in the work over the last few years.

I had a show in Los Angeles back in 2011, and I remember the gallerist saying that he had never shown work as formal as mine before. That really shocked me at the time. I thought, “What? You don’t get the work. It’s the opposite of that!” Having thought about it since, I realise that it is formal work in many ways. I’m using a particular, reduced set of elements to orchestrate things. It’s important to stress that that doesn’t preclude allowing various types of associative meaning, or representations of sorts to enter the work! I have always thought of my work as being more akin to poetry than to prose. Poetry involves fewer formal elements in a way that suggests more possibilities which aren’t so forensic or specific. You could say the same about painting, and that’s what I like about it.

You can find out more about Ronnie Hughes work through his Instagram page and website, links below

https://www.instagram.com/ronniehughesartist/

http://www.ronniehughes.net/

thank you, Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Constructed Wilderness: Cecilia Danell

Painter Cecilia Dannell, Photo by Conor Horgan

Cecilia Danell is a Swedish painter based in Galway. Cecilia graduated from the same Honours Degree in Fine Art (Painting) in GMIT that I studied just before I started there. That is important to me because Cecilia was one of the first artists that I was aware of that had taken a similar education path to myself and was making a name for herself. Seeing her succeed was hugely motivating to me because I felt it reinforced and validated some of the choices I had made. Much like when I discover an artist has a connection to Sligo or Braintree, I get a rush when I discover an artist has studied the same course as me! Cecilia was so generous in this interview, so much so that it was extremely hard to narrow down the final text. There was a lot of deliberation of what to keep and what to take out! I have gained such insight into her practice, and I hope you find it equally illuminating

I feel the best place to start is with is a term that I have seen you use when describing your work: “Constructed wilderness.”

Yeah, because I am very interested in this idea of the romanticist trope of the wilderness as being something that we all strive for. You know? The original context of where we are from. But nowadays, what we might perceive as wilderness in a photograph or in a painting is actually just someone’s back yard! Basically, a lot of times when I am painting, I’m just searching for the different things in the landscape that can disrupt that notion, like remnants of human activity and hunters’ blinds, or just bits and pieces that can disrupt that whole idea of wilderness.

I remember I was in Norway for a residency, and I was painting the Norwegian scenery. The paintings looked as if they were right out in the wilderness, with their mountains and valleys and all that kind of stuff, but they were actually just the view from directly behind the residency centre where I was staying. It was right at the back of a little town, so it wasn’t really the wilderness, it was managed forestry. Still, depending on how you framed it or how you took the picture you worked from, you could stage it so that it looked like the wilderness. If you took the picture from the opposite direction you would have a view of the town, so I was very interested in how we construct narratives. For me, painting is not like a documentary. A painting depends on how the painter decides to frame it or how it’s presented, so I think a lot of my work is drawing on inspiration from theatre sets and constructed things in landscape and stuff like that.

This Blue is Sky Wide, (2016), oil and acrylics on canvas, 137×188 cm

I heard that you make journals as research for your paintings. Could you talk about that?

Basically, my research journal is for when I go over to Sweden. When I do research in nature that leads to the paintings, I often go on walks. While I am doing that, I make maps and write notes on how I felt that day and what the walk was like. Some painters do little studies in preparation for painting, but I don’t usually do that. I find it doesn’t help me. My preference is to work stuff out on the canvas. Because my painting scale is so big, the marks I make in the sketchbook would be a completely different gesture to what I do on the canvas anyway. My journal is mainly little thoughts, and notes. Every few months I tend to write a journal entry about how a particular work is going and concerns I have, so it’s more collecting little ideas.

Have you thought about presenting the journals with the paintings?

Because my work is so staged, I’ve always felt that I don’t think it’s that important to pinpoint exactly where something was made, because it’s not documentary. In the journal, I might have all these maps that pinpoint my walks, and different locations paintings are based on. I don’t feel that it adds that much to the viewing experience. If they have never been there and they don’t know the place, is it essential to see exactly where I was when it was made? If they don’t have the full understanding of that place and they only see the abstract map or snippets of text, are they going to get the understanding of that place? I don’t think they would. In that sense, it’s more for myself, but I tend to show it to people who might be writing about my work. Sarah Searson wrote a text about my most recent exhibition. I showed her snippets of the diary, the process, stuff like that. She referenced some of that in her text. I often talk about it, but I don’t really feel that it is necessary to show the whole thing because again, I don’t see my painting as documentary.

Example of Cecilia Danell Journal

Your paintings are predominantly of Scandinavian landscape. How did that come about?

It’s funny actually you bring that up, I had a conversation about this when I was in Paris on residency. Each morning, most of us had breakfast together, and I was talking to Olwen Fouéré, the actor/director. We were talking about the idea of landscape and place and how people can identify with different kinds of terrain, and I think what it boils down to for me is that I grew up in the countryside in Sweden and spent a lot of time in its forest landscape. I think depending on where you grew up, that place can kind of resonate with you, because when I was talking about this with Olwen, she said that she is from Connemara, and her childhood would have consisted of vast open spaces; when she is in a forest she gets claustrophobic, because she needs that space and to have a clear view of the area around her. Whereas when I am in an area that is too open, I feel put upon, I almost feel like I need that shelter of the woods. For me, forests are almost enveloping or nurturing because I have grown up with that kind of landscape. Even though it is strange in some ways, given that I have lived in Ireland for 16 years. I think it is also the fact that I live in Galway City that I don’t really get out and into the Irish landscape, and I don’t drive, so I don’t go into Irish nature that much other than what is in close proximity to Galway City. It’s like something from the forest landscape has imprinted in me somehow. It was most interesting hearing Olwen say something similar about open spaces.

I Seek the Gold of Time. (2019), Oil and acrylics on canvas, 160×130 cm

When I return to Sweden, I try to not get trapped in the idea of nostalgia because I don’t want my paintings to be nostalgic renderings. The paintings are what I walk and experience now. I’m not looking back at childhood photos and trying to paint them now. I am very aware of the fact that I am translating an experience that I am having now, but it is in a place that I am very familiar with.

Now would be a good time to talk about your approach to painting in the studio.

Cecilia Danell in the studio, Working on Make the Darkness Shine

I work with a large canvas, in the studio with a printout of a photograph that I have taken myself, of places I have been. I refer to that, but I print it relatively small, so you can’t really get the minute details. I never do grid systems or projections or anything like that. I always draw the image quite loosely, entirely freehand on the canvas first. When I paint, I allow for drips and the looseness of acrylic to create a framework for the oil paint. Even though a photograph is referenced, it is never a complete rendering. It’s not like I draw it up like a complete drawing and refer to it.

Studio July 2020. Working on Make the Darkness Shine

What do you want the viewer to get out of the work?

I set a Bait for the Unknown Installation shot Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, 2020

I think where the viewer is in a space is something that I am always conscious of when I am painting. I am standing when I work, ‘cos the paintings are so large. I’m always moving back and forth within the studio when I am painting. I always make sure that I step back to see if something properly works from a distance, making sure that I still have something I feel is exciting, both from a distance and up close. I suppose it is the same when I go to a gallery myself as a painter; I always go and scrutinize details in a painting, but I also step back and look properly, so I want people to have a similar kind of experience. Sometimes I can get disappointed by a painting I’ve previously seen online. It is great when you see it on Instagram, but when you go check it out in a gallery it is really flat or doesn’t do anything when you see it in real life. I always think a painting should work on multiple levels. There should be something interesting to see if people go up really close or step back. That is what I try and achieve, anyway.

Hinterland, (2019), oil and acrylics on canvas, 110×140 cm
Hinterland, detail

So scale ties into that?

I think for myself when I am painting in a large scale, it is interesting to me because it is almost like I am there in real life, it’s like I can step into the painting in my mind. I am interested in specific areas within the work where interesting things happen. If you look at them zoomed-in, you see something that is abstract. The painting that you see when you take a step back, it seems more almost photorealistic compared to what you see when you look up close. I like that push and pull, because a lot of people who don’t see my paintings in real life, when they see a really small photograph it can look like it is way more photorealistic than it really is. And when they come up to see it, they notice that it is quite abstracted in parts. I love being able to play with paint and not just be rendering a photo perfectly, but rather going with the different aspects of oil paint. Oil paint has distinct qualities, so that makes it interesting for me.

You don’t make many small-scale landscapes. Why is that?

I suppose I’m not someone who enjoys too much teeny, tiny detail. I love working in such a way that I have to use my whole body when painting. And being gestural, and I suppose when I’m doing the drippy kind of acrylic, because of the velocity of the acrylic paint, a drip will always be kind of the same width; even if you were doing drips on a tiny canvas, it would be really, really large in comparison to everything else. In contrast, if I work on a large canvas, I can play around a bit more with different types of paint application. Stuff like that is why the most interesting format is working large.  I find most of the time when I am working on oil paintings, specifically when I am making small works, I don’t make the landscapes. I usually make kind of close-ups of various things in the landscape.

Birch, (2018), oil on canvas, 27×35 cm

I always find with oil paints specifically that it becomes very finicky and minute for me when I try and work too small. It is an entirely different method of applying the paint, and it feels relatively restrained. I still want to make painterly gestures even on a small scale, and for that it is better to work with more zoomed-in areas. Still, they would be different now. I have been doing landscapes as the tiniest watercolours during the lockdown when I couldn’t get into the studio. It’s a different medium, with another way of painting, but I like to be able to use gestures and things like that when possible.

Notebook watercolour 10th May 2020
Giant Hogweed, (2019), mix-media

Sculptures are something I make quite continuously. Not all the time, as they tend to be made to have conversations with the paintings. They are meant to be paired with the paintings in the vicinity that are dealing with similar scope and subject matter, but the sculptures are always a bit more abstracted in a sense. They’re not made to be overly realistic. They are more like theatre props, stylized kind of gestures. To be honest, I don’t consider myself a sculptor. At least not in the typical tradition. All sculptures I make are out of very mundane materials; some of them are fabrics, dowels and bits and pieces I find in DIY shops. So, the sculptures are more ephemeral. I would say painting will always be the main thing; the other practices complement my work.

I set a Bait for the Unknown Installation shot Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, 2020

In other interviews you have mentioned that you want to draw attention to the process of creating. Could you talk a bit about that?

Yeah, it has been something I’ve been interested in. I can trace it back to third year in college. I’ve always been very interested in the process and the layering of experience and how one work leads to the next. And I often don’t know what I’m making from the get-go, but one piece informs the next. I always think in my work I’ve been trying to reference the process when I’m painting; you can often trace the process of the painting by looking at the edges. You can see the layering on the canvas, so I’ve always been interested in leaving those clues in the work.

I often use complementary colours and colours that aren’t actually there. I try and find a balance so nothing stands out too much unduly, and I think a lot of times when I work from photographs, I’m very interested in aspects of the photographic print that you don’t have in real life. For example, sometimes when you take a photo of the shadow area, that shadow can look purple almost, because of the way the camera translates it, or if you look at tree branches against sky, you might get a blue border between the branches and the sky itself, and those kinds of things only happen because of the way the photograph renders it. Those are the things that I draw inspiration from, another source for me, looking at the unreality of the photographic image while I work. I’m still always very concerned that I want them to be finished pieces, and I don’t want to show work that isn’t completed. I like the process of making to show through a completed piece.

I always like my work to function on different levels, depending on the viewer’s own experience. I think that someone should be able to come in and see my work and just take it on face value and enjoy looking at it. You can also have someone who is a little bit more clued in, who wants to go up close to the paintings and understand them more. Because I tend to read quite a lot, there is a certain theoretical underpinning to some of my work, but I don’t necessarily feel that every viewer needs to know all of that. Whereas if someone does, it adds an extra layer. I always find it interesting that people of all ages have different knowledge bases; they can take many different things from the work.

You can find out more about Cecilia Danell’s work through her Instagram page, artist page on the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery website and Cecilia’s own website, links below

https://www.instagram.com/ccdanell/

https://www.kevinkavanagh.ie/artists/30-cecilia-danell/overview/

http://www.ceciliadanell.com/index.html

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Eye of the Beholder: Lucy Tevlin

Lucy Tevlin

Lucy Tevlin is a Dublin based artist, who’s work explores a broad range of topics like technology, language and theory. Through this interview with Lucy we really get a sense that theory is really important to her work, and how it has gone on to inform her practice. She has implemented these ideas without distracting or taking away from the work itself. It was a very interesting conversation to have and to hear her discuss her goals within her work. With that said I hope you in enjoy the interview.

A piece of particular interest that I would like to talk about is Alternative Means of Experiencing Images. Could you talk about that?

Yes, this work was a dual slide projection. One projector showed images and the other, text. The work was heavily influenced by theory, and there is one particular Tom Gunning text called The Cinema of Attractions that really influenced the work. There’s this part about Hale’s Tours, which was an amusement ride in London in the early 20th century where you sit in a train carriage. There was a projection of typical scenes outside of the train carriage that you could see through the window, and the seat that you were sitting on would move. You would hear all the sounds of the train, basically imitating the experience of a train ride. Tom Gunning described this ride as an alternative way of experiencing cinema, one in which you are more involved, which is more physical, so I reference that in the text I used. He had written about this moment in history. So, to reference this, I spliced it in with images I had taken out of moving vehicles in Ireland, so it was this sort of looking back at the past but also considering our present relationship with images.  

Installation Shot Alternate Means of Experiencing Images, 2019

In this respect, the material was the theory or language surrounding the work as well as the slides. I used the text as material to play around with. While I was making the work, I would print out texts and cut them up and collage them, so really thinking about language as a physical material.

The title is very interesting.

It just seemed to fit. It was initially titled Alternative Means of Experiencing Cinema, but I decided to change it because I was thinking about cinema in its most basic form, comprised of images.

Titles have become something that is more important lately, because of the package works that I’m making. It’s like that tricky question of, “When is the painting finished? When you have given it a title?”

Can you talk a bit more about what have you been working on recently?

The overall project is called Conjecture. Which in mathematics means a conclusion that is yet to be proved true or untrue, but is suspected to be true. So this idea of presumption or expectation. 

But within this I’ve been writing these texts called The Structure of A Second. I’ve been working with projectors and 8mm films for the last while. Initially, I was creating digital edits from the footage I collected, but I have since moved away from that now to a more sculptural series of works.

I have this system of producing the works now where I order 8mm film online and before the film arrives, I write a text about what it might possibly contain. This work hasn’t been shown yet, but the first in this series of works will be a projection of one of these found films, alongside a voiceover of the text. From this work, I realised I might even be showing too much, so the next work in the series is just the unopened packages of film alongside the text.

400Ft Standard 8mm Cine Film. Holiday To Austria Italy 1966. (184), (2020), Printed text, 8mm film in unopened package 21x24cm

Where are you getting this Super 8 film?

I’ve been going online and onto eBay to find them. I often see people selling home movie footage on 8mm. Either stuff they have shot themselves, or acquired in different ways. What I’ve found interesting is on eBay, the sellers have a limited amount of space for information about the film on their eBay page, so I began to write texts based on what I thought was in the package before it arrived as a way of getting my creative thoughts going. Initially, it wasn’t meant to be presented with the work. But now the writing has changed. It’s become a lot more fluid and abstract; influences might come from the description on the package or on the eBay page, which remind me of a memory, and I write about that. So, it has almost become like poetry, rather than the very regimented exercise that it was originally. So, I present the packages with the writing, and the work has almost become one now, where I have six packages that I haven’t opened. In a way, I think it might be one artwork, ‘cos with this heavy and conceptual idea, for it to work, I feel I need multiple packages that are never opened to make it more a statement of intent.

You said the texts weren’t initially meant to be presented. How did this practice of “supplementing” the lack of information on the eBay listings make its way into the work for presentation?

I was thinking about the idea of expectation. Initially, I tried to play with the audience’s expectation in my response to the home video that I’d bought. I’d explore the viewer’s expectation through editing. For example, there was footage of a couple walking through a shot, but the shot breaks before they actually leave the frame (normally an editing faux pas), so playing with that idea of expectation through the editing.

Writing the text beforehand was just a sort of exercise to get my brain working before the film arrived. Then I was speaking to a friend about the work, and they pointed out that the text is actually my expectation, before I try to create expectation for the viewer. I was already exploring expectation with the texts, so I didn’t need to do it through the editing necessarily. So then the text became a central part of it. Some of my previous work – like a lot of my slide projection pieces and especially my grad show work – used language as an important part of my practice.

In particular, Narrative Structures (2019) is focused on certain kinds of readings to do with what the work is about, so it’s making this work around narrative. I was reading a lot about narratology and deconstructing narrative, and so too the language used when discussing the theory made its way into the work. The work included these phrases from narratology texts, mixed in with a narrative I had written, and slides I had shot that I felt conveyed a sense of narrative or mystery. So, the work was both a narrative and also talking about what it was; there was quite a self-reflexive quality to it. In hindsight, this is where I stumbled upon the fictional format of how I make these works. I have reintroduced that element of language into the work and it went from there really.

Installation shot Narrative Structures, 2019

The way I would consider narrative is that within the work, it’s a bit fragmented. I prefer that the narrative isn’t presented explicitly in the work so that I can allude to it rather than saying, “This particular thing happened.” I will play around with language in such a way where it presents itself, but it’s still subtle. That’s what I aim for. When I was growing up, I was quite into poetry and descriptive writing , and I think that has been an influence too. There’s also a rhythmic element as well. One of the things that drew me to slide projectors in the first place is the sound of them and how they click when a new slide is projected, and so a lot of the time when I’m writing I will think about how the words will sound when spoken.

Projectors have a strong physical presence in your work. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I think what originally drew me to projectors was the physicality of the image. On a screen, the image seems very fleeting, but when you have a slide you can hold it, you can bend it. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on whether or not the projection apparatus could be considered a sculptural object. So that’s definitely something that I think about a lot, particularly when I was producing my grad show work. I guess it’s an attempt to acknowledge the importance of the presence of the apparatus. I’m really curious about the mechanics of the production of an artwork, and what elements we’re asked to ignore. In my work now there is a bit of a grapple between the material and conceptual elements, and I think that is not a bad thing necessarily, where there is definitely a kind of back and forth between them.

Installation shot Reflectance, 2019

When I’m installing, I like to set the projector up in such a way that it is a little bit of an obstruction. So you walk in, and you’re sort of confronted by the projector. Whatever I’m trying to draw attention to conceptually in the work, I will try and position the projector so someone has to walk around it and physically encounter the work, almost a phenomenological approach you’re activating the work by having a bodily encounter with it – I’m trying to do that with an object that you would normally not view like that. More like sculpture than like film. I’m not trying to force anybody to sit down, but I want them to be aware of the space and their involvement in the space.

Your other practice is street photography. There is an interesting parallel to the ethics in that and the work you are currently working on.

Yeah, I suppose it’s something I think about, not that I have a clear answer about what is ethical or not in the work. Rather than having a clear position, I’m just happy to bring attention to the ethical considerations. People don’t tend to notice or mind when I take photos of them on the street. But even if they did, just look up – there are so many CCTV cameras already on you at all times in Dublin. We’re happy to give away our data freely, but a photograph can be seen as invasive. Just because it’s not physically present, doesn’t mean it’s not happening all the time anyway. But it’s still a tricky part of the work that I try to remain aware and careful about.

Untitled street photography, (2019)

Modern technology is at the back of my mind. I never really want to explicitly address that in my work, but I like the idea of it being a subtle undertone: Looking at this older technology creating a certain type of image might make you think about other things that are happening in technology currently.

There’s clearly a temporal aspect of the work as well.

Yes, that’s an element of my practice that I find kind of elusive or hard to explain but it finds its way into the work one way or another. There is definitely an element of trying to distil moments or grapple with time as an entity. I suppose sometimes I’m trying to comprehend the time instilled in or associated with an object, or even just trying to make sense of how we experience time. There’s also the timing or duration of a work, which is really the viewer’s time – that’s something I think about a lot as I’m making a work.

The numbers are another element. When you’re thinking about things that are conceptual, it almost becomes quite mathematical, there’s a strange logic in there somewhere. I try and keep it specific to the medium that I’m using at the time. Using The Structure of A Second as an example: This film projects at 24 frames per second. In a way, those frames are like a multiple, each frame being a separate element of that second. I think in this work I’m really trying to make sense of a moment in time, or several moments and how they interrelate. In a sense it also acts a means to show how the work itself has been constructed, or that I’m using time as a material in the same way I would use the slides or projectors or language in this way. I also enjoy the numerical or practical restrictions of a medium, 24 frames per second, 81 slides in a carousel projector. It’s what’s unique to that medium that makes it intriguing. I’m always striving to be true to the material, whatever that may be.

You can find out more about Lucy Tevlins work through her Instagram page, link below

https://www.instagram.com/lucytevlin/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

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A Lingering Question: Harry Walsh Foreman

Harry Walsh Foreman

From an early age, I have been a huge fan of comic books of all kinds. It might have something to do with the fact that I have dyslexia – and comics, with their illustrations and structured panels, were helpful aids when learning to read. Comics had such an impact on me that when I self-published a book about my dyslexia, I did it in the form of a comic – for me, it was the only way I could explain something intangible like the experience of living with dyslexia. 
The comic medium is such a useful tool for conveying information, and Harry Walsh Foreman is keenly aware of that in his practice. The humour can often belie the intelligence behind his work, and getting to talk to Harry revealed the amount of theory behind his practice. It was an eye-opening (not mention hugely enjoyable) experience sitting down with him to discuss.

Talk us through the construction of your pieces.

My practice always starts with drawing. Since lockdown, I have mostly been drawing from home. During my 2km walks, I would walk to the park and get a coffee, and try to absorb the personalities of the many people that I come across. I like to think of myself as a flâneur or a man about town. I like to wander. I’ll often see somebody with an interesting face or walk, or a hunch or something. I’ll then try to recreate that later from memory.

I draw en masse. When I have an idea of which drawings I want to include in an installation, I stick them together in a very rough zine. That helps me to decipher an order and see how it reads. From there, I take the figures out of the drawings and redo the illustrations, maybe change the background somewhat, and print them on large stickers. 

I used to make and publish a lot of zines. I mostly make them for myself now. I like reading and collecting zines but there is something very insular about that experience, you know? I wanted to make work that people could experience together. That’s why I started to take narrative elements from my zines and expand them into installations. I like that the stories can be interpreted together by a group of people at the same time. 

Daily lockdown scribble notebook 1, (2020), Pen and ink on Bristol board, 29.7 X 21 cm

There is an American comic book artist I’m kind of obsessed with called Scott McCloud. I love this piece he did with [American comics artist] Stephen R. Bissette back in 1990 called a 24-hour Comic. Each of them would create a frame, and that frame would capture an hour in their life. Scott would do a frame, then Steve, back and forth until they had 24 hours of their day captured. Drawing is also like a visual diary for me. I can see a sort of evolution of the people I’ve documented over the years. These are people I come across regularly but because I’m drawing from memory, only snippets of their personality come through.

Your work utilises text quite deftly. Does the image or text come first for you? 

The imagery comes first. The text is gathered separately, and I then incorporate it into the drawings. From there I improvise on the fly, really.

I’m constantly taking notes. If I overhear conversations on the bus and I don’t have a notebook, I try to remember them from memory. And when I get to the studio, I recreate them. I might expand on things, make them more a bit more linear and digestible. Sometimes I edit the text around the drawing. For example, there was one large black and white drawing that I did in the Futures exhibition at the RHA. It featured a conversation I overheard at the coffee shop on Francis St; one woman was giving out about the fact that her daughter who worked at the post office couldn’t afford to go on strike for a day. I had this drawing of an elderly woman and I thought, “You know what? This is perfect.” So, I reworked the text as if it were something she was saying. If I was carrying around a notebook and slavishly drawing these people in real life, I don’t think I would feel as comfortable changing what they are saying or bringing in something I overheard somewhere else. I’d feel like I would have to represent precisely what had happened. 

That Little Madame, (2019), Pen and ink on paper, 35 x 20.9 cm

I don’t like to be too enslaved to reality. I want to draw my own interpretation of reality. I like to include some humour and background into my work, to create an atmosphere. I want to capture a specific temporality, so that you can look at the drawings and think, “Oh yes. That’s really of the now.” 

These characters play an important role in your work, don’t they?

Sometimes I get people saying that one of the figures looks kind of like their aunt. I love that mingling of ambiguity and familiarity. They are familiar figures but the work also leaves a lingering question: is it really who I think it is? Did that guy really trace down my aunt in Tallaght? We all go down the post office and see the stereotypical old man with a walking stick, weighed down with his pension. They are the people I’m obsessed with. I like to play with shared knowledge and provoke questions in the viewer to get them to spend extra time with the work. You know when you’re at an opening with your glass of wine in hand, and you walk past a beautiful painting and think “I’ll come back another day and look at that?” I want to create a situation for people to inhabit together and talk about what they see – to live in that space for a period of time whether it be a moment or a day. 

Futures series 3, Opening installs shot, RHA Gallery, 2019, photo by Harry Walsh Foreman

As an art student, I was always obsessed with portraiture and The New Objectivity movement in Germany (Neue Sachlichkeit). I loved how Otto Dix captured post-war Germany with a paradoxically beautiful kind of gruesomeness inherent to that time. You can tell that he was walking those streets and immersing himself in their social life. Some of his figures are people who had lost their limbs in the war but there is still something beautiful about them. I’ve always been preoccupied with artists like that. Artists who attempt to capture the time they are living in and the foibles of humanity. George Grosz is another direct inspiration for my drawing. Just before World War Two, he published hundreds of very immediate drawings created from memory. This is probably where I got the idea. He drew businessmen and women that you would see just walking around German streets and published them in big tomes. One of them was called Ecce Homo. Other lifelong obsessions of mine are [New York School painter/printmaker] Philip Guston and [Californian-punk-influenced artist] Raymond Pettibon. I love Pettibon’s ongoing drawings of American figureheads, like his mad sketches of Trump, and the zines that he did with [Canadian artist] Marcel Dzama. I enjoy going through those collections and piecing together a sort of narrative.

Narrative is very important to me. I use geography as a narrative in my work. For my masters show, I used a day trip we took to Glasgow as a basis for the exhibition. One of the rooms was Dublin while the other was Glasgow. You walked through Dublin into Glasgow and back again. 

Mortal Engines MFA Install shot, 2018, photo by Steven Maybury

I then pulled that idea into the Futures exhibition and focused on deliveries around my studio at Pallas Projects in Dublin. I was born near there and educated around there, so the area is very familiar to me. The narration followed a route from Francis Street to Thomas Street and further down. I tell my stories through geography, by moving through space.

Your relationship to Dublin is central to the work. Do you think that geographical approach would work in other cities?

I think it would, granted I was in the area for a long period of time and had properly absorbed the people and the space. I’m well acquainted with London for example, from frequent gallery visits or what I call “sketch-cations”. More and more, I find the characters there influencing my work at home. There is a more magnified diversity in London which I find very appealing. I honestly feel I could work anywhere, provided I understand the dialect of the place. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to Paris for a week and drawing those people but if it were six months, I would feel better. Plus, there is a language barrier! 

That element of familiarity in my work is important. People can then come to it and know that street, and almost recognise that building. They might even think, “Maybe I’m that person?” Still, I want to be able to expand on that and have people question whether they actually know that place.

Let’s return to the Futures exhibition. That was an important exhibition for you.

It was a very important exhibition for me. If time allows, I love to paint the work directly on to the walls. That kind of tactility is great. For my masters show in NCAD, I was able to do that. I was fortunate enough to keep my studio room and the adjacent room for that show; Futures was a different beast entirely. There was a fashion show the weekend before. So, there were only two days for install once the space was ready. With that in mind, I decided to use stickers instead, which worked beautifully. That meant it was just a matter of placing my wooden figures in the space. I was done installing in about a day! 

Futures series 3, Opening installs shot, RHA Gallery, 2019, photo by Harry Walsh Foreman

I wanted to utilise the panel aspect of comics in designing the stickers. Again, Scott McCloud and his theory around the comic narrative was a massive influence. The wall had that sense of narration and movement, and the wooden figures created another dimension for people to move through. Some of my favourite photos from Futures were of people moving around those wooden pieces like they were mingling with the characters. That kind of interaction is important. 

Futures series 3, Opening installs shot, RHA Gallery, 2019, photo by Harry Walsh Foreman

Will you develop that interaction further?

I did come up with an idea recently. In my drawings, I often have things like packets of crisps blowing in the wind. I was thinking of painting them or sticking them down onto the floor, so that the audience can walk over them. There is an immersive quality to the work when drawings are flat on the wall, emerging from the floor and standing up within the space. I could also add more elements to the figures themselves. Like a wooden figure of an old woman with her purse constructed as an interactable part of the sculpture. I had this idea before of a wooden figure of an old woman, and having her purse be an intractable part of the sculpture. The purse could hang from the sculpture, and you could open it up to see the contents – Mentos mints or whatever else I can conjure from the depths of my mind! 

You can find out more about Harry Walsh Foreman work through his Instagram page and website, links below

https://www.instagram.com/harry_walsh_foreman_artist/

http://harrywalshforeman.com/index.php/about/

thank you, Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Growth Through Art: Darren Nixon

me axis

Darren Nixon

I met Darren Nixon when he was working on Dislocate for the CCA in Derry~Londonderry. Funnily enough our meeting was a chance encounter that I hadn’t prepared for in advance. But I got talking to Darren and really got sucked into a fascinating back and forth discussion on what relationship artists has with their audience. (Remember, this was my first time meeting Darren!) He converses with such openness, and honest that was really refreshing and disarming in a way that gets you to engage back in an equally open manner. Getting to talk to Darren for the interview really made me aware of the wealth of knowledge he has, but treats you like an equal and never talks down to you. I gained so much from the interview, and his process is something that we can all benefit from even when simply appreciating art.

Your pieces are often a mix of sculpture installation and video, but it feels like painting always shows up in some element. Let’s start with your relationship with painting.

I kind of still think of myself as a painter. Most of what I do starts off with painting of some description. And I suppose I’m slowly getting to the stage now where I’m starting to wonder if paint needs to be a part of everything that I do. What I’m thinking about a lot of the time is the relationship between different ways of working. Because paint is naturally the language that I speak, when I think about something, paint is the starting point for thinking about work. When I work in other ways, how that differs from paint, and the possibilities and tensions between those, are what interest me. In a wider sense, it’s thinking about how the medium that you use affects the thoughts that you are able to have.

That’s why whenever I’m not sure where my work is going, I just go to the studio and put paint on stuff while I think. Because it’s just it’s a way of thinking for me. But in the work itself, and the actual act of painting I’m increasingly putting some distance between them.

I’m starting to think of the painting process as what happens after the bit where the paint goes on the stuff. But regardless of what I’m working with, I feel like I work in quite a painterly way.

With The Audience, you combine sculptural elements along with painted portraiture. There are elements of art history within that.

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The Audience installation shot at Rogue Studios, (2016),
Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

When I’m trying to think about things with a bit of nuance, it’s easier to frame that idea in the context of what people understand, so, “How does the audience look at a piece of work and what does it mean to have the work look back at them?” I was looking especially for that piece to Dutch portrait painting at that point where painters, for the first time, started painting faces which looked back at the viewer directly and what this meant as a shift in what people expected from art.

I suppose the process is quite different for each piece, but with something like that, part of it is I just want an excuse to paint. Because painting seems harder to justify, just for its own sake. But I love doing it.

I often think about the failures of painting, the directions, and the dead ends that it’s walked itself into at times. The functions that it was used for and all the vitality that it used to have, and how it’s not the go-to to think about a lot of things like it used to be. It’s not the primary way that people understand the world by and large anymore. It’s not the way people understand landscape as much as it used to be. It used to be the central tool to explore these themes for a lot of art. That really interested me; that, and what it meant for me making work and how the audience processes the work.

How do you view your relationship with the audience?

It depends on the piece that I’m working with. I don’t overly worry about things being tremendously evident in the work, but I like there to be some element of clarity in the work. I like to think that the things that I’m thinking about are there within the piece if you are looking at it, but, I guess not everyone is going to walk in and respond to it or spend the time to get to know the work. And not everyone’s going to get the references I’m making. That used to be something that bothered me enormously; now I’ve moved past it. I remember being obsessed with the idea that if my mum or aunties didn’t understand the piece I was working on, then there was some failure on my part. At some point, I guess art has to be able to move to other places, and you can’t take everyone with you.

There is definitely an element of art about art within my work, I suppose, and that leaves some people cold. Rather than trying to make the specific things that I’m thinking about really clear to everyone that looks at the work, I’m kind of interested in them just seeing the process of thinking laid bare. So, each piece is a process of a way of thinking.

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The Difference Between Dancing and Contemporary Dance, (2015)
Mixed Media, Dimensions variable

One of the first pieces that I did with this in mind was a piece called The Difference Between Dancing and Contemporary Dance. It was about my complete lack of connection or engagement with contemporary dance, despite being somebody who loves dancing and going out. So on some level, I thought me not getting this was not OK, because there is obviously something going on there and I am not getting it. For as long as I spent making it, I just looked at tonnes of contemporary dance until I found stuff that made sense to me. When I found the work of Jerome Bel, Anna De Kersmaeker and Siobhan Davies Dance company it opened a door for me into contemporary dance that I really understood and connected with. My pieces are like a record of my research and my thinking while doing this research. I don’t think you look at that piece and gain some insight about contemporary dance that you never understood before, but it was a vehicle for me to develop an understanding of contemporary dance, and I’m sharing that journey with the audience.

And since then, dance has become something that I’ve become even more interested in which has influenced later work. I suppose some pieces like that are almost small projects, almost like a little bit of an excuse for me look up stuff and broaden my horizons.

I want to know about things. And that often progresses to, “How can I make a piece about it?”

I’ve been trying on and off for a while now to think of a piece that would allow me to do the same thing with poetry. Because I love reading, and I love literature, but I struggle to gain a connection with much of the poetry I read. And yet considering my fields of interest and finding the way I think about evocation, and the relationship between words and imagery, poetry is something that I feel I should be able to connect to, but I just don’t. At some point, I’m going to try and do a piece that will give me an excuse to dive into it. The driving force behind most of this is understanding what it is within myself that prevents me from really understanding something. It’s a lot of self-exploration.

I find thinking about stuff that I don’t understand and don’t feel an attraction to more inspiring than thinking about the things that I love. If you engage with something that you really hate or don’t connect to at all, and just spend some time really thinking about what it is…it’s not necessarily the work, it could be you. You can learn as much about the shortcomings in your understanding as about any shortcomings in that work.

It’s evident that collaboration is really important to your work.

When I first started collaborating with other people, there was definitely an element of the agreement that they either had skills that I wanted to bring into the work or learn myself. As we worked and I watched them do their thing, it began to felt like an exchange of skills. When I did my Standpoint residency, I decided that I would work with people who were involved in movement because I knew I was interested in movement through the objects that I was working with, but I hadn’t been happy with my results. So I set myself up in a way to work with a broad range of people to try and watch them and learn something from what they did, but at some point, I stopped trying to gain specific things out of it and allowed it to be itself and expand into its own thing. When you started to watch the whole picture of what was happening and the generosity that people brought to the space, the amount that they poured into my work and the amount that they trusted me, the actual act of negotiation became fascinating to me. Skills from my day job – where I often work with the general public – that I never thought would have been of any relevance to my art practice, came to the fore. Like my ability to put people at ease and read the atmosphere in a room and read how people are responding, they became vital tools in making the work happen.

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Host at Chisenhale Studios London 2018 from a series of collaborative films recorded across six week period with 18 invited guests

And so the actual act of collaboration and negotiating with people became a central part of what I was interested in. That moment of transformation whenever you’re in a room with somebody, and you come with a loose enough layout and you don’t try to push your agenda. You don’t try and make a specific thing happen; then you have all that trust and there comes this moment where something happens in the room, and it becomes filled with this other energy and your connection with the person becomes an entirely different thing. Those moments felt like the completion of the work for a really short period, that fed into my idea of wanting to make these kinds of non-art objects that are never quite settled, so they just became an extension of that idea. In some way, the work is only ever complete for these brief periods, with these people.

Working in this way I have learned how important it is to find ways to allow the voices of the people I am working with to stand on an equal footing with my own. This means trying not to overburden them with too much sense of where I am coming from or what I want to see happen. Where things go is something I want us to find out between us. So there is sometimes quite a tricky process of negotiation, trying to figure out how much information they need to be able to invest in the process without giving so much information that they feel like the process belongs exclusively to me.

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Dislocate an offsite project with CCA Derry~Londonderry, (2019) featuring Janie Doherty & Lydia  Swift a series of films recorded over two weeks,

When you have someone like Janie Doherty or Lydia Swift who is prepared to go to that point, and is prepared to end up with these things happening that are nothing like what I envisioned when I was making the objects in the works, those times are precious. The time you spend with those people seeing how they negotiate the things you made and seeing their creative approach is a great privilege. That act of negotiation has become the centre of what my work is about. That time in the room is as important as the resulting art piece.

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 Dislocate an offsite project with CCA Derry~Londonderry, (2019) featuring Janie Doherty & Lydia Swift a series of films recorded over two weeks

Could you talk a bit about a day in the studio?

When I am in the studio, I do spend a longish day there. I used to spend most of my hours working in the studio. I used to work in central Manchester and also have a studio there. So I would go to work nine to five, then to the studio, stay till eleven and cycle home. Then on days off, I would cycle into the studio about ten in the morning, and I would stay until ten at night. So it was like most days, if I have a full day I would do a twelve-hour or more day in studio, partly because the things that I was making, stuff like The Audience, take a long time to paint! I think it was about 140 faces? So, it was hundreds and hundreds of hours in the studio painting! I got really good at painting faces throughout that!

With the arrival of video in my work, however, my time is now split between working in the studio and working at home. I sometimes find it difficult to strike the right balance between these two because video editing and figuring out what to do with the stuff I film is such a time-consuming process. I prefer being in the studio painting stuff but sometimes I can go for weeks without having much of an excuse to be there when I am pulling stuff I have filmed together and that needs all my focus.

The material that you use is quite interesting. How do you choose the materials that you are going to use?

For the past couple of years, I’ve almost exclusively used stuff from skips or discarded stuff left on streets or around spaces I have been working in; making these big expensive things involving a lot of material started to make me feel a bit uncomfortable with buying new material, because of the amount of waste involved. I wanted to keep making these installations, but only making them using stuff that was bound for the bin or that someone else had used previously.

Generally, it has to be able to take quite a lot of physical punishment. I also have to be able to repaint them after each session and have them ready for another session. They have to be quite easy to move which is also partly why they end up quite simple. It has to be something that I can easily reconstruct and redo because it could be used across a few months in different spaces. When I feel that I have gone as far as can be with the bigger pieces, I will then cut them up and re-use them for others. Apart from the practicalities of using cheap reusable materials for my work it is also quite a conscious rejection of some of the preciousness around materials that persists especially in painting. How fetishy some painters get about paint, I understand why, because it’s the material that they’re using, but when I listen to painters talk about specific glaze mixes and these paints they got from Holland it just bores the **** out of me. For me, I think of paint more as colour that I can put on things that will also protect objects that I’m working with. It’s the act of putting paint on an object as a way of thinking about the act of an object travelling from being in the everyday world into the world of art in a really simple way.

The whole point of me starting to work on objects rather than canvases was that I just really wanted to explore space, and why space is so central to how they operate. That’s the whole reason I’m there is to try and find out something about space that I don’t know, or something I don’t understand already. Because they take quite a while to set up, and so it feels still quite like early days with these ways of working. And I’m excited to see how it progresses.

You can find out more about Darren Nixion’s work through his website, link below

https://www.darrennixon.com/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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How Something Works: Jamie Cross

Jamie working on, 240v every other 15mins

Jamie Cross working on, 240v every other 15mins

I recorded this interview in March just prior to the full lock-down we experienced in Ireland and the exhibition in The Dock that we talk about in the interview has as of publishing  this interview (06/08/2020) been postponed to a later date. I met Jamie through the ARC (Art & Research Collaboration) MA at IADT, and in that time, I have been lucky enough to see Jamie discuss the development of his practice well before we even sat down to do this interview. The way that Jamie approaches his practice and how he naturally integrates his interests into his work is so effortless. I hope to get across his intelligence because the pieces he makes are quite remarkable, not only from a technical standpoint but theoretically as well. There are so many ways that you can appreciate his work, and this is all deliberate on his part. I enjoyed sitting down with Jamie, and I hope you gain as much from the interview as I did.

You have quite a tactile understanding of objects. Where does that come from?

I think it was originally from when I was a child. I used to take stuff apart because I was curious about how it worked. Granted back then I never put anything back together. So, I pretty much used to break stuff!

A lot of my work really starts with this curiosity about how something works. Then by wondering this, the next step I take is to try and explore its inner workings. There is a space created inside an object which I always think is kind of fascinating. These are often objects that we all use, but they are never really considered.

I could be working on three or four things at once, and this sometimes leads to me amalgamating them all. I’ll take one aspect, one thing that I am doing, and then bring it into another thing that I am doing that I feel will work really well together.

What is the role of technology in your work?

I love using technology, it really drives my practice, but I don’t want it just to be about that. Even though I use a lot of software, I don’t want it to seem that what I do is a software-driven practice. I’ll use video, but I’ll always come back to the question of how I can bring sculptural elements into the work. I’m always exploring how digital and sculpture can work together, so the final piece is often kind of an amalgamation of the digital and the sculptural. I feel that that they need each other to work and I find that interesting.

Acer Aspire 5732z, 2019

Acer Aspire 5732Z, (2019), Acer laptop

A lot of my works are explorations of themselves. For example, with Acer Aspire 5732Z, I wanted to show its inner workings, but keep it as a recognisable object, for the viewer to know that there is something going on here inside the object. We can recognise this laptop is an everyday thing, but there is also more to the inside of the laptop, there is more to the actual object.

Display, Sound, Power, 2020

Detail, Display, Sound, Power, (2020)

Display, Sound, Power, 2020 (2)

Detail, Display, Sound, Power, (2020)

For the piece Display, Sound, Power I actually built the computer that the work was being displayed on. I started the build out of necessity for an exhibition in The Dock. I needed a faster machine.  I thought if I was going to build it, wouldn’t it be much more interesting if I try and make this into a sculpture? I built the computer, and it was a working computer, but it wasn’t doing anything for me sculpturally. It just looked like a computer, so I decided I needed it elevated. At first, I tried putting it on the wall, but when I tested it there it wasn’t interesting enough for me. It wasn’t until I put it on the office chair via the brackets that it clicked, and I don’t know how I came around to it but suddenly it became a sculpture in itself. As soon as you stick it on a plinth, it becomes this object that people walk around and look at, but sticking it on the chair, it becomes much more a sculpture. Personally, I love it when two random objects come together and can somehow make sense!

Let’s talk about the digital aspect of Display, Sound, Power.

Visually I was inspired by advertisement screens around Dublin City.  I was thinking that technology can do so much, but they are using it to show just one image. I thought I would see what I could do with imposing that kind of restriction on myself, and if I’m honest, I had to fight my own urge to have a video on the monitor. But once I settled on the right image (of the escalators), I was happy with it. What was most important was that everyone knew it was working. With the image of escalators, there’s certain movement in it, there is so much going on in this single image, whereas a video would almost be too busy! Like running, running, running.

Advertisement board in Dublin city centre

Inspiration for Display, Sound, Poweran advertisement board in Dublin city centre

Having the monitor in portrait as opposed to landscape helped as well. It suddenly throws people off. They can see that it’s a monitor, but why is it in this shape? Why is it tilted back? I was looking to buy a new laptop, and the salesman kept on saying it was an “ergonomic laptop” and “the ergonomics are great.” And I was wondering, what is ergonomics? I started looking it up because I was interested in that word and how it was used to sell this object. It’s still just a monitor, but all of a sudden, it’s this “ergonomic” monitor. “Designed for efficiency and comfort for working.”

Escalator travelling up

An example from photo notebook

I’m interested in the design of objects, why an object is designed to do certain things. That, and I was also interested in just playing with the fact that the monitor was able to be twisted. Originally I wanted to have the monitor at a more extreme angle, but I think with the image, there were already so many little angles going on in the image. Just having it in portrait mode was enough. It’s probably the piece that I am most happy with.

What is a day in the studio like for you?

My studio space I suppose is a bit of a weird studio space, because it’s my living space as well. Generally, I try and break up my day. Half the day I’ll do digital stuff looking at photos, research online and stuff like that, and the other half I’ll do hands-on work. I really enjoy taking things apart and exploring the material of something.

Because I work in my apartment the whole time, I almost wonder if I had a studio, would I be making the same work? Because in a studio there would be nothing until I brought it in, whereas when I’m working in my apartment, I’m responding to what is around me.

240v every other 15mins, 2019

240v every other 15mins, (2019), fluorescent tube

240v every other 15mins which I made for my grad show, and which was shown at the 2019 RDS Visual Art Awards, came about when I was working in my apartment, and a light in my kitchen was just flickering. There was something wrong, and I was wondering why this light was flickering. It was annoying me, so I started taking pictures on my phone and taking videos of it. Then when I went back looking over the videos and the pictures, I noticed that the phone was capturing the light as green. With the naked eye, I couldn’t see this neon green, and it made me question why it was doing that. From looking at these photos and videos, I started researching how light works. There’s all these kind of atoms in the fluorescent tubes, and when the electricity travels through the wire and hits the atoms, for a split second the whole thing goes green. Because the electricity excites the atoms so much, and immediately there is this flash of green, and then they come down, and it becomes the white light that everyone knows. I was really interested in capturing that moment when the atoms hit, or the electricity hits the atoms in that kind of inner space of this florescent tube. The finished piece ended up being a replica of that light, but made in a neon green colour. I originally had it flickering as well, but I felt that it wasn’t necessary. Generally, my work is a cycle, starting with asking a question and figuring out how it works, then normally showing my findings in an artwork in the end.

The book The Poetics of Space has influenced me a lot. It is about how, for a space to exist, it has to be experienced. For example, a house is nothing until people start living in it. It is just a box, and only when people start living in it does it become a home. So it started with that, I was exploring aspects of houses, the space between the walls of a house. Eventually, I started questioning, how does a space of… say the inside of an object, how does that become a space? Because we can’t fit in that. No one can. I started thinking to myself, “Well maybe through my exploration of it, taking it apart and looking at each inner working piece of it, maybe I’m producing the space through that experience?” I want people to take note of space in all its forms.

How would that interest in space manifest in an exhibition?

Something that I like doing is the setup of work in a gallery. I like to imagine where people are going to move and what they are going to look at. When I plan a space out, I’ll start with something visual that is eye-catching. I want to draw the viewer into this space. When I go into a gallery, I like something to capture my attention straight away, something that gets me asking questions. “What’s that?” Or, “What is going on with this piece?” I want my work to elicit that response from others when they see it, and then position works around that, which they can explore. I use SketchUp as a tool to plan out the space before an exhibition.

Installation shot, RDS Visual Art Awards, 2019 (2)

Installation shot, RDS Visual Art Awards, 2019

I try and highlight aspects of the space I’m exhibiting in. For example, in The Dock, there is a set of stairs in the building that are near some high walls. One of the pieces I have been working on uses a clothes horse, and it’s bright green, it has this real eye-catching element to it, so the plan is to hang a clothes horse high on that wall. This is an everyday object that everybody knows, but suddenly it’s like, “Why is it up there?” I’m making people aware of the space. Using its positioning to make the viewer look up rather than just looking forward. I like that line to bring people around the space; it creates a path through a space. I’m interested in how that can be done through the placement of works.

The space changes the work, and the work also changes the space.  Selecting work is very important as it can lead to a different feel in a space. When work is installed in a space, it can really change that space completely. I am interested in the comparison between the exhibition space and the object in that space.

You can find out more about Jamie Cross’s work through his Instagram page, link below

https://www.instagram.com/crossmjamie/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Organising Chaos: Diana Coppperwhite

 

Diana Copperwhite Portrait 22-2

Diana Copperwhite

 

Back in February, I had the pleasure to sit down with Diana Copperwhite in her home in Dublin to discuss her art practice. Diana’s enthusiasm for paint as a medium is so evident from talking to her that you come away invigorated and enthused about paint and what can be accomplished in the medium. My hope is this interview does that conversation justice.

How would you describe the act of painting?

I think of the physicality of painting and allowing paint to just be what it is. I am fascinated by what it can do rather than the overly illusionistic aspect of it.

What really hits me when I’m painting is that whatever object I’m looking at is really abstract. They’re just shapes, lines, contours and spaces. We look at things in a figurative way because our brains are wired to recognise certain arrangements within our history of spatial recognition. I’m interested in the potential for [that recognition] to break down –  the way information breaks downs when you look at the space between things. The physicality of it; the push and pull of your brain recognising something. All the while, it’s just paint. It’s quite an exciting space.

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Trip Switch. (2015), oil on canvas, 175.3x235cm, courtesy of 532 Thomas Jaeckel Gallery, New York, photo by Gillian Buckley

When I was giving a talk in NCAD [The National College of Art and Design] about my work, I spoke about the point within the painting where I create these layers and I’m responding to the mark that I made before – these oblique kinds of spaces where anything can happen. I’ve let the painting take its own direction but there’s a point now where I have to do something deliberate. The colour bars and those kinds of detached shapes that seem to float; they’re very deliberate. From there, I’m very sure about what I’m doing next. It’s like a different part of my brain is making the decision. It’s the pull between these two ways of working that makes the painting and makes me feel like they work for me because otherwise, the work would be too beholden to chance. That’s not to say that there isn’t any deliberation in gestures of chance but it’s a different kind of fast and instinctual deliberation, whereas this is more methodical.

You’ve described the process as creating chaos, then organising it.

In a lot of my paintings, I have a deliberate mid-tone range with a lot of greys, and the paintings can go very muddy for a while. They have to go through a process for a brief time in their construction where they look awful, but that’s great because it means I have to rescue them! I know what I’m doing throughout. The bright colours can stand out when the painting is constructed over a period of time. If I gave in all the time, nothing would happen. A lot of it comes from that chaos. I think it’s a disaster but then I manage to turn it around. [The process] is often about adapting to what is happening on the canvas. I’m not rigidly stuck in the idea that, “This is the way it is and it’s going to stay like this for the whole painting.” Painting creates a tension between chaos and order. For me, exploring that dynamic in painting is kind of the point.

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Counter Culture, (2015), oil on canvas, 235cm x 175.3c,  courtesy of 532 Thomas Jaeckel Gallery, New York, photo by Gillian Buckley

Let’s discuss a day in the studio for you.

I’m more comfortable just reacting to information around me. Overthinking never works for me. So, when I get into the studio I just let myself go into a sort of free fall. Recently, I have been responding to a photograph I found of [French painter and printmaker Pierre] Bonnard’s wife with the reflection of her in the mirror and another mirror reflected back. I liked the image, and it has inspired some work. But the next five paintings could be inspired by something else. It could be just something that’s in my head.

I believe that you must have a relationship with the painting. Usually, I will work on a painting over a couple of weeks. I have to stay in touch with it, stick with it, and not break from it to the point where I lose the connection. If I start painting and I don’t stick with it, when I go back, I can’t see it in the same way. There are exceptions, like if you are visually tired and you try to continue, you can destroy it. What I sometimes do is turn it around for two or three weeks and when I return, I have a different relationship to the canvas. Visual tiredness can be even more destructive than physical tiredness. Visual tiredness is like burnout.

I paint multiple works at the same time because you can put too much pressure on a painting when you focus on one only. You’re not able to allow it to fail. You can’t relax and take risks when everything is pinned on one thing. The more you make, the more failure but also, the more chance for a few of them to flow. I remember when I first started painting years ago, the paintings used to feel a bit leaden to me until I managed to loosen up and relax. I’d go, “OK. If I don’t let go, nothing will ever happen.” I think they were black and white initially when the change happened. Maybe there was just more material use and fluidity but they seemed to take on a life of their own. They had a degree of unpredictability. I started to use a lot of white, which allowed the other colours to flow and merge. I have always found colour fascinating.

Science is another point of interest in your work. Where did that come from?

There is a lot of science in my family. My brother is a physicist. I find it interesting myself as an artist because it frees me from what I think is concrete reality. It gives me the freedom to think that anything is possible and my relationship to an object in front of me is not exactly how it appears. Then in a way, [the abstract paintings] feel more real than a traditional painting of a coffee cup. It feels more real to acknowledge that, when I see an object, there is a time delay – something in the middle that we can’t see.

I was talking to one of my students who taught physics at Maynooth University about the electromagnetic spectrum and infrared. When I was 16, I loved [German Renaissance painter] Hans Holbein’s painting of Sir Thomas More because the arm of his velvet jacket is painted as if it were an infrared image, but it was 1527 and infrared wasn’t discovered until 1800, so he couldn’t have known. It’s a 21st-century eye interpreting a 16th-century painting with new information. What people will know in the future and how that knowledge informs their interpretation of reality… For example, you can see heat radiation in glowing coal but when the wavelength cools and shifts into the infrared region, you can’t see it anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s not there. Certain animals that see different spectrums can still see it, and that’s fascinating. I’m here in a specific time and space looking at things within my limitations. I always wonder about what else can you not see? There is a little bit of mysticism there but I like it when science and mysticism meet in the middle, and create a healthy space for art. Then you can really start to wonder and feel free to create visuals that actually have some grounding in reality because you’re exploring what you are observing. When you can no longer see something but it’s still there; what does that mean? I also find all of that stuff about collapsing stars and infinite darkness fascinating.

You showed a large digital print in your duo exhibition with Ciara Barker for the Galway International Arts Festival at the 126 Gallery last year. Could you explain the decision behind that?

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installation shot, Galway International Arts Festival, 126 Gallery

When GIAF asked me to do something for the festival, I had already been working on some large paintings for TULCA [Festival of Visual Arts]. So, I thought I would do something different. I had previously created wall paintings for the likes of the Highlanes Municipal Art Gallery and the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.

 

 

A change in my practice came about from Double Vision, a show I had worked on for the dlr-Lexlcon in Dún Laoghaire. When preparing for Double Vision, I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to paint on the walls. I was actually kind of relieved at the time because I wanted to start working with different materials. So, I came up with this idea of using a fabric print. It was an experiment. I asked the LexIcon to send out an email to people in the area for 30 seconds of phone footage of anything. The idea was to look through another person’s eyes. I started to draw a pattern based on what I was looking at over the duration of the video, and let it evolve and overlap with the original drawing. While I was looking at the extremely varied footage, I was also looking at what I had drawn before. My instinct was to compose it subconsciously.

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Double Vision installation shot at the DLR Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire, 2018

Before that, I had an exhibition called Driven by Distraction for the RHA [Royal Hibernian Academy].  I created a large wall painting in response to our interpretation of media and how that relates to memory. I walked around the RHA with a camera, taking little videos of different spaces, then I combined all of them to create one flat space. My work for the Galway Arts Festival was an evolution of the work I had done in the LeIicon and the RHA. The colour was more subjective – more me – but the pattern came from footage acquired from Galway locals. I worked with a company in Donegal to create the final prints.

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“Driven by Distraction” at the RHA Gallery, 2016, Acrylic paint and videotape on the wall, 10 foot x 30 foot

I think I’ll continue doing stuff like that because I’m able to show different sides of my practice through it. The paintings have a personal dimension and a physical dynamic but the prints are different. I like that I can present the more ordered part of me in making prints. if I only made wall prints, I would get bored. Sometimes the paintings can be very overwhelming but I need both. I can’t do one without the other. They allow me to think in different ways.

Conversation is a term you have used in the past to describe your work. What does it mean to you?

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example installation shot

When I place the works in an exhibition, I organise them in such a way that they can breathe and not be on top of each other. Sometimes a really small painting kind of works near a large painting. It makes you aware of just how large the large one is, and vice versa. They talk to each other. [These decisions]It makes the viewer move within the space – looking closely at the big one, moving back to take in the whole painting and then automatically focusing in on the smaller one. There are so many different things happening in the large paintings; it’s like a sentence, and then you have this little black painting beside them like a full stop or a comma.

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

http://www.dianacopperwhite.net/

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Past and Present: Mick O’Dea

Emile Dinneen Foggy Dew Pics (1 of 95)

Mick O’Dea, photo by Emile Dinneen

I’m really happy to share with you my 25th interview – it was a great privilege to get to interview Irish Painter and Sculptor,  Mick O’Dea, an artist that I have huge respect and affinity for. Talking to him about his practice was a pleasure, and it was important to me to get across his warm nature and immense knowledge of Irish history in this interview. It has been a while in the making, but I think you will agree it has been worth the wait.
I’d love to start with the exhibition you did for the RHA [Royal Hibernian Academy], The Foggy Dew. What was the impulse behind that project?

That project came out of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. I first became aware of commemoration, pageantry and memorials during the events in and around the 50th anniversary of the Rising in 1966, when I was eight years old. That had a significant effect on my imagination. I was impacted by the coming together of so many people to mark what must have been a major historical event. It triggered my desire to draw out and colour the extraordinary stories that I was hearing. Our history school books were very well illustrated. When looking at history books I went from page to page seeking out the illustrations. Consequently, I was introduced to art and that combination of subjects has been a gift to me all my life.

Fast forward to when I was elected President of the Royal Hibernian Academy from 2014 to 2018; during my term as president, the centenary of the Rising was being commemorated. I had previously presented a series of three exhibitions covering the War of Independence and the Civil War – that period in Ireland from 1919 to 1923 – at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery from 2010 to 2014.  The director of the RHA Gallery, Patrick Murphy asked me if I would be interested in presenting a major exhibition of new work in 2016 to specifically mark the Academy’s contribution to the 1916 centenary commemorations.

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Black and Tan Installation Shot at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, 2010

The most significant cultural loss of the Rising was the complete destruction of the RHA as a time when it was hosting its annual exhibition. The Academy was then located on Abbey Street Lower, beside Wynn’s hotel in Dublin. It caught fire as a result of British shelling and that fire destroyed the entire exhibition – every painting and sculpture that went into the 1916 show. There were approximately 520 pieces. In addition to that, all the historic material – the paintings, sculptures, the library with its collection of rare and important books, documents and assorted artifacts, as well as the school – were lost in the inferno. The entire fabric and history of the Academy was gone.

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The Academy Burning, (2016), mix media, 400 x 250cm

As the president of the Academy I wanted to draw attention to this. The Academy’s destruction seems to have somehow escaped the full attention of historians and the public in general when referencing that period. My more immediate concern was how I would go about making that exhibition. I decided that I needed to create an installation that would harness the way I processed the events stretching back over the past 50 years in dreams. I opened up an hallucinogenic chamber using sculpture, painting and lighting to facilitate the efforts of both the public and myself to understand what this cultural loss had been about and what it could all possibly mean.

At primary school, we learned numerous songs including ‘The Foggy Dew’. The words of that song conjure up many vivid images that have been consistent in how they manifest themselves in my mind’s eye. The centrepiece of the song for me comes with the words, “While Brittania’s huns with their long-range guns sailed in through the foggy dew.” Officially, Brittania is always portrayed as benign, sitting down with her shield, her trident and lion beside her, benevolent. In ‘The Foggy Dew’, she’s vengeful – proactive in dispatching and dispersing her rebellious subjects. I was aware that the words of that song alluded to the HMY Helga – the gunboat that sailed up the River Liffey, anchored outside the Customs House and shelled Liberty Hall and the GPO. It was indirectly responsible for destroying the RHA when a barricade that was erected across Abbey Street Lower was set ablaze, igniting the Academy.

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The Foggy Dew, installation shot RHA Gallery, 2016, photo by Emile Dinneen

It came to me that the inspiration for the exhibition should be the geographical area that runs on a line from the Parnell Monument at the top of O’Connell Street to College Green and Trinity College. There one would have encountered the Parnell Monument, Nelson’s Pillar [destroyed by the IRA in 1966 and later replaced by the Dublin Spire], the GPO, the RHA on the left, the O’Connell Monument, Trinity College and the monument to William of Orange on College Green [removed in 1929]. They would all feature in the show. Downstairs, there was a block of 16 portraits of the 1916 leaders reinterpreted. Two wild card portraits were exhibited there as well: one of [W. H. M. Lowe’s son] John Loder and one of Captain Bowen-Colthurst.

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Trophies of War, (2016), mix media, 250 x 400cm

The main gallery housed four 2.8 x 4 m paintings of the GPO on fire with a runaway horse, the Academy on fire, the Parnell monument with British soldiers and College Green with more soldiers. One for each of the four walls. The interior space was occupied by four large sculptures in wood and cardboard with a vengeful Brittania dominating. The other floor sculptures were of Daniel O’Connell with a large bird on his head, the remnants of Nelson tumbling from a very unstable plinth, and a version of the official monument unveiled in Ennis in 1966 to commemorate the Rising’s 50th anniversary. Suspended over all of these were 12 life sized figures entitled The Ever Present Dead, arms and legs askew as if they had been struck a mortal blow. They rotated gently in the air, dimly lit and fixed to a fine wire. The exhibition felt like the culmination of a recurring obsession that had never left me throughout my life. Here it was made manifest. I could not help but feel that I was the right person in the right place at the right time.

The sculptures in The Foggy Dew have a distinct monumental quality. Can you tell us more about that?

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Daniel O’Connell, (2016), cardboard, photo by Emile Dinneen

When I grew up in Ennis, I passed a monument that was erected to Daniel O’Connell every day on my way to and from school. I became conscious of plinths and public monuments in general, and discovered that whenever there is a dramatic regime change, the first things to come down are those monuments that are identified with the previous regime. They become charged focal points. The immediacy that I required when making the figures and objects could only come from cardboard. The initial maquettes were realised in my painting studio and then, with the help of the gallery crew, the wooden armatures were constructed in the basement of the Academy. Manipulating cardboard is like drawing with charcoal or painting; it’s very mobile and versatile. It accommodates changes in direction and emphasis whenever necessary.

I needed a physical environment that was all-enveloping and a sense of space and latitude that would evaporate boundaries. I was curious to see whether I could create an experience equatable with the images and sensations that generate and recede rapidly in my subconscious, in that state between sleeping and awakening.

Has sculpture always been a medium that interests you?

Yes. I started out at NCAD [The National College of Art and Design] in the sculpture department before transferring to painting. Throughout my time in painting I regularly made portraits and figure studies in the clay and plaster casting room on Kildare Street. I never cast the works; I preferred to keep them as clay constructions. As a consequence they don’t exist anymore, though I have some 35mm slides as evidence. I messed around with cardboard constructions for some time before being invited to take a studio with a group of South American and Spanish artists in El Poblenou, Barcelona between 1996 and 1997. I happened to be studying for an MA in European Fine Art at the time but the college studio was inadequate, though I held on to it as a base for generating ideas on a smaller scale. I was focused in a freewheeling way, letting the material I was working with map out my direction.

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Drawings from an old folder from NCAD Dublin 1977 – 1979

I spent several weeks constantly drawing before starting to paint. I then started to make structures out of scrap wood, string, rope, cardboard, etc., to use as source material and props for painting. The props in turn became sculptures and I lost the desire to record them as characters in paintings. They were autonomous objects in their own right. The subject matter was influenced by cinema and popular media, particularly Westerns, war films and the war comics that I consumed in my formative years. The cocktail of images that emerged was a development on the theme of the Plastic Warriors exhibition that I showed in the Rubicon Gallery, Dublin in 1995. It was concerned with violence, disruption and the potential for catastrophe to be unleashed on us at any moment.

My attitude to sculpture is that it is a natural extension of drawing and painting. My inspiration comes from practitioners like Picasso, de Kooning, Degas, Red Grooms, Rodin, etc. I construct and modify; I am not a carver by temperament.

Let’s talk about your painting. What drew you initially to portraiture? 

I put my interest in portraiture down to the fact that I grew up above a public house and grocery shop in the middle of a densely populated, big-county town. I described the experience to someone once as akin to living in a corridor. There were people everywhere – customers downstairs as well as family and employees living above the business. We were closed for two days of the year: Good Friday and St Stephen’s Day. The rest of the time, the establishment opened around 8:30 am until midnight, except Sundays when the pub was supposed to be shut by 10:00 pm.

We attracted a varied clientele representing a healthy cross section of occupations from the town and country. We also had a loyal customer base that reappeared once or twice a year from England and the USA. We had our share of chancers and opportunists which gave the pub a bit of spice. The Clare Champion newspaper office lay directly across the very narrow street. Our pub was referred to as the “front office” because the typesetters and journalists held court there at all times of the day and night. The quality of discourse and debate was often very illuminating and I was exposed to facts and information delivered with eloquence and style. Arguments were tolerated except when they became personal or potentially violent – then my father and brother would step in, though my mother had a special gift when dealing with those situations.

That amount of exposure at a young age to personalities of all sorts and inclinations inculcated a deep curiosity in me about people. So it was natural that I wanted to draw them and attempt to understand and be around them. I wanted to learn and I was curious. Drawing and painting gave me proximity to explore people and personalities in greater depth. Through drawing, I could determine the extent of my understanding of them. I wanted to hear their voices and nail down an essence on paper or canvas before they left.

How did you go about finding your sitters?

For about the first ten years of my practice, the portraits I painted were almost exclusively of my friends and people I encountered in art school. I was intrigued by these new acquaintances and definitely needed to record them. I was also conscious that I was leaving a record of my time behind in paint and drawings. The works are intensely biographical. I lived in Dublin on and off since I moved there in 1976. My lifestyle was nomadic. I moved frequently and lived in many parts of the city, usually between the canals, northside and southside. I became familiar with the local art scene. Thom McGinty [alias The Dandelion Clown, later The Diceman] introduced me to many creative people from the world of performance.

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Thom Reading Kenilworth Sq, (1985), watercolour, 36X51 cm

I met Thom in NCAD. He symbolised what I was seeking: creative freedom and the unshackling of restraint as I conceived it at the time. I often found a place on the floor of Thom’s various lodgings when I was in transition from one place to another. He was very patient with me; he sat and posed for hundreds of drawings and paintings. As a mime artist who studied under Lindsay Kemp, he was able to be in the moment. When I would be rattling off about this or that, he would say to me, “Mick O’Dea, just be’’ in his drawl Glaswegian accent. My sitters were people who lived off their wits and talents. The 1970s and 80s in Dublin afforded people places to live. In my case it was the world of bedsits, flats and houses shared by some decent souls. Prospects were not great but there was wonderful spirit. That life was acted out in a city that was demolishing its architectural heritage and creating vast tracts of wasteland. The car was catered for at the expense of people. Actors, artist friends, friends of friends, head-the-balls, art models and people on the fringes were my subjects. The excitement of the encounter allowed me to transcend my capabilities and produce something even more exciting. The prospects were tantalising.

I was fortunate to exhibit my work in the Taylor Galleries during the 1980s. The gallery was exhibiting many of the artists in Ireland whose work I admired at that time. Through the gallery, I discovered a constituency that was interested in the type of portraits I was making and I received some interesting commissions. The Independent Artists annual exhibition also provided a forum for talented artists and I exhibited with them annually from 1981.

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Mick O’Dea at work in the ‘pop-up’ studio in Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny

More recently I returned to working with actors, performers and musicians after accepting an invitation from the Director of the Kilkenny Arts Festival, Eugene Downes to be the artist in residence during the festivals of 2015, 2016 and 2017. It was a great opportunity. The festival has some extraordinary people performing there annually – exactly the kind of people I would wish to paint. For the first two years, I was accommodated with a studio in Stephens Barracks, the home of The Bloods, thanks to Lt Col Stephen Ryan and the Festival committee. We had some extraordinary moments with the sitters and the audience that attended. I painted someone every day. Sometimes I painted two portraits: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The afternoon sessions were open to the public. The sitter recited poetry or communicated in whatever way they wished. That arrangement enabled me to harness the crowd’s energy and goodwill. They would respond to what I was doing while also engaging with the subject of the portrait. The atmosphere was like an open chat show. The painter was the presenter while the audience and subject were live participants. I was like a performer; I had to be match fit every day. For the final year I was hosted by The Home Rule Club, another fine venue. Through their support, I could concentrate exclusively on portraits. I did not choose the sitters. The Director persuaded the performers to give up their time to be scrutinised by the audience and myself. I don’t know if I would ever have the energy to repeat that kind of project again. It was unforgettable!

There’s an interesting quote of yours that seems to speak for a lot of your work: “History is never over. History is always present.” Can you unpack that?

As an artist, you have an ongoing dialogue with the practitioners of the past. This is not an academic engagement. Rather, it is a dialogue in the here and now. You are assisted by the masters as they reveal how, in their time, they have dealt with making art and understanding the world. The past achievements in so many areas of human endeavour are just stupendous; so are the mistakes. Our lived environment has been passed down or inflicted on us. We can’t escape our predecessors. We live with our dead. The longer one is around, the more constant their presence. Our actions are the consequence of what has preceded us. We are part of a continuum that stretches back through the ages. Our actions are a pulse that resonates on an infinite cord that emerges from the past and stretches into the future.

You can find out more about Mick O’Dea’s work through his website link below

https://www.mickodea.com/

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Every Piece in its Place: Anishta Chooramun

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Anishta Chooramun

This interview was recorded in October 2019 before the Futures exhibition in the RHA. Anishta Chooramun is a Dublin based artist. Anishta works in the medium of sculpture whose work explores themes of culture, material and identity. These are concepts that many of us will have grappled with at some point in our lives, and Anishta takes that familiarity into interesting directions. This leads to very rewarding experience when you take the time to give yourself over to the work and observe the sculptures.

Your sculpture is interesting in both its construction as well as its structure. Could you talk a little about that?

My core subject is identity as a jigsaw puzzle, and how our everyday life changes us—for example, moving from one place to another, the people we encounter. All these changes shape our identities. It’s not just people who shape us, but also the objects around us. If you compare yourself to somebody who lives in the forest, they probably don’t have a concrete house but a hut. They might have mud clay utensils and a fireplace where they cook. I was thinking about that and considering: the material that I’m going to be using will be things we live in and among, like concrete and wood materials.

Our senses definitely get affected by what is around us. When I moved to Ireland, I actually moved into this place I hadn’t seen before getting the keys. We booked online before moving from Manchester. The living room had this Christmas red wallpaper…when I walked in, I wanted to scream! I could not stand it! The second day in the house, I started to peel it off the wall and then redid the walls. I just could not live with it. Your environment does affect you. It dictates our moods, and behaviours.

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Kathakers [Take a Bow I & II]- exhibited as part of Unassembled in the Lab gallery, (2019), Concrete, corrugated paper, copper, 115cm x 80cm x 190cm photo by Jamin Keogh


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And Then We Met [Looks like Perspex]- exhibited in The Dock Arts Centre Exhibition, (2018), Glass, square steel rod, corrugated paper, black limestone, linoleum, 194cm x 70cm x 50cm

Keeping that in mind, my piece Kathakers [Take a Bow I] is made from concrete; it doesn’t look bulky, but it is so heavy it takes two people to lift it. But when you look at the way it arches, it looks like something light. So I play around with the viewers perception. My piece And Then We Met [Looked Like Perspex], which was exhibited in my graduate exhibition, the RDS show and The Dock Arts Centre is in a similar vein. It was a metal piece with glass draped at one side. Looking at it, people thought it was Perspex or plastic. But no, it was glass! I like that tension, to trick the viewer’s eye so that you might think it’s one thing, but it is not.

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And Then We Met [Looks like Perspex], detail

I am very tactile. I love combining different textures in my sculptures. The materials I use in my sculptures come from a vast array of mediums. I like to play around with the textures. For example vinyl is shiny, so you might combine that with a matte finish of wood, and then concrete, which has a rough finish that contrasts with both.

So, when you make these sculptures, is playing with material where the ideas come from?

Actually, when I start with planning out a work, I don’t really start with what material I want to use. It’s more what movement. And then after that, I think, “What is going to make this movement possible?”

Some of my most recent work is based on a dance called the Kathak. The Kathak comes from Northern India. It’s a dance that has passed from generation to generation, and its movement is very symbolic/allegorical. Originally performed by travellers, it is used to tell stories. The Kathakars communicate these stories through rhythmic foot movements, hand gestures, facial expressions, and eye work, as a kind of sign language. I incorporate references to these gestures and movements, in these sculptures

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Kathak Dance

That’s why I settled on the Kathak, because I wanted to bring some language into my work. This dance is a dying practice that you don’t see very often. Contemporary dance has taken over, which is another reason why I decided to use it, I looked into many other storytelling dances related to language, like the traditional Indonesian dance or the New Zealand haka, but felt kathak is/was right for me.

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mapping movement

So each movement of the dance is cropped, to create the movements in the sculptures. In one piece, you are seeing her arms go up and go down. The sculptures are, in one aspect, a mapping of that movement. To capture it, I performed the action, and a friend of mine helped me to mark wherever my arms would move. That’s why the end product is not figurative, but gestural. Each movement is like sign language. [Kathakars [Heart Piece]] is so named because, in the dance, she actually touches the ground, and then when she is sitting down, the hands come together at her heart. The dance is a very ancient and traditional dance, from travelling bards in India. They would go from village to village. This dance was a way of telling stories, in a language of its own.

There are a lot of words in Hindi that just can’t be translated into another language. One of these is aahat. Aahat is sort of a presence that is not really there. You might imagine something supernatural, but it’s not. It means a feeling, of someone else’s presence or something has happened. You generally feel an aahat when you are alone. It’s that feeling you get It’s like if somebody has been in your room while you were away. You know somebody has been there, but you can’t tell how, because they haven’t touched anything…that person has left an aahat behind. Think about it: there is no one-word replacement for that meaning in any language.

Between my works, there is aahat, a kind of influence on each work’s personal space. The pieces communicate with each other through their shape, the colour, the size and material. The light that is in the room. It’s all influencing the works. So, every time I show this work in a new space, it may look completely different. The set up would be completely different.

You mention the space between works. Are you thinking about the space where you’ll ultimately be showing the work during your creative process?

I really don’t put that into my thought process when making the work. My focus is to create a puzzle so that the works can communicate with each other. After it is done, then I consider the location. If it’s going close to the door, what piece should be closer to the door? How are people going to receive it? How does it work when shown with other artists’ work? How is it going to communicate with their work?

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Kathakers [Heart Piece] exhibited in The Dock Arts Centre Group Exhibition with Patrick Hall and Mary Ronayne, (2019), concrete fabric, white concrete, red vinyl sheet, Glass, Tile, 90cm x 70cm x 55cm

The Heart Piece was placed very close to Patrick Hall’s stone painting [in the Dock exhibition]. By looking at its shape, and Patrick Hall’s painting, with the colours he had, I thought it would be best to actually place them close together, so that when people are walking in, the room doesn’t look mismatched. While placing my sculptures in a space I try my best to make sure all works are in harmony with each other. I had a wooden piece that was going to go into the show but didn’t, because it did not work in the space. Sometimes you just have to make decisions on what works and what doesn’t. I tend to make pieces in sets. It was created at the same time as a number of works, but for whatever reason, one of them always turns out to be the odd one. Like the black sheep! It does not work with the rest of the sculptures despite giving it the same consideration as the rest.

I’m actually changing it a little bit for the Futures exhibition [in the RHA].  It’s no longer going to have a white interior – it’s going to have a red interior. I’m doing some colour testing and also peeling off and adding more texture, so it’s not complete yet.

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RHA Futures exhibition series 3, episode 3,

Is it common for you to change works between exhibitions?

It happens every now and then, where I’m not entirely happy with the work. I feel like I need to keep going at it until I’m satisfied. It’s rare to see a painting changing. But sculptures, I think because they’re objects, you have the flexibility to play around a little. The artist might decide when moving it to put it on a plinth or suspend it; all that can change the way the public will engage with the work. But saying that, I don’t really think of how the public will respond to it. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

The public love certain works. That I feel aren’t fully resolved. I don’t know how people are going to react to changes – whatever those changes end up being – but for me, I have to feel a work is resolved before I can completely leave it.

You mentioned earlier about the works being a puzzle.

I used to do a lot of origami. Folding small pieces of paper and bringing them together to

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And Then We Met [Mother Piece]-under construction, (2018), Wood

make one shape. I was playing around, making boxes with origami and I was thinking, that this is the most common shape we encounter in our everyday life: “Gosh, everything around us is actually is related to this shape, a box! We live in a box. Oh my god, we live in a box and when travelling we go in a box.” So it started with these origami boxes, and then I started cutting them out. I play a lot with my kids, and we were doing jigsaws just before making the boxes, so I thought, “Why don’t I turn these boxes into a jigsaw puzzle? That way I can make them relate to each other by colouring them and cutting through the boxes and cutting the boxes in many pieces then bring the shapes together to create a new box if possible.”

I was thinking about how when we move to a new country, things change. Our eating habits change, we try things that either fit or don’t fit, then we move on to the next. It’s the same when we encounter people. Some people we like and some people we don’t, and again we move on. It’s a natural process, so I was thinking of all that and these tiny boxes, and from that, it moved to creating a massive one.

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RDS Visual Arts Awards 2018

The sculptures displayed in the RDS are a result of this process. I made a big box of plywood and I cut it and separated the pieces, so that when you put all the pieces together they become the original box again. Basically, this is my thought process; I was thinking about making origami pieces, I wanted not just one sheet of paper but different sheets of paper to come together to create one box. That would represent how different things come together to shape who we are. And then the disassembling of it; each piece would take its own shape and depth into a sculpture. It’s breaking down into layers, just like tracing each movement of the dance to create a sculpture. For the RHA show, there was the main piece, which I called the mother piece; all the pieces come from that one, but all occupied their own space in the exhibition. I did the same with the dance, and I broke down the dance process that created the groundwork for this series of works.

You can find out more about Anishta Chooramun work through her Instagram page & website, links below

https://www.instagram.com/anishtachooramun/?hl=en

https://www.anishtachooramun.com/

thank you, Anne James and Adrian Mc Hugh, for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Place is Paramount: Sophie Foster

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Sophie Foster

Sophie Foster is an English artist based in Germany. This interview was recorded in December 2019 during her residency in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Her project Customs House was one of my favourite exhibitions I had seen in 2019 – for me, the way Sophie was able to deftly balance audience engagement and authorial intent was a key aspect of why the exhibition succeded. In this interview, Our conversation predominantly focused on Customs House, but that project provided us with an illuminating discussion about Sophie’s practice and approach to art as a whole.

Can you talk about the start of Customs House, the project you did in the Leitrim Sculpture Center? This idea of getting visitors aid in exchanging natural materials form one side of the Irish border to the other is fascinating?

I started by researching what other artists had done in the space there definitely seemed to be a lot of socially engaged practices being exhibited. I think a lot of people are intimidated when they go into this typical “White Cube” space, so I try to allow the viewer to put their input on what they are seeing. Something that influenced what I ended up doing was finding out the gallery used to function as a shop. I think the shop idea allows the project to be more interactive. Filling in the invoice or deciding the object they want to bring in, giving them that choice. So, they can read into the project. I always like to get this kind of feedback from people because it brings different perspectives which allows you to develop the project further. And with Customs House it was broaching a heated subject like the Irish border which had a number of perspectives.

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CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

When I apply for residencies, the place is paramount, and my practice, in general, is responding to location and the context around the area that it is in. So with Manorhamilton, seeing how close it was to the border, instantly a light switch went on in my head. I could do something with this. And I don’t know if it is a good thing or not, but it is something that artists should be aware of or play to their advantage, you are always going to be typecast with background, and I found that when I moved to Germany. I had moved after the 2016 referendum, and the three questions would always be asked were What’s your name? Where did you come from? And what did you think about Brexit? Brexit is this big huge word that I cannot escape. Because of that, I also thought of timing and how this border was affected by this vote. I wanted to know how people felt about the situation. I had seen it on a map, I’d never been there myself and talking to people who cross it every day. People of different generations who have lived with it and experiences they have had and how they have dealt with it has been really interesting, and it has been so nice to get a broad range of different ages and groups of people. Borders is a vast topic that genuinely interests me. These socio-political situations and their relationships to geography. This felt like the perfect opportunity to develop that idea.

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The Lines of Exchange. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), screenshot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre.

One aspect in particular with Customs House that intrigues me are the trades, could you talk a bit more about that?

For me, the exchange is about determining what is equivalent, in terms of value. I’m quite interested in the importance of objects and the power of objects. And that can be for many reasons, and this is something I discussed. What is value? something rare or something that is expensive, unique or has sentiment to it. So, it is playing with that and the irony of you using natural materials which are seen as plentiful. You can go out and pick a stone up and say that is just a stone. But then, of course, every stone has a uniqueness to it. Then by rigorously categorising everything, putting stuff in jars, measuring and adding the location of where the object is from. That adds that uniqueness of every object. In a sense, it becomes something else. Rarefied.

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Filling in the Invoice. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Documentation from the exchange event. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

I was looking at the apothecary idea of using natural medicine and putting this kind of context behind the object and this idea of value. The Customs House idea then brings in a purpose to what the people are doing at the shop counter and the person behind the counter with the white coat on. It contextualises the trading. Whereas if I just put a table in the space and had the objects laid out without purpose, I don’t think there would have been the same level of engagement. And then you have the invoice, this element of bureaucracy. And you have to fill in the invoice, that’s like the task. You have the written record of the exchange, and that can link into many political situations of trade and exchange as well.

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CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

You might think of someone just walking and just picking something up and bringing it in, but I’m giving them a choice to bring in whatever they want. I think that has been very interesting to see why they chose the objects. Whether it’s something that they feel is beautiful or because it reminds them of when they go walking. It might have some kind of relation to the place. Quite a few people have written in the value bit “I chose this item because it reminds me of home”. Or “I chose a bit of wood from the tree my kids used to play on”. You know there is a tremendous amount of sentiment that I wasn’t expecting. But that’s what people decided to focus on, which links to themes that I’m interested in. In memory, I think that’s the power of the object, isn’t it? You don’t want to forget something or lose something

What happens to the objects at the end of the exhibition?

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CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

The third room where you can see the objects on the shelf, they are placed back into the landscape. And the plan is to put the objects in their new location and document that as well. I think having that documentation is helpful for people to be able to see in a photograph – oh, my object went there. That knowledge is quite nice. To have been a part of something, this bridging exercise. For the audience members that exchanged an item, it’s up to them what they do with their object. Most people take them home. Others have said that they will take it to the location where they found their objects.

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Relocating the Objects of Exchange. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), photo documentation. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Jackie McKenna

The exhibition wasn’t just your shop front. You also had a chalk representation of the border as well.

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The Borderline. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

Yeah, that’s right. So, the borderline when you see it on a map, it just looks like a squiggly line, it kind of doesn’t even make sense in a way, why it’s there but then I realised when I visited that part of the border between Belcoo and Belleek, a lot of it is water, so it made sense having the River there as a natural stopping point. It makes you wonder how borders are drawn up. Politically it’s a game. But particularly with the Irish border when you’re physically there you cannot tell. That for me was quite interesting because not all borders are like that. Specifically, at this time of year where we’re commemorating 30 years of the Berlin Wall falling down there are more walls than ever! I think it’s quite lovely to visit a border that’s kind of physically not there and people are free to cross it. The idea of drawing it with chalk on the blackboard was because it can be rubbed off, so it’s actually a way of physically representing how some people feel about the border. I think with the younger generations who didn’t live with the troubles, who have lived there their whole life where it has always been open, it’s kind of invisible to them. The border might not mean anything to them compared to the older generations. One visitor said, “Well the border for me was this rite of passage. To be able to physically cross it was a huge thing.” Because for them, it wasn’t always so easy.

Mark Making is obviously very important to you.

That goes back to my degree. So, I studied Combined Honours where the drawing was the third component which included Art history. And I pretty much just did life drawing. Which I enjoyed but, kind of felt I couldn’t develop it in a sense. You’re drawing the figure again and again, occupied with proportion, and getting the figure right. This idea of mark-making came about from this idea of the happy accident. Of drawing as doodling when you’re not trying to think of anything you know, taking the pen for a walk and creating these interesting lines and shapes that stem from that. Thinking about not just what you are drawing with, but what you’re drawing on. Paper as a material itself and what you can achieve with that either making it or allowing it to decompose or using different instruments to create certain marks and lines.

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Trail Drawing, (2014), ink on Japanese paper, 80×60 cm

And that kind of developed further when I was doing a residency in Northumbria University in a paper studio, because I learned the craft of making your own paper. Once you put the energy into making your own sheet, paper suddenly become so precious that you don’t want to draw on it! So that kind of stemmed from that really, I don’t do so much drawing anymore, but I think it’s the planning stages when it really comes about – just trying to get something down on paper or coming up with ideas I find that can be a useful medium. And it shows through so much in character and personality to see how people draw and how they are with their lines and stuff like that.

And repetition is also something that I’ve been interested in a lot, giving yourself a kind of task like for example I’m going to draw 100 lines, or I’m going to colour in 100 squares. For me as an artist, it’s very important to do things that are quite physical or time-consuming or requires an element of energy and physicality so then I feel that I’ve achieved something by doing. So I often give myself these rules to try out and follow. I like to be organised, and I like to have structure. It’s super important. I just can’t go out there and draw or do something. Research has to be put into it, so I know what I’m doing. And for me, it makes it all the more worthwhile that I am working towards something.

Let’s talk about your research process.

Yeah, I’m hugely research-based for sure. And I enjoy doing that. So how I tend to work now, there’s this element of place or having a place to work within, a building or something like that. Then it would be researching into that, like the history, the society, the other contexts that’s around it and then from that, the creativity starts.

I get a lot out of being physically in the place as well you know, interacting with it. I found with this, The Customs House, I purposely chose to cycle and walk to get to the destinations. To actually feel like I’m involved and experiencing the landscape in this physical kind of way. Like cycling up those hills and down again! Cycling 20 kilometres to get to the border. And I also read a lot of literature around it too. For this project I’m reading The Ballroom of Romance by William Trevor. It’s about the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne on the border. A lot of people cycled through It, and I wanted to experience that as well. But it was interesting to physically be there and try and find things, go to tourist centres and talk to people about the area, it’s a kind of practical research, To physically be there is part of the research as well.

There is definitely a sense that the environment is very important to you within your work.

I think it’s just this enjoyment of being outside! I don’t like being cooped up in the studio. I find it very isolating, I just find I get a lot out of it personally being with the environment or trying to work with it in a sense rather than against it. I always find a lot of beauty in natural things. And I don’t really want to replicate that myself but kind of use it as a way to influence my work or allow people to see things differently. I think that’s the main reason why I keep coming back to it. Also, there is a massive amount of philosophy and science behind nature and natural forces and the weather, it’s something culturally that we’re really obsessed with. It rules everything, and we can’t control it. That just shows how powerful it is and how small we are. It’s definitely something I want to develop further, bringing an awareness to environmental issues.

You can find out more about Sophie Fosters’s work through the links below

https://sophiefoster.org/

https://www.instagram.com/sophiefoster_org/

thank you Mick Lally for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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