Primary Colours/Realm

This interview was made possible by the Sligo Arts Service, Sligo County Council. To Celebrate the opening of Realm the accompanying exhibition to the Primary Colours Residency I sat down with the exhibiting artists and recipients of the residency Jo Lewis and Aideen Connolly to discuss their work and exhibition.

This exhibition developed from the Primary Colours residency, where each of you worked with different primary schools to create work. Could you talk about that?

Aideen: We were both assigned schools to work with, and I was lucky enough to be assigned the national school my children attended. The school is just out in rural Sligo near the Gleniff Horseshoe. There was a lot of flexibility in what I could do with the children. I had them make ink using natural materials, and on other days, we just spent the time up on the mountain (Gleniff Horseshoe) building shelters, drawing and foraging for plants to make ecoprints and cyanotypes. They didn’t see it as art, they saw it as play. And it was very connected with the landscape.

Aideen Connolly Primary Colours Residency

Jo: I was excited to get the residency especially as it was linked to an exhibition. Working with the children, it was so liberating to try things that were ephemeral. We would make works in nature from nature, work not made to last before being taken back by the landscape. It was great how the kids embraced this way of making because, so often they can get tied up with the concept of ownership. ” I’m taking this home; this is mine”. They really embraced the temporary rather than being very precious about the works they made.

Jo Lewis Primary Colours Residency

We’ve talked a bit about the residency, but let’s talk about your studio practices. When you are in the studio, what are the first steps you take in creating a work?

Jo: The materials I use inspire me. I might have the urge to work with clay one day; or for example, at the moment, I’m working a lot with roots. Roots have influenced the work I’ve been creating for this exhibition.

Jo Lewis studio
Jo Lewis studio

In general, the materials I use are materials I’ve found. An important part of the process is finding the materials, bits of wood in skips or scraps that are left over. You see so much being thrown out. It always upsets me to see stuff being thrown out and not being used again. My partner is a builder, so he always has pieces of wood or other scraps hanging around that I can put to good use. I collect a lot from the garden as well. I’ve been collecting roots and seed pods and things like slices of cucumbers and leaving them out to dry to see how they end up looking. Where I’m at, at the moment, I’m using a lot of that garden waste. I wash the waste, like the cucumbers and roots. I think the act of washing them is so important because it gives you a chance to look at them. You get to look at them from a different perspective. 

Seeing them from a different perspective has really inspired me to, in a way, play with the materials. Ideas have come from that, and I can push the materials in my work. 

In the studio, I start by playing with different materials, and it is from that play that ideas will emerge. I develop by adding more structure to those ideas.

 Aideen: If I’m starting anything, I will sketch first. It’s part of my research, how I’ll make the first mark. And I really like doing that, even if it’s only in one colour; I can get an idea fairly quickly and fairly cleanly. Sometimes they become the piece, but sometimes it’s just the practice of getting there, and both are equally valid outcomes. That’s the fun of it.

For this exhibition, I’ve been combining a number of processes: painting, drawing, felting, cyanotypes and my Eco-Prints. When creating ecoprints, I try and slow things down. You have to look at the plant and acknowledge it, know a bit about it. Is it poisonous? What colour will it be? I find that research, especially the practical research, is so important to my process.

Aideen Connolly cyanotypes

Usually, I have to think how I will communicate an idea, whether it is going to be a painting, Eco-Print or Cyanotype. I explore, experiment and see where the process leads.

Have you had challenges working with natural materials, since they can change over time?

Jo: My work is very much about the experience anyway. An installation, no matter how big or small, will only last the amount of time you’re in it. With the materials I’ve been using, you could come into the exhibition one day, and a few weeks later, you might have a slightly different experience because something may have drooped, and in a way, noticing that change is an experience in itself. Those individual moments are important.

Jo Lewis installation

I’ve had some practical challenges as well, as you might expect, considering the organic nature of the materials. Pieces going mouldy, or things not changing in the way you expect them to, and to be fair, other things also dry out well. One funny challenge I didn’t expect was that some materials could look really well in the skip, but once you get them home, they aren’t so good. It’s very much about how you put things together and where they are positioned. But sometimes, you just have to accept that those changes are part of the work. I suppose if you want it to stay the same forever, the only way to do that is to freeze it in resin, but I feel it defeats the purpose of using natural materials.

Aideen: For me, If I want a crisp cyanotype, I have to work quickly with the plants, or they will wilt. The time of the year can provide its own challenges. There is plenty of greenery in the summer and spring and autumn, but practically nothing in the winter. Acquiring materials can be hard that time of the year. There are ways around that, berries can be stored in the freezer and plants can be dried.  

Aideen Connolly eco prints and cyanotypes

When it comes to eco prints, the image is made using plant material as both image source and ink. The natural dyes and forms of the plant are transferred/printed on to cloth or paper through a process of wetting and heating. You have very little control. Yet, you are driving the process by putting the plant under pressure to release the pigment. I find it fascinating, as the plant can only do what it can do, so you are learning the plant’s limitations as you experiment with it. All plants have different compositions. I loved the exploration that comes with that. I had been making my own ink for many years. Combining my love of print with eco or botanical printing was a natural progression in my practice. Eco prints are mono prints!

Aideen Connolly ink recipe book

Maybe we can finish by discussing your plans for the exhibition.

Aideen: My Realm journey is a linear map in a way, starting in my own townland of Cloonty (Meadow in Irish) through Edencullentragh/Hollyfield where St Aidan’s NS is located and up through the Gleniff Horseshoe Valley. The road passes through 7 townlands. Each townland once supported many families. Not even stones remain to mark each home. The flowers they planted fado fado do appear year after year though. I chose to forage at different times and places along the road for flowers, native and otherwise. Using cyanotypes (an early form of photography) and eco print techniques on paper, wool and silk, I have created work that gently echoes the ephemeral nature of its past. 

Installation shot, Hyde Bridge Gallery, (2022)

Jo: Catherine Fanning will curate the exhibition. Whilst our work is separate we have elements in common, they will definitely complement each other. The Hyde Bridge Gallery has a lot of history. It used to be residential; the rooms still have the fireplaces from that time. I see recycled materials in a similar vein as they are objects that also have a history. Objects and spaces have embedded energy, and I plan to tap into that for the work.

You can find out more about the Primary Colours Residency through their Facebook page and website, links below

thank you, Anne James & Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing


Radiant Attention: Yvette Monahan

Yvette Monahan

This interview is an edited conversation between myself and Yvette Monahan, for the purpose of the website.

Yvette Monahan is a photographer and curator based in Dublin, and lectures at the University of Ulster. I sat down with Yvette to discuss her practice the changes in that practice that have occurred over time and how she approaches art. In this interview, I hope to get across how deeply she thinks about her work. It was a fascinating conversation and I hope you enjoy it.

What’s a day in the studio like for you?

For me, it’s different every day. In general, there are three stages when it comes to a project. The first stage is research, then the making, and then making sense of what you have created. It’s all-encompassing when I’m in the making stage, but I like to spend a few months researching before I get to that. So that involves a lot of reading.

In contrast, the making stage is about getting into a place of flow and letting it happen. So I start with some elementary repetitive tasks to access the unconscious space. Then, I experiment with different materials and begin to explore. The exploration tends to last a few months. Then you have to step back to get a sense of what work is emerging.

How do you start your research?

Research is never a planned thing.   An area of interest takes hold, and often the right book will fall off the shelf on the right page, there is a mystery to it. Talking to peers and friends about ideas will lead to a book that progresses the project. Before long, there are piles of research books all over the studio. It’s important because the more you know, the more you can bring the idea closer to the work.

The Time of Dreaming the World Awake would be an appropriate example of the relationship between research and landscape.

‘The Time of Dreaming The World Awake’, (2012), photography

With The Time of Dreaming the World Awake, I researched a region in Southern France called Aude, particularly Pic de Bugarach, or the “magic mountain”.

I was interested in how the landscape can hold the intangible such as history and mythology. For example, a friend was writing a book on the Cathars concurrently, so I went on several of her research trips.  The Cathars lived in the 12th century, often in hilltop castles littered throughout the landscape of Southern France until the final stand-off at Montsegur in 1244. So, you know, that becomes relevant, how that fits into place and the atmosphere of the land. The Cathar history really informed the work.

One fascinating aspect of your work is the exploration of macro and micro, especially in the series A Revolution of Stardust.

With A Revolution of Stardust, the relationship between the micro of the domestic setting to the cosmic macro became compelling to me.

‘A Revolution of Stardust’, (2019)

It started with these gorgeous Phaidon books, Universe and Sun and Moon, which look at, how the cosmos has been represented throughout Art-History and Science. It’s fascinating as they have images from the Hubble telescope alongside seventh-century shepherds’ maps. I have been looking at books about space and cosmology for some time, and it’s an idea that has been constantly in the back of my mind – something that might be referential in subtle and unconscious ways over time in other works. Perhaps, it is no surprise that I started to see those images photographically in the domestic space.

At the time, I watched a tribute to the cartographer Tim Robinson by the writer Robert Macfarlane who talked about Tim Robinson’s ‘radiant attention’. Tim could talk about the tiniest corner of a field, yet, he could encompass the whole landscape through a story of this micro part of the landscape. He could then zoom out and say more about the grander sense of place. If you give something radiant attention, you enliven it, you give it a sense of importance.

With A Revolution of Stardust and other projects, you’ve expanded your practice beyond landscape photography. How did that come about for you?

They are almost two different processes now. The landscape work was about walking and being immersed in a place, spending quite long periods outdoors. Recently, I’ve wanted to be in the studio more, and I’ve wanted to make more with my hands.

‘A Revolution of Stardust’, (2019)

This coincided with other changes in my life: since I became a parent, it isn’t feasible to head off for six weeks to wander the hills. I don’t know if I would have made the change anyway, but I definitely wanted to start more of a studio-based practice and use images as a jumping-off point, making interventions on prints etc. Before, it would have been the print itself that was the end product.

At the same time, I’d gone back to study at NCAD in the evening, which gave me an environment where I had to produce projects and work regularly. So I used that time to experiment with different materials and mediums. This shifted from my old way of researching, making images in the landscape, and only using the studio to edit to a more all-encompassing studio-based practice.

It’s telling that you say you want to make more with your hands, because even in your landscape works, there is such a textural element.

That is interesting that you see that. I try to use a very intuitive approach. With landscape, you realize that the small details are as important as the broader shots because they help people understand a place more. It’s hard to take in large landscapes visually because we experience them in very different ways.  However, when you experience a place in textural ways, for example, the feeling of rocks beneath your feet and the weather on your face become important. I was trying to find more of a felt space rather than just a sublime, distant view.

‘The Time of Dreaming The World Awake’, (2012), photography

Landscapes are more than the sublime. There’s a harshness, too, that is relentless and unforgiving, especially over long periods. And as we discussed, I’m always looking at the micro and macro of timescales. Landscapes are just so ancient compared to our brief lifetimes.

I’ve heard you talk about “living the landscape”, when you were making those works. I thought that was very interesting.

Yeah, I need to understand a place by being immersed in it. When I’m in a landscape for the first time, I go swimming in whatever water body I can find, which helps. Landscape work isn’t easy. I’ve found with photography that sometimes it can be so abstract and unfeeling because there is a mechanism between you and what you are photographing, and you’re not getting in there.

You need to ground yourself into the place and start understanding it. For example, Donovan Wiley from the Belfast School of Art once said, “Make sure you only photograph when you feel moved to.” That was a significant change, moving from the head into a felt space.   Rather than before, when I’d make a list of shots that I thought would be interesting, I had to find a new way to understand that sense of place. It was a way to try to understand concepts around memory and time within a place.

What is your print process?

When shooting film, it is developed here and then handprinted in London by John McCarthy in Labyrinth Printing. He’s fantastic with colour print. You can see the difference with complex colours, such as green. John adds so much more depth to the images in the darkroom. Therefore, I can focus on what I’m trying to say but in such a subtle way. There is a quiet depth with natural dyes.

With digital, it is all done in my home-studio and then printed by Jim at Inspirational Arts in Dublin 8.  Jim and Ed are the best in the business.

There’s a painterly aspect to the way that you talk about colour.

I think that my early landscape work probably could be conceived as quite painterly because of the approach to colour; there is a deliberate use of muted tones. But the other work? That’s interesting. Some of it circumstantial. With a project like Octopolis, where I photographed an octopus, it was a really poorly lit small tank in an aquarium with a bright exit sign behind it. Hence, it was necessary to switch from colour to black and white and focus close up.

‘Octopolis’, (2018), photography
‘Octopolis’, (2018), photography

Because of the splodges, it felt like abstract paintings in a sense.

Well, there’s a lot of movement in the frame, and they’re at a high ISO, so the images are grainy. Octopus eyes are sensitive, so I couldn’t bring in additional lighting. In such circumstances, you’re pushing your camera as hard as possible. I wanted to get away from the idea of an octopus as a spectacle because they are extremely intelligent creatures, akin to mammals. They can use tools and have personalities.

I want to talk a bit about Beyond the Ninth Wave; in particular, you created a triptych with turf on lumen paper prints. Can you talk a bit about that process and how that came to be?

‘Beyond the Ninth Wave’, (2017), Lumen Prints

Beyond the Ninth Wave was for the TULCA Festival; It was a body of work around The Screamers on the island of Inishfree. At the time, I had this compulsion to make with my hands. So, I just started experimenting and researching different experimental photography methods. The process is quite simple. You place an object on paper in the sun to expose it over a long period, say eight hours, and then at the end, you fix it in darkroom chemicals. It’s a simple process, but I was trying to look at another way of expressing the physicality of the island other than photography.

There was no kindling for fires on the island, just turf on the fire all year round. It was survival, light, comfort, and all the elements for healing from trauma. While collecting turf for the fire, I realized that the turf encapsulated all I was trying to say about memory and a landscape. There are a thousand years of compressed time in one sod. When you burn it, you release a lot of history. If we consider all of the trauma within the Irish psyche from years of colonisation, the Catholic church, and poverty,  I felt this Donegal landscape reflected this as a place of repressed trauma. The Screamers believed we should re-experience pain and then release it. I imagined this landscape releasing pain through the act of burning turf.

‘Beyond the Ninth Wave’, (2017), photography
‘Beyond the Ninth Wave’, (2017), photography

I laid out the turf as triptychs on large sheets of photographic paper in the cottage’s sitting room. I read about scream therapy and sound waves, so they looked like raw sound waves when I looked at the resulting prints. 

I would lay out the triptychs in the morning, spend the day making photographs on the island, return and fix them, wash them in the shower, and dry them on the clothesline. Depending on the weather, each set was markedly different. If it was sunnier, they were more purple and pink. Mostly,  it was rainy, which resulted in deeper yellows. The prints were dependent on the elements of the day, which appealed. The weather was infusing them with the energy of the island. This was the island that The Screamers lived on for ten years, so I like that the prints brought this raw energy off the island with them back into the exhibition space; they feel visceral.

How do you consider the viewer when you’re installing work? How do you want people to move through space?

I remember a friend coming in to see the lumen prints. She was like, “Oh, I’ve just had a weird reaction to this.” Well, that is the ideal!

Installation shot, Lumen Prints (‘The Invention of Memory’ Rathfarnham Castle, PhotoIreland), 2019

I read a quote by Josef Koudelka where he said that a good photograph should hit you in the stomach before hitting the brain. That idea that you react to something before you know what it is – hopefully, you’re taking in all the energy that’s gone into making it. Especially if you’re talking about the energy of a place, you’re hoping that the viewer can read that.

Do you keep notebooks and sketchbooks for each of your projects?

Yeah, sketchbooks have become more important to me over time. I used notebooks for research and to anchor in anything that could be relevant to the work. They’re an essential resource, especially when going back to something done ten years ago. Alice Maher talks about notebooks as a reservoir that you tap into, that are always refilling. So I have a whole shelf for them in my studio. When I went to NCAD, I got into making them more visual. Having all my experiments in them and having them at the larger A3 size allows them to become a lot more comprehensive. It primarily provides for trying out more drawings and keeping notes on everything you’re doing.

What are your plan’s going forward?

I’m looking to work a bit more materially in the darkroom. I’ve been tracing these old astral maps on tracing paper and then transferring the lines onto the negatives. So, I’ve started making my own negatives, and they’re elementary forms and shapes. Last year, I started making them while on residency at Cow House Studios in Wexford.

Once I realized I could make my negatives, I realised that I could become  self-contained in my home studio. Thanks to the Gallery of Photography, we set up a darkroom in the house during the lockdown. The idea is to make the negatives from drawings and then do interventions on the prints; it’s very open yet.

I’d like to make a series of these star maps that relate to a book entitled ‘Pi in the Sky’ by Michael Poyner. He made links to sites across the country, from Newgrange to Inishmurray, to the Pyramids and other sacred sites worldwide. It seems to be discredited entirely now, but that’s not what’s important to me; I’m not looking for the truth. For example, Poyner talks about how gold torques are related to how astral maps were interpreted by our ancestors, relating specifically to Ireland’s night sky.

It is just the beginning, I want to make my own negatives and take control of the whole process. Going out in the landscape looking for images is really enjoyable, but you’re not entirely in control…which isn’t a bad thing, but it takes time. It’s exciting to work in a way that gives me a bit more control.

You can find out more about Yvette Monahan work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

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Dannielle Tegeder: Utopian Spaces


This interview is an edited conversation between myself and Dannielle Tegeder, for the purpose of the website.

Here’s a little bit of background about myself: my dad is a plasterer, and growing up on the buildings I used to labour with him to earn a bit of money for myself. So when Dannielle Tegeter mentioned that she comes from a family of steamfitters, it made me reflect on that – and looking back on it, I can see that experience has really shaped me as a person and as an artist. I think it made me really appreciate the spaces we occupy and how they can influence us emotionally. It’s that keen grasp of space that really excites me about Dannielle’s work, from the map-like qualities in her paintings, to the approach she takes to exhibiting her work. Dannielle has such a diverse practice it’s hard to fit it all in, but hopefully our conversation will inspire you to check it out.

You’re best known for your paintings and drawings, but I understand your practice goes well beyond those mediums.

I’m a painter, and when I say “a painter”, I consider myself a painter in the expanded fields. I’m making drawings, paintings, sculptures. I also make animations and collaborations, wall paintings. I think of my whole practice as painting. Even though I’m making things where I’m turning the painting around, using materials like glass, marble, and wood. It’s almost like a translated painting. And so for me, it’s really about the history of painting, the influence of modernism – there might not be any paint in the work that I’m making, but it’s still a painting. I even think of my mobiles as paintings. They function just the way that drawings and paintings do.

Lahm [high-density solids pump] (2016), Gouache, ink, colored pencil, graphite, water-based spray paint, and pastel on Fabriano Murillo paper, 201 x 140cm

What has the last year been like for you?

This year has been really unusual in that my studio basically moved into my house for five months during the height of the pandemic. Since then, I’ve moved to a studio closer to my house in Brooklyn. A couple of projects were born from working at home that probably would not have happened otherwise, like The Pandemic Salon and Hilma’s Ghost. This is maybe a little hard to formulate, but my building in Manhattan was the largest residency in the country. It’s called the Elizabeth Foundation, and there were over 90 artists in that building. I was constantly engaged with other artists and people having conversations. Now I’m in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, which is pretty industrial. It’s pretty quiet over here. It’s much further down in Brooklyn. And I think, in some ways, being locked out of that community stimulated me to create a platform where there could be similar discussion to my experience in the Elizabeth Foundation.

The Pandemic Salon started because I was completely locked out of making physical work, so I started curating these Pandemic Salons, each based on a different topic. I’ve done 18, and that’s been an amazing project for me. Many painters and artists present at the salon, but also, we’ve had a physicist, and a psychologist, a medical historian – many, many different types of people speak at the Pandemic Salon.

Pandemic Salon

In regards to painting, I also co-founded a feminist collective called Hilma’s Ghost. That was inspired by the Hilma of Klint exhibition, which became the most attended show in the history of the Guggenheim in New York. That is pretty astounding, actually. I co-founded this with the painter and critic, Sharmistha Ray, and we have been profiling women & women-identifying artists. We’ve also done workshops around painting and spirituality. We did one with a conceptual poet on death and art coming out of the pandemic. But of course, I am still in the studio, making the core of my work.

Hilmas Ghost [Spirituality and Abstraction]

There’s almost a mapping quality to your work. Could you talk a bit about that?

The core drawings I’ve done for probably 20 years. I think of them as a utopian city or a utopian fictional space, and the elements in the drawings act like a legend in some way. And of course, you know, they can’t really be built; they are fictional spaces that intersect with abstraction, modernism, and architecture. It leads me to work directly on the architecture – for instance, my wall drawings – and directly with the constraints of the architecture in the space.

In the studio, it is visualizing and making these maps. The city plays a huge role. My usual studio before the world changed was in the middle of Times Square. And that is kind of amazing; I mean, it’s the intersection of the world, right? There are people from everywhere; it’s constantly in motion. So cities play a big role. Cities, how we think of spaces, and how we move through those cities are metaphors for moving through other aspects of life.

I think painting on its own is like a utopian impulse, right? We step into our studios to make a painting and make it the best painting we can. It’s always better in our minds. But of course, the flip side of the utopia is dystopia, and I think in some ways, every painting fails, right? I think that’s what’s kept me painting for 20 years; we’re always reaching toward the utopian state. I’m interested in artists like Mondrian or Ellsworth Kelly. They also were perfecting and paring down and taking their hand out of the work and really striving toward almost a utopian state in painting. But of course, it will always fail because there’s always a brush mark or a paintbrush hair in it, or, you know, Mondrian deleted green, that was his failure. I don’t know if he got to perfection before the end, or just close to it.

Do you have a legend that you use for all paintings?

There’s a lot – there is a cosmology of about 300 different elements. Not every single drawing has all those elements, but over the years, sometimes they appear in different ways, within the pieces and the title as well. There are elements in the drawings I’m currently creating that were in drawings 20 years ago. They can be reused and reappear in works. I work in a way that the legend kind of feeds into the titles of the works.

I put the title together after the painting is finished. Usually, I make almost a catalogue of those elements. I would say that I have another practice of writing conceptual poetry. I have a piece, for example, where it’s a catalogue of things that have fallen from the sky in New York City, and I have a piece where I’ve worked with quarantine records when I was in a residency at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. It’s mostly found texts, and I would say very conceptual poetry. It almost verges on abstraction in language. This practice was originally inspired by my titles, which were getting to be about two to three paragraphs long. I still like to do that, much to the chagrin of my gallery. I made a title yesterday that was a paragraph, and I was very happy with it. It never quite fits on the press release. I’m fascinated by the intersection of language, painting, poetry. I like to have this text almost as an introduction to the work. The titles can be seen as works themselves in a way.

Kehmatel (nuclear fission): the resulting fragments are not the same element and the total binding energy of the resulting elements is a natural form of spontaneous decay. The unpredictable composition of the products are thus driven by the mechanics of bombardment fragments exceed the distances at which the two fragments complete their separation; a process which becomes irreversible with greater and greater distance in route to the more energetically favorable outcome which holds it in a spherical shape. The process of their separation proceeds from the extra binding energy; this is made available and is supplied by absorption by examining the curve of binding energy starting element. Looking further left on the curve of binding energy of the fission products and fragments is immediately when the fragments impact surrounding matter; they have built up to steady state concentrations and their rate of decay is equal to their rate of formation. It is not entirely absorbed and therefore does not produce effects and there is a preference to yield fragments with binding energy curve that is slightly steeper to the left of mass due to the interplay of the two fundamental forces acting on the component since it follows an exponentially decaying atom which makes it insignificant at longer distances. (2016), Gouache, ink, colored pencil, graphite, water-based spray paint, pastel on Fabriano Murillo paper – 150 x 140cm.

You come from a family of steamfitters, and I’m fascinated to learn that some of your tools were handed to you from family members. Did this influence your practice?

It was a huge influence on my practice. I grew up right outside of New York City, in a German Irish family that immigrated, and most of my family are steamfitters. So, growing up, I was not around any artists. But I would get up, and my father and uncles would be drawing these incredible plans. And my father was an amazing draftsman. I would go into the city with them on these jobs; they were physically making the buildings’ inner architecture, all the pipes and heating, very complex buildings. That, of course, has a huge influence; that way of drawing is a craft that was passed down within my family. It’s not something I learned in art school. And yes, many of the templates, levels, and tools are the same ones my father used; they’re hard to get now. It’s a lost craft, in a way. There were highly trained draughtspeople, but of course now things are done on CAD, you don’t need templates anymore. It deeply influences how I make my work, because I make systems and draft them. But I also go and physically make things, like the wall drawings or sculpture. So there again, the drawings are almost like a schematic for something bigger.

You mentioned that there’s a physical element in the act of making.  Could you expand on that?

Sometimes, when the work is shown in a digital format, it looks very slick and clean. But standing in front of the drawings, paintings, and wall paintings, my process of making them is visible. Meaning that, I’m masking everything, so there are tape marks, slips of the level, and sometimes little leaks of the paint. That process, for me, that’s what painting is about. It’s about the process of creating the piece. It’s important to me that it doesn’t get very slick – otherwise, I would make these on the computer completely. In a way, for me, it humanizes them.

You play with the space of the gallery, placing some works high up, and others low to the ground. How do you approach that? And as you’re planning an exhibition, how do you envisage the role of the viewer moving through the space?

When I make a traditional painting (I mean a painting on canvas), I rarely hang it the usual way right in the middle of the wall. For me, the work is informed by the space. One of my last shows before the pandemic was a show called EPISODES in Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago. There were these very large paintings on pedestals, with a wall painting behind them. Many times, I’ll hang the paintings deliberately lower. I did my last solo show in New York, at Yohannes Vogt Gallery. I reinstalled the paintings once a week. And these were large works on paper. Twice, I did that with the painter Peter Halley, and another with Barry Schwabsky, who’s an important painting critic and poet. There was a level of collaboration in it, but it was also about testing the way we think of paintings, hanging in a still space, in the middle of the wall every time. I do really like to test those kinds of constraints. Can a painting sit on the floor? Can it be turned around? Can it move during an exhibition to different locations?

Installation shot of EPISODES at Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago, IL (2020)

You’ve also used music with your animations. How did that come about?

The music came around ten years ago, at a time when I was only making paintings and drawings. And I had my daughter, and I was home for the first time, where I could not go to the studio. It was around then that I started making animations. I was looking at my paintings, and I felt like I could hear sound, could see them moving. I decided I wanted to make animations from those paintings, in a way translating the works into sound. Maybe a signature of my work is the idea of translation. Whether it’s translating something into a mobile or sound, this connects to language, as well, and opens up a question of what’s lost and what’s gained in the act of translation. That’s always really fascinated me.

I have a couple of projects that revolve around music. I have a seven-year-long project called The Library of Abstract Sound, where my drawings are translated into sound. I also have a long-term collaboration with a composer named Matthew Evan Taylor. We’ve done projects where he’s used my drawings as scores. I have animated my drawings around excerpts of his music. We’ve done talks together about abstraction in sound where he’s performed my drawings live.

I remember you mentioning in another interview about having a consistency of translation with that music – that certain shapes and colours correspond with certain sounds.

Library of Abstract Sound (2013)

Yes, that’s the case with The Library of Abstract Sound and also with a project called Constellations, where Matthew played around 80 drawings of mine. It was very important to me that they were fixed constraints, meaning that a certain shape or colour or space denoted a sound and instrument and it could be replayed consistently. It’s a language that almost became like something you could read.

Installation shot of Constellations at Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago, IL (2017)

How have you found the experience of collaboration?

I’ve gotten very lucky in a way meeting Matthew. We’ve had an easy, flawless collaboration, and there have been no conflicts over seven years. I’ve gotten very, very spoiled. Over the past five years, I’ve done collaborations with dancers and writers – and I constantly collaborate now with Hilma’s Ghost – and of course, there are always conflicts and things to negotiate. That’s been a big learning process for me, because I think musicians and people in theatre are trained to collaborate, whereas visual artists are trained to think that they’re going to be alone. When you step into the arena of collaboration, I think it’s stimulating in many ways, but it’s also dangerous in other ways. I think that bands know this very, very well. I have a joke with Sharmistha about Hilma’s Ghost that now I respect the Rolling Stones more because they have somehow been able to negotiate and keep a band going for 40 years. The amount of things you’re negotiating is intense. You don’t do that as an individual artist. When you’re in a collaboration, and it works, it elevates you to a place that you can’t reach as an independent artist. And in turn, when it doesn’t work, it takes you down. The potential for failure in it, I have to say I find terrifying and interesting at the same time.

You can find out more about Dannielle Tegeder work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Róisín Power Hackett: Interdisciplinary

Róisín Power Hackett, A Consideration For All Bodies

Life recently has got in the way, so there has been a little gap between interviews that will probably continue for the back half of 2021, but I plan to make up for the gaps with quality interviews. First of which is the interview you are reading today. For this interview, I sat down with Róisín Power Hackett, an artist where the descriptor interdisciplinary is quite apt. We discuss her many, many practices and how she has managed to combine elements from each into different works. I met Róisín through the ARC programme we were both on between 2019 and 2021. She is someone who I have great admiration for, and her knowledge of art and wit makes any conversation a joy, and that was especially the case with this interview.

Let’s start with your work, The Tent. That piece was part of the cohost exhibition for our masters in Art + Research Collaboration from IADT.

The Tent was a video piece I made reflecting on my experience trying to find work with a disability. But it was also about times when you don’t have things in general, when you have a lack, when you’ve loads of time on your hands. That can be a great time to come up with ideas and reflect. The Tent is based on when my boyfriend and I were living in a tent while we were travelling. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have friends or family with me, my boyfriend was working during the day, and everything I owned could be stored in a rucksack. In some ways, this piece was quite timely, because it was about having the space to actually think creatively. Surprisingly, the pandemic does not give you that space.  

The Tent, (2020), film still

There was this assumption that artists would be really creative because we’d have loads of extra time. But in fact, you don’t, because you’re distracted by the news. Or you’re working, and you’re sitting in front of your screen. Even if you’re not working, you’re always looking at your phone, emails, or social media. So, your brain isn’t free to be creative a lot of the time, and you have to force yourself to leave the house or force yourself to do an activity that’s creative.

As you know, I made The Tent for an exhibition called cohost that was the culmination of the ARC Masters that I was working toward at the time. Video was a completely new thing for me. I started exploring it because COVID-19 meant that while we were working toward cohost being a physical exhibition, it then pivoted to an online show. Hence, the work had to be made to suit that online platform.

The background noise in The Tent is really fascinating.

While I was staying with my parents during one of the lockdowns, I got interested in birdsong because while I was recording for other works, I could hear birds in the background. I’ve noticed birdsong a lot more during the pandemic. And that got me thinking about my experience in the tent, like the sound when it rained. In the Alps, the rain comes in cycles. It would lash rain like a monsoon for two or three days minimum, sometimes a whole week. When you’re in a tent, it’s kind of difficult to do anything for the sound of that rain. All you could hear was the rain, and it was very distracting. So, I felt like that had to be part of the work. So, I put up a tent in my garden and recorded the rain falling on the tent and the incidental noises that happened simultaneously.

The Tent, (2020), film still

I wanted that kind of lo-fi aesthetic of home video. Sometimes, you do hear things like the rain or the birds. With that home footage element, you can imagine yourself in that space a lot easier, exactly because it’s not cinematic.

Typically, live performance is a common element of your practice. How does that compare with video for you?

I really prefer live stuff, because when I record, I’m much more conscious of how the finished piece will sound. I love to perform. If I make a mistake, I get the sense that nobody in the audience knows I’ve made a mistake because they don’t know the script. Originally, I had wanted to perform The Tent live. COVID pushed me into film and recordings, and I think actually it’s not a bad thing. It’s not something I want to work on exclusively, but it’s a really good skill to have, and it’s really good to have the confidence to do it, you know?

There is something about performance, I think. Whether it’s in theatre, or live art, or any sort of performance, or music, it’s quite a direct way of trying to make people feel something. Of course, visual art tries to make people feel something as well. But the thing about performance is its duration. You can grab a person’s attention more directly in performance; people have to listen for that half hour or however long the performance is. Whereas the thing about going to an exhibition of paintings or sculptures is, it’s easy to just walk past them and go, “Oh, I saw that,” even if it’s not sinking in.

I still try to combine my other practices with performance. There are definitely visual elements to my performance; whether that be in the costumes or setting, it allows me to tap into my visual art background.

‘Feile An Buile Suibhne’, (Sept 2018), Performance Lecture at ‘Ad Infinitum Smart Talk’, MART, Dublin,

Yes, you’re working in several mediums now. Is that important to you?

I like not sticking to one medium. You have to think about your concept and what medium fits. Some of my concepts don’t fit my art practice, but they fit my curatorial practice. That’s why I curate, because I often feel that an idea will work with my curating, or an idea works as writing, or my visual practice, and for me, it’s important to have the tools to realise these ideas in the best format.

 I did my undergraduate degree in painting, so that’s probably the thing I’m most skilled in. I might not be painting currently, but I spent a huge amount of time painting during the first lockdown. I’m slowly working on a series. I’m not keen on doing anything fast; I could spend years working on one piece.

In the end, it depends on the space I have. I think it’s like that for a lot of artists, the art depends on the space you have. I like the slowness oil painting. Maybe you spend a day painting one layer, and then you have to wait another week or two before you can paint the next layer, but I don’t always have the space to paint.

‘Fold over simple fold, binding her head’, (2020), oil paint and gold leaf on wallpaper, 33×22.5cm

What artists would you consider to influence your work?

For me, it’s always books and writers that come to mind first—the likes of Flann O’Brian, and recently Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s Ghost in the Throat. And there’s Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. The way I write my texts is by breaking down language, and these texts break down the idea of narrative, or in the case of Doireann’s book, it’s breaking down history and looking at the history of a woman poet that has been neglected for years in Ireland. Not to go into too much detail, but it was such an interesting read for me.

I like to know the artists whose work I curate, and to have seen their work myself or talk to them. For instance, Emma Haugh was somebody who initially influenced me. I went to see their performance in The Joinery years ago. As part of an NCAD Gallery exhibition, they did this reading troupe. One person read the text, and then another person had another text, and they could read that other text whenever they felt like it, interrupting the first person. It was this weird hybrid of two different texts. And what was interesting to me was that they were two academic texts that were completely opposed to each other politically. I really loved that on so many levels.

There are a couple of curators whose work I enjoy like Rosie Lynch. She co-founded Callan Workhouse Union with Hollie Kearns. The Workhouse Union is a project that works with artists, designers, architects and craftspeople to develop projects examining housing, civic infrastructure in Callan. My mother is from Callan, so it resonates personally for me. I’ve also had a brief residency down there.

Callan used to be a busy town due to the traffic that would pass through it from Cork to Dublin, but it has struggled since the development of a bypass. Callan Workhouse Union revitalised the town and it came up with so many new ideas to involve the community in the projects that they curated, and the performances and theatre they helped organise. They have worked with a studio in Callan that is very supportive of people with disabilities, called KCAT. They and other organisations turned Bridge Street in Callan into a set to create a big performance as part of The Bridge Street Project. Their work has a tangible impact on the community, and I admire that. It really shows the impact art can have.

Since writers were first to mind among your influences, let’s discuss the importance of the written word in your work.

cut-up text method,

For a long time, I was trying to figure out ways of incorporating writing in my practice, combining the written word with visuals. It wasn’t until second year in NCAD when a classmate, Anthony Keigher, did a performance that incorporated a poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”. It flipped a switch for me. I loved the performance, and I loved that he was using a poem in his performance. That made me realise how I could incorporate poetry into practice.

Since then, I’ve been using this practice called “uncreative writing” or “cut-up writing”. I take old novels, cut up the text, and stick them down to create something very visual – and a little bit random – because you can’t always find the correct word you want. So this text is coming from a world that already exists, and the characters that I become when I’m performing are characters that generally already exist somewhere. I’m reappropriating those characters for these works.

I see my practice as this in-between space between literature and visual art. Even though it’s performance, I try to avoid making the work theatrical, for the same reason I avoid making my video cinematic. I love performing and acting in front of others, and what is great about live art is that I am almost myself in those performances. I almost become some other character; in a way, I’m not acting, so it’s a great space to occupy, the fact that I’m engaging with characters that aren’t necessarily my creation.

We have touched on it in parts, but let’s talk a bit about your curatorial practice.

Sometimes I have ideas that I don’t want to be an artist for, I want to give other artists a platform instead. I think it’s an important concept that I want to flesh out more academically, and more like my own personal ethics to give other artists the space to make their work; I do think about it conceptually as working with people. It’s not being too precious with my idea, not closing opportunities to expand on it with input from others. And for me, it’s about wanting to share artists’ work with other people and give artists as many opportunities as possible.

One of my focuses with my curating is mixing the arts and performance in a way that is not pure visual art, which is difficult. What I’m aiming for is giving a voice to a variety of different art forms. This year I worked with a band called Banríon, and I had never worked with music before. I enjoy the aspect of merging scenes.

Interestingly, your curatorial practice mirrors your art practice.

I’ve always been interested in experimenting, so in a way, it was inevitable that it would lead to combining different practices. Being interdisciplinary is so important to me, both in my artistic practice and curatorial practice.

If someone was to ask, what type of curator are you, I’d instantly say interdisciplinary. I want to open people up to the possibilities of mixing disciplines, and I am using different avenues to do that.  

You can find out more about Róisín Power Hackett work through her website, link below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Organic Alchemy: Kari Cahill

Kari Cahill

Kari Cahill is an artist based out of Sligo. She is a painter who has presented work throughout Ireland, and abroad in countries such as France and Brazil. Kari is also Co-Director and Co-Founder of Lay of the Land (LOTL) – a site-responsive arts organisation producing residencies and exhibitions in remote locations around Ireland, and participates as both artist and curator. In the last year or so Kari started working out of the Model Art Centre’s Artist Studios, and that is how I came across her work initially. It was fascinating finding out about her approach to creating pigments. It really adds an extra layer to her paintings. It’s important to share practices like Kari’s because some might not be aware that it is possible to creat pigments this way. It was an eye opening experience for me and really broadened my knowledge.

What does an average day in the studio look like for you?

I have a pretty healthy work routine. I always paint at least two days a week, and the other two or three days are made up of admin, pigment making, shipping, and all the other parts of my business. On my two days of practice I’m pretty loose and don’t plan too much. I like to explore the materials and let that inform what happens; I usually don’t have a specific idea in mind. If I’m working on a commission I know it will occupy that particular day. I’m a true believer in just turning up over and over again – allowing space for the work to emerge through you.

I often work on a large scale and there are constantly things lying on the floor, tacked to walls and spread all over all the surfaces. The experimental nature of my painting calls for a lot of pigments and inks at hand. I pour water onto surfaces and let it dry over time, then add more materials on top.  All of my paintings are built up with various layers. I work on horizontal planes, never upright. Having a big studio has been a game changer for me in terms of working at a larger scale. I’m generally working on about 30 or 40 paintings all at once, in varied scales.  I may be developing one painting while doing the finishing touches on another, and these works move around the studio a lot. They go up on the walls, then come back down and join the other pieces. I really like to have a visual of the overall series. 

Studio 2021

I also usually commit around one day of the week to creating pigments from materials that I forage from the natural landscape. There is a lot of work that goes into that. All of the different processes in extracting pigments take time and energy. There are oxidation processes happening throughout the studio.I have different barks that have been stewing in buckets of water for a couple of months and jars of questionable materials – rusty nails, vinegar, plants, rocks and soils.It feels like a kind of lab to me, which I really enjoy.  My favourite thing about working with pigments is how they interact with each other on the page so I spend time modifying the colours using a range of other processes. I oxidize them or tweak the pH levels. In these moments, the process unfolding on the canvas is kind of alive. There are these alchemic processes happening that are outside of my control. I combine and layer the materials but after that, they take on their own life and movement. I love the energy that comes from that because eventually, as they dry, they’re frozen in this moment of interaction.

Materials used for making colour

My practice follows the seasons, both logistically and conceptually. This allows me to spend more time outdoors in the warmer months, whereas the winter months sees me inside more.  I collect materials at different times of the year, and they feed directly into the paintings. I am spending a lot of time outdoors at the moment searching for pigments; I’ve started to do a bit more research into earth pigments specifically in areas with water and try to almost read the land with the hope of stumbling across something buried beneath it. 

That’s a really interesting aspect of your process. Where does the preference for foraged-material pigments come from?

It happened very organically. To give a brief history…alongside my painting practice, I’m one half of a project called Lay of the Land, which is part collaborative duo, part arts organization which curates and produces outdoor art exhibitions in wild landscapes. I was spending a lot of time working with the land and the elements in that role, and at the beginning I felt a separation between that outdoor sculpture work and my painting practice. Of course, over time these started to come together. In 2018 I created a couple of massive stretched canvases with acrylic paint that were strung up in a forest overlooking Knockomagh Wood Nature Reserve and I remember during that  time I kept coming back to questions about how a petroleum-based material fitted into the landscape. I was working primarily in acrylics (which were able to stand up to the elements) but there was this feeling that it didn’t really work. 

When I went on a residency in Brazil and met an Uruguayan artis Diego De Los Campos. Even though I only spoke a little bit of Portuguese, we had some great conversations about colour and materials. He gave me this little jar of ‘nogalina’, which is a beautiful brown lustrous colour extracted from dehydrated walnuts. I started using the nogalina but it just wouldn’t work with the acrylic; I couldn’t layer the two. I love when materials do not bend to my whims. And from here I started looking into more waterbased natural colours and then began making my own.The acrylic and bio colour coexisted for a while in my painting, but, over time the process of making pigment just fed into what it was that I wanted to express. Especially how I felt about the land. Everything kind of clicked into place since then. 

You mentioned site-specific sculptural works – paintings on canopy. 

That particular Lay of the Land project was a turning point for me, as I mentioned before, this was the first piece that I felt represented the two sides of my practcie – outdoor sculpture and painting. This work was challenging.  I had imagined these large green paintings stretched out between trees, at one with the lush forest. But if you place a green painting in a green landscape, you find out pretty quickly that the colours never stand up to the natural chlorophyll hue that happens when the light shines through the canopy! Nature has its own story to tell; you can’t decide to build a fragile sculpture in strong wind, you can’t ask the skies not to rain. Lay of the Land taught me to listen to the landscape and the elements, and work with what is in front of me. I discovered through observing the site that red completely complimented and contrasted with the green. I learned a lot about being responsive to the landscape in making these works which could only really exist in a forest.

Installation shot Ceannbhrat Dearg, Red Canopy – Silva, by Lay of the Land, (2018), Stretched Canvas, Acrylic Paint, Spray Paint, Eyelets, Builders Twine, Rebar.- Photo Lay of the Land

 You’ve said before that there is a more muted aesthetic to your sculptural works. 

I guess these different parts of my practice just developed at different times. I focused on three-dimensional work in college and my sculptural aesthetic had always been quite minimal and monochromatic. When I travelled to India for a residency, I put my painting practice to the fore for the first time. I don’t think I could have possibly had a muted palette in India. Now the lines are more blurred between my 2d and 3d work, and my pallets are dictated heavily by the land and the materials I find in each. Later in the year I’ll be painting directly onto rock formations creating site-rsponsive works along the coast, I think colour will feature heavily but perhaps the marks will be more minimal. 

Land Flutes, Collaborative Piece, (2016), Steel Piping

Does painting continue to be the focus? 

My buzz is applying colour to surfaces. This doesn’t necessarily need to be as ‘paintings’ in the traditional “work-on-paper” sense. I am interested in exploring colour, and surface and bringing these ideas into larger scales and three dimensions, as well as continuing to explore on a two dimensional scale. 

Kari Cahill Hazel McCague – Directors of Lay of the Land – Installing during Silva 2019 – West Cork – Photo by Fellipe Lopes

This past year myself and Hazel Mc Cague, who is the other half of Lay of the Land, decided to take a step back from the project and assess where it was going, and to focus in on our individual practices. For me, this meant a deepening of my approach to painting and colour.  The time away has allowed us to regain our energy. Lay of the Land projects were massive productions requiring so much time, energy and creative input. For four years we were constantly moving forward. We created over 60 sculptures and collaborated with almost 30 artists, not to mention the crews, volunteers, locals and audiences we engaged with. My role was curator, artist, administrator, director and producer. It was amazing but very labour intensive. It didn’t necessarily allow for the space I needed to pursue painting. So since taking a break we have been able to identify which elements we want to bring forward and which ones we are happy to leave behind, both in terms of LOTL and our own personal development. This has been super empowering! Lay of the Land will still exist, but it will be different, and it will be more aligned with both of our individual practices. 

Are your pigments directly influenced by your given environment? 

My work is completely site-responsive. Even before I worked with natural pigments I always responded to site.For instance,  I made a series of work in the depths winter while living in West Cork. The colour schemes were dark and gloomy. I wanted to capture the essence of how the light suddenly burst through the clouds and hit the mountains on a dark day. Even though my work isn’t formally representational, it does aim to capture the essence and emotional of the experience of different landscapes. Colour has always been a means for that. 

Dugheaimhreadh – Depths of Winter, 100x100cm, Mixed media on canvas

Now, the pigments that make up my paintings come from things I’ve gathered in that space and the processes that follow. Let’s say I gather walnut husks in a specific spot; the colour produced will be different from the husks I collect elsewhere. So, those paintings will have totally different qualities. This creates an additional dimension to the resposnsiviity of the pieces and informs the visual quality of the finished piece. I allow the colour to direct the work. 

Materials used for making ink, Calafort 2019, photo by Fellipe Lopes

You work in a range of scales. Could you talk a bit about that?

The pigments I use are made up of tiny particles; I can’t just scale up in the way I could with acrylics or printmaking. When I go bigger with bio-pigments, I’m zooming in on those tiny bits of plant matter which morph the colour. I think of my work as maps, visually they often look like aerial photographs, and they trace the colour of a specific landscape.  My smaller paintings tend to be more minimal than my larger paintings; the lines and marks are somehow more delicate even when not applied in that way.

‘By Equinox Drenched, (2021), Earth pigment,Kelp,Shell,Berries,Sloes,Lichen,Oak Gall,Liquid Iron,Copper Scraps, 200x140cm
Flattened Out Site, Copper, Walnut, Dandelion, Soda, Bog Myrtle, 17.5 x 26cm

I am constantly looking for anything that will give me an interesting texture and experiment with the scale of how I present the marks. I pour, drip, soak and spray colour onto paper or canvas. I might then sprinkle pigment on top or use salt. It can all seem a bit haphazard to an outsider looking in. There are jars, pots, pipettes, syringes – all sorts of crazy stuff that might encourage the colours to interact in different ways.

I intuitively know how these colours can potentially work together because I created them. There is definitely a state of flow in how I respond to whatever is happening on the page. Experiences feed into the gestures. I often think of my paintings as drawings because they’re not really complete. Often I’ll do a drawing that feels more like painting.

Are you interested in exploring the fluidity between these two mediums?

For sure. I was first introduced to that idea by the artist Kiera O’Toole, my studio neighbour. She also works with pigments and it’s brilliant to be able to bounce ideas off of eachother. In my mind, the drawing had always come before the painting. Those conversations with Kiera kind of allowed me to be less concerned about the labelling of my works as paintings or drawings.  Now there is more of a blurred line; a work in paint can be a drawing, and a work made up of drawn elements can be a painting. Regardless of how people refer to my work, I am more interested in the process than the end result.

You can find out more about Kari Cahill’s work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Somewhere Between Now and Then: Shane Berkery

Shane Berkery

Shane Berkery is a Dublin based painter, Shane won both the Hennessy-Craig and Whyte’s awards at the RHA Annual Exhibition in 2016 and was one of the shortlisted artists for the Zurich Portrait Prize in 2019. I first came across Shane’s work around 2018 when I visited Dublin and conducted one of my regular treks of the galleries. I came across his work Somewhere between now and then as part of a group show that was in the Molesworth Gallery and it stuck with me ever since. I knew straight away that I wanted to talk him on his practice. One thing that struck me when talking to him is his drive to keep improving and keep pushing himself. In a way you could draw parallels to how athletes talk about their skills. He has such enthusiasm to explore the medium, and it was fascinating conversation with him.

I think the best place to start would be to describe a day in the studio.

Studio shot

I have a studio in my back garden, so I can wake up, walk the dog and then head into the studio. I get started around 9:00, and then I just paint. Right now, for instance, I have between eight and nine paintings at various stages of completion.

So you work on a few at a time?

Yeah, I’ve started doing that since my previous exhibition, (Cave Paintings). Before that, I’d work on maybe two paintings at the same time, max. But I’ve started a whole bunch at the same time because I find that when working on one painting the whole time, you stop seeing the painting. For lack of a better word, you become blind to it. So it’s good to just refresh by working on something else and then revisiting when it’s dry.

Cave Paintings, install shot, Molesworth Gallery, 2020

You describe your paintings as being a result of the process, rather than a goal that you reach.

Yeah. I don’t really approach each painting as a final product. Each painting isn’t the final product in my eyes. I approach each of them as practice. My final product is what I’ll eventually be able to paint, the artist I can become by getting better and better. The goal for me is to improve. Each painting I try to do something new. I try to start each painting a little bit differently from the last.

Eventually, I want to improve in all the components of painting. I view it as a form of visual problem solving. For example, I like finding colour combinations that I haven’t used before; I like to explore colour relations when painting. Obviously, composition is something I’m always working on.

I try different working styles as well. When I walk into an exhibition, I personally like to see different kinds of paintings. I like to see how far a painter can push their style in different directions.  One thing I do want to do is get better at the representation side of things. That’s why my paintings a lot of the time have rendered representational elements to them. I still feel I haven’t mastered that.

Is there an element of challenging yourself?

I want to make something that I haven’t seen before. I think representation in the painting is a really strong tool. It draws the viewer in, and it gives a strong reference point for the viewer to place themselves within the painting. I like paintings that can do that, and that’s kind of what I want to do.  

Flower and hoop, (2020), oil on canvas, 50x50cm

I think it’s just a continuation from when I was little. I’d just think about the figure in a painting, as an anchor almost. You can relate on a personal level. I find figures more engaging and interesting.

I think I’d feel pretty upset with myself if I stopped trying new things in my painting, so maybe it does circle back to challenging myself.

How important is scale for you in your work? I got to see A Light (2019) when it was in the Zurich Portrait Prize exhibition, and the scale really stood out to me.

I think there is a direct relation between scale and the impact it can have on the viewer, it obviously has to be done right though. Previously I worked quite big almost all the time, but with my recent round of paintings I have done quite a few small paintings where I can concentrate on specific elements and take a more targeted approach. I’m experimenting with that as well. I do enjoy making the big paintings though.  And when I successfully do that, they feel way more fun to finish, and more of an accomplishment.

There definitely is a big difference between just seeing A Light on the screen and seeing it in real life scale, which it is. Tactility and all that disappears as well, when it’s on the screen.

A light, (2019), oil on canvas, 130x150cm

And a lot of your paintings are from your grandfather’s photography. How did you approach that?

Yeah, I came across a whole bunch of them. I don’t know how many there are, maybe two or three hundred of them? I’ve scanned so many of them onto my iPad for when I’m working.

A lot of them are candid photos. The pictures themselves look like film noir stills. They were taken at a time when Japan was Westernising like America, and everyone’s wearing the suits like in the films. You see this juxtaposed against the Japanese landscape and the old traditional Japanese clothes that are still there. So, you see this unique mix of cultures that was fascinating for me.

It’s really interesting because there’s such a filmic quality looking at the paintings.

The process with black and white photos is usually, I go through all the photos that I’ve scanned until I see which photo jumps out at me, I then make a painting based on the photo – how it feels, how it looks. Once I pick the photo that I want to work from, it’s kind of like, OK, off to the races. And then I might have an idea beforehand that I want to try out, like a combination of colours, say really saturated red and green. Those colours are going to be kind of the starting point. You make decisions on the canvas, you take a colour, you go for it. And then from there it is a matter of problem solving.

photo taken by Shane Berkery’s grandfather

Do you approach your grandfather’s photos differently, compared to the photography that you take yourself?

Yeah, I think there is definitely a different feel to it. And I think one of the things is that I tend to render lifelike colour in the photos that I take, because the colour is there, and when I have the colour in the photo I want to keep improving on that as well.

Bright Light, (2019), oil on canvas, 81 x 115 cm

A lot of the pictures I take are of my friends, people that I know. My granddad would have taken photos of his colleagues from his company, candid scenes of them interacting. There are more formal family photos as well. A recent painting, the yellow painting (A Light) was inspired by one of the photos that my granddad took with the guy and the lighter, which I had already painted. It’s basically the same action with different figures. So I think I’m trying in a way to emulate what he’s done.

Match II, (2019), oil on canvas 105x90cm

What camera do you use?

I actually have my granddad’s old Nikon camera that he used to take the pictures. I use that sometimes. And then I also have another 35mm camera and a Pentax 67 as well. It’s from the 70s or 60s. Medium format, big old camera. I enjoy taking pictures with film more than digital. With analog cameras, there’s distance between when you take the photo and when you see it, which I think is an interesting quality to that dynamic.

I know you grew up in both Japan and America. Do you think there is an element of representing those different cultures?

I think there is a different visual sensibility between Eastern and Western countries, and I think there might be something unique in borrowing from each side. But I don’t really care too much about representing culture in my work. I mean, when I paint my granddad’s photos, I don’t see it as painting Japan. I feel an affinity to my granddad, I feel a connection to the photographs.

Somewhere between now and then, (2018), oil on canvas 127x114cm

At the end of the day, I’m going to draw from as much as I can. If something is part of my experience and the imagery is accessible to me, that will filter into my work.

You can find out more about Shane Berkery work through his Instagram page and websites, links below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


The Human Subject and Painting:Tajh Rust

Tajh Rust

Tajh Rust is a Brooklyn based painter. He graduated from The Cooper Union in 2011 with a BFA in Painting and Film and from Yale University in 2019 with an MFA in Painting. Who has exhibited in New York, LA, Frankfurt and Brussels. Tajh was an artist that I came across while I was doing research online and the way he approached gaze in his portraits caught me instantly, I knew I had to interview him. I sat down ar with Tajh late last ye to discuss his painting over a Zoom call. In that call, we discussed many elements of his practice like his approach to portraiture, specifically the relationship with the sitter in his work, and how gaze plays a role in his paintings. It was a great experience talking to Tajh about his work, he is so considered with his answers that you gain so much in discussion with him. It a great conversation with a fantastic artist.

I’ve heard that you feel a sense of collaboration between yourself and the sitters you paint.

I usually paint people who I know personally: friends, family and people who I’ve met. And having spent time with each person, you get a sense of what’s important to them. You get a sense of their personality. I don’t want to represent people through my own prism of subjectivity. I try to approach each one individually. So that entails having conversations, asking questions like what we’re doing now. And I see if I can bring some of that into the painting itself. I had a body of work about three or four years ago, and it was strictly about looking at environments as an extension of our identities. Those paintings were set in places that each individual chose themselves, so there was a personal significance. And that then became part of the portrait; my observations of the body occupying that space.

Duneska, (2017), oil and acrylic on canvas, 152.40cm x 193.04cm

I mostly work from photographs I take of the sitter in the space. I take lots of photos of the sitters because I paint very slowly. It’s tough to get people to agree to sit for that long! I tend to work from a lot of photographs, as source imagery, and then cobble together from there.

Early on, I would try to find one photograph that I could paint from directly. Then when I started grad school, I was challenged on that approach. So, now I take more liberty in the source material. I collage different moments, kind of like a Cubist approach where you can see around things, and the perspectives may not always align, but it tends to be more faithful to a feeling of that person or that environment.

Is history an important aspect to your work?

Yeah, painting has a very long history, and it’s hard to distinguish yourself from it. If you don’t know about it, are you making some of the same decisions, the same mistakes, as your predecessors? I’ve been looking more at history in the last few years and trying to interpret it in my own way, with my own experiences.

One interesting aspect of your portraits is the use of gaze.

Subject V (Jeannette), (2018), oil and acrylic on canvas, 81.28cm x 81.28cm

It’s something that I have to really think about when I approach a painting. I have a series of paintings where the figures are all looking away. And with those paintings, I’m trying to think about visibility in a challenging way, where the figures aren’t turned away completely; you still get enough of their likeness. But they’re withholding quite a bit. With those paintings, I usually start with a colour, often the complexion of their skin, and then build the painting from there. I wanted the figures to disappear into the atmosphere of the painting as a whole, but it’s hard to do that when they’re fully turned away, so I do a three-quarter turn.

With other paintings, the larger ones, I tried to have at least one figure confront the viewer, because I think it’s almost too easy to be a voyeur. But when the figure looks back at you or meets your gaze, it transforms this from a neutral act of looking to something more active. I like to play with that. I think it’s a completely different experience when you feel that you’re being looked at as well.

When you spend enough time looking at a painting, you can see how that painting was made. A big part of it is seeing. The recorded history that you can see by the edge of a painting, you know, how many layers; but it’s not like you’re going to crack the code or anything.

How has your practice been affected in the last year?

I didn’t travel much growing up, so it’s something I’ve prioritized as an adult, and I try to travel every year. It’s been challenging, because I haven’t been able to do that in 2020. I was fortunate enough to do a residency in Dakar (Senegal) back in 2019. I connect with people on my travels and incorporate them into my work. I love to go to museums everywhere I go. If it’s a vacation, I’ll find the nearest museum and see a show there. I think travel is a big part of my work, because I’m always trying to draw connections between people and locate myself within a larger community.

Rückenfigur II, (2019), oil on canvas, 121.92cm x 182.88cm

My exhibition Where We Meet came about from reflecting on some of my travels. I’d been thinking about the connections between the people I’ve met and the African and Black diaspora because they make up the majority of the subjects that I paint. So, thinking about what a shared culture amongst those people might be like. In that particular body of work, I was pulling from the residency in Dakar in 2019. It was my first time in Africa. So that’s a jumping-off point, radiating from that residency as a source. And I have also gotten to travel to Cuba, as well as the US. I was thinking about those three regions, West Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, and trying to find connections between the people that I’ve come into contact with.

Where We Meet install shot, Mathew Brown Gallery, 2020

My practice has had to adapt a bit this year. I usually paint people that I know, people I get to meet in person. That’s not possible lately, because of the lockdowns. So, I’ve had to work in different ways. I have an extensive collection of images that I’ve taken on my travels and in my neighbourhood, and I’ll use those, but I’m working from drawings mostly now.

I’ve had to get creative with source materials; for instance, using film stills. I’ll watch a film, and pause at a specific moment that I think is interesting. And then I lay out an array of images and see if I can make a composition out of those references. I’ve been inspired by black and white films. For example, with Like Sunday I wanted to interpret what that setting might feel like, use it as a way to play with colour.

Like Sunday, (2019), oil on canvas, 101.60cm x 101.60cm
Untitled (Shadow Painting), (2020), acrylic on canvas, 71.12cm x 71.12cm

I made a couple of paintings while I was at home during the initial lockdowns. I was mostly working with drawing and thinking about what I wanted to paint, stuff that I would see around the house. I made one painting that was just shadows. I had some plants in the window, and the light was coming in through the window, and that made this pattern of shadows on the wall. And I just painted that. It was unlike anything I’d painted recently, but it was kind of therapeutic for me. It was just like, “Okay, I don’t have to worry about honouring someone’s likeness or thinking about the body in this regimented way,” so it was freeing. But it was also very difficult, because shadows are this fleeting thing that you can’t really grasp. When I paint shadows in paintings, they’re kind of made up, because they aren’t one true colour. They’re this thing that happens with light, and it’s always changing as you look at it. How do you represent that in colour? I was using acrylic paints at home, which is different from the oil paints I get to use in the studio. I don’t know if it’s a good painting, but it’s important for me because it has made me look at my environment in a different way. And it made me look at the time and paint in a different way.

I’ve noticed that in some of your works, there are older paintings within them.

It was something that evolved quite naturally over time. A few years ago, I was painting a lot of my friends as my subjects, and a lot of them are artists themselves. They would pick domestic spaces where they’d have art that they’ve collected, or their own art in the back. And I would have references to other paintings in the back as a kind of a tribute to them. It was appreciating their work by including it in mine, and it became this recurring theme. And since then, as I make more paintings, I think of how they would fit into others. Sometimes I’ll put an old painting of mine in the background of a new one, and have a dialogue. They speak to each other, which is why I try to allude to them, because they’re not separate.

Osaretin, (2016), oil and acrylic on canvas, 182.88cm x 137.16cm

So, interpretation is something that you play with a lot in your work?

I would say so, because I am very influenced by everything that I see. I consider myself pretty sensitive to my surroundings and my environment and everything I consume visually. I used to go to museums quite often, pretty much weekly, just to see exhibitions. Not just to look at paintings, but also sculptures and film and video, and I studied film in undergraduate school. I think I watch films in a different way now, having studied them and having made a few short films. When I watch films, I think of how people are represented in film and how I can learn from that to approach the subject, the human subject and painting.

My exhibition Where We Meet was kind of influenced by a quote from Arthur Jafa, at a talk that he was giving at the Hammer Museum in LA. He was talking about the way he works, and he’s a person who collects lots of images as well. He just scours the internet. I think he used to do it manually, before the advent of the internet, where you just collect images over time, making folders and books. That’s something that I have been very interested in, because I have lots of disparate interests that may not always readily make sense together, or the connections might not always be clear between them. But the way he spoke about his interest in images from all over – he said that the justification was his interest alone, and those things make sense because he is the connector. Where the ideas meet is within each of us, and our various interests. I was always interested in that as an idea.

Is this element of representing the individual, and culture, within your abstract work as well?

I don’t work abstractly all that often. It’s when I’m faced with something I can’t quite express with the body or the figures, and it’s usually in response to something happening socially, or something we experience in the real world. Instead of a figure, I’ll use maybe colour as a stand-in for people. I’ve used a spectrum of skin tones to talk about migration, or the ways that neighbourhoods and cities are built, or representation in countries and nations. So yeah, I think skin tones as colour can provide a lot of meaning. And then it found its way back into the figurative work. With the subject paintings, I often started with the skin tone.

Neighborhood, (2017), acrylic on canvas, 76.2cm x 76.2cm

With some of your works, water seems to be a recurring theme.

Surpassing Water’s Coolness, (2020), oil on canvas, 182.88cm x 137.16cm

That’s a new thing that I’m thinking through. I think water is really, really magical. And it’s hard to paint, so it’s a challenge for me. Water is such a weird, crazy thing to tackle, but I think what it immediately does for paintings like Heavenly Peace and Surpassing Water’s Coolness, is it disrupts the ideas of interior and exterior. I like that, because it immediately becomes dreamlike, or ominous, by bringing water into the domestic space. It can be surreal, but it can also allude to meaning. I think of floods – quite a literal problem that has disrupted so much. Water is a clear liquid, obviously, but I use it as a colour. I tend to paint water blue, and I think blue is such an emotive colour. It immediately sets a tone, and we all have associations with blue; I love combining it with water.

Heavenly Peace, (2019), oil on yupo paper, 121.92cm x 182.88cm

How is your work developing, going forward?

I have been interested in dreams recently, as subject matter. I have painted figures lying and sleeping in the past, and I feel that I’d like to explore what’s going on in their heads. This might help plug in a few holes in my work. I’m excited about that.

I’m painting a lot. I’m trying to get myself ready for the future. But at the moment, I just want to make some paintings that I really enjoy. And now that I have all the time in the world, I’ve got to slow down and try different things, try different challenges, and we’ll see what comes of it.

You can find out more about Tajh Rust work through his Instagram page and websites, links below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Dialogs: Pablo Helguera

Pablo Helguera, photo by Elana Snow

Pablo Helguera (Mexico City, 1971) is a New York based artist working across disciplines including installation, drawing, socially engaged art and performance. Helguera’s practice covers diverse ground from ethnography and sociolinguistics to humour and music. He has exhibited or performed at venues such as the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; ICA Boston; RCA London and the 8th Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05. This interview is really important to me. Pablo Helguera’s practice has been a huge influence on how I view art, especially the importance of dialog in his practice has stuck with me over the years. In this interview we talked about how he considers the viewer in his work and the role language plays. It’s really exciting to share this interview with others because I genuinely feel anyone can benefit from hearing how he approaches his practice the considerations he makes when making works.

During the April lockdown, you did a project called Pablo Helguera: The Grand Central Singing Telegram Co. Singing seems to be a recurring motif in your work. Could you talk about that?

I come from a musical family. My sisters and many of my relatives are classical musicians. It’s interesting growing up in a place like Mexico and hearing Mozart and Bach being played from different rooms of the house. I was always interested in music; I wanted to be a singer at one point when I was a teenager. Although my interest in painting and visual arts eventually took over, music never left me. I feel that is why I gravitated towards live performance art. I also realised later on that the notion of scoring was very important within my practice. The idea of sequentiality, whether in narrative format or a concatenation of experiences. From the standpoint of being an educator, an artist and a writer, everything you produce needs to follow some kind of structure or score. And that has manifested in many different ways in my work. Music is present in everything I do.

As an artist that has been involved in socially engaged practice from very early on, one of the issues that I face is the challenge of creating socially engaged art in the context of a pandemic where social distance and isolation is essential. I was discussing this with John Spiak, an old friend and curator at Grand Central Art Center in California, and we decided to do something that would help people connect. Everyone feels isolated in this moment, and the initial lockdown was particularly severe. I decided to revive my old project, The Singing Telegram. It’s a format that was invented in the 1930s during the Great Depression by Western Union, the telegraph service. I had already done one performance, and we thought it would be interesting to update the format and do it over Zoom.

Singing telegram collage, (2020)

I offered to become a messenger for people. They could pick from a selection of songs that I knew, and I would sing to the recipient of the message on Zoom. There were roughly 60 songs to choose from, ranging from Broadway tunes and Frank Sinatra to opera and Mexican folk songs. It was a really powerful experience; we had no idea how people were going to react. I ended up singing to dozens of people in different countries as far as New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey… People of all ages from all walks of life.

I was a complete stranger sharing these very personal messages from someone who may have been a significant other or a mother. The basic message behind the songs were, “I really miss you. I love you, and this song makes me think of you.” Often the recipient would start shedding tears and become really emotional. I felt so grateful for being able to facilitate that. It was a very simple way for people to connect. As artists, we need to think about ways of creating closer communication through the power of art.

There is a very particular archival aesthetic to your work. Could you talk a bit about that?

There is an aspect of me that I cannot escape, which is my obsession with the past. This fascination is not necessarily a matter of nostalgia. Nostalgia is an interesting and, in many ways, problematic concept. In contemporary art in particular, it is seen almost as a weakness; you are afraid of looking forward and so, you aim for an imaginary past. But psychologists who study nostalgia have claimed that it’s a process of establishing relationships with things that have happened which can in turn, restore your identity and shape your outlook on the future.

It’s also very connected with the immigrant experience. I’m an immigrant to the US. This process of reconstructing your reality through memories and finding some way of actualising this dual reality in the present – it’s a creative process that parallels immigrant experience. This is why immigrant versions of the foods or traditions from the motherland differ slightly from the originals. Italian-American food or Mexican-American food, for example, becomes something else in that process of recreation which is like an artistic process. I’m interested in that.

That process plays into Librería Donceles, the socially-engaged project where you created Spanish language bookstores in gallery spaces. Can you tell us about the impetus behind that project?

I grew up in Mexico City in a family that was literary as well as musical. When I was a kid, there was no internet. Books were my internet. I would go to my dad’s library in the house to do my homework and look at these huge encyclopaedias. Now everyone has Wikipedia. Books were like friends to me. They calmed me. By the time that project premiered in 2013, we had already witnessed the global dominance of Amazon and e-books, and brick-and-mortar bookstores were closing at an alarming rate. At the same time, I also noticed the lack of availability of Spanish books in New York City, a city home to two million Latinos. So, I proposed this eccentric idea of turning the Kent Fine Art LLC gallery into a bookstore. I went to Mexico to campaign for used book donations. Though the plight of Mexican immigrants in the US is painful, it’s something that Mexicans at home don’t really know what to do about it. On the other hand, middle-class and working-class people in Mexico usually live in the same house across generations, and accumulate stuff like old books, trashy novels and textbooks. As a result, we end up with a 20,000-volume inventory and customers were invited to pay what they wished. It was less about the money than the experience and the recognition of the value of literature in Spanish.

Libreria Donceles,Installation shot (2013)

In Librería Donceles, we had 70 different categories, from anatomy and agriculture to horror and children’s books. Anything you could imagine. It was a great entrance to a different culture for people. I modelled the design after second-hand bookstores that I loved, especially those I experienced as a student in Chicago. I find it fascinating that bookstores can resemble their owners’ personalities, and sometimes look like someone’s living room. It’s not a typical person that decides to run a used bookstore. Many of these people are hoarders. I’ve lived near a bookstore that you could barely walk through. If you pulled a book from the shelf, the whole arrangement would fall apart. Librería Donceles was supposed to last two months but it has been running now for seven years. The project has travelled to 14 different cities in the US. I always think that each iteration will be the last but someone new inevitably shows an interest. It’s just such a wonderful experience to deliver this project throughout the US.

Many of my works are inspired by stories. I made a work in Milan in 2013 called Vita Vel Regula [Rules of Life]. It takes the form of a game involving 50 other participants that will last for the rest of my life. 25 strangers who had attended the project’s opening and 25 close friends and family, all of which are younger than me. Everyone receives 16 sealed envelopes labelled with specific opening dates and instructions. On the first day, the first envelope is opened. Two days later, the second is opened. The third is opened on the fourth day. Then eight, 16, 32 – the waiting time doubles between participants until years and ultimately decades pass between each opened envelope. The project will conclude in 2097, when I will definitely not be alive. My daughter, who was three at the time, will be in her 90s. She’s the youngest participant.

Vita Vel Regula, Installation shot (2013)

The piece is inspired by a short story by Dino Buzzati called “The Seven Messengers” about a king who explores the confines of his kingdom only to realise that it has no end. He has seven messengers to keep him abreast of what’s happening back at the palace. The further he travels, the longer it takes the messengers to make the trip and deliver the message, to the extent that he might never see them again. It’s a story about how we communicate with one another over time. This relates to my interest in merging the experimental and the exhibitionary. The work becomes a record of those relationships in those particular instances. It’s about creating a collective experience.

This connection of language and documentation is evident in other projects like Dead Languages Conservatory

Dead Languages Conservatory directly ties into my interest in ancestry and living history. There are close to 60 languages still spoken in Mexico. It’s a country with a rich history, and there are millions of people speaking dominant indigenous languages like the many Mayan languages, but numerous languages are dying out. This is important because it relates to the changing environment of our world. Biodiversity facilitates diversity of language. People who lived in the mountains spoke one language, and those in the valley would speak another. The way we settle in a particular environment influences the culture that develops there. What is really wonderful about countries like China, India or Mexico is that they have different climates that give rise to different languages. That is also changing very fast because of migration to cities, which results in the homogenisation of language. The homogenisation of language influences the homogenisation of culture, creating greater cultural centres.

Dead Languages Conservatory, (2004)
Installation shot Dead Languages Conservatory,Installation shot (2004)

We’re looking at a future where only four languages will be in use. This project reflects on those places and people that have managed to retain a particular culture. Instead of using the typical digitisation approach, I documented this research using the earliest recording technology which is the wax cylinder. The wax phonograph cylinder is a really attractive object invented by Thomas Edison in the 1870s which picks up sound with a diamond needle. The idea of giving a 3D presence to these immaterial voices was very meaningful to me. The interviews with some of the last speakers have made their way into various installations including an interview with a woman in her 80s called Marie Smith Jones who was the last speaker of Eyak. Eyak, is a language that was spoken in Alaska. I also interviewed Cristina Calderón, a woman who lives in Puerto Williams – the world’s southernmost town, located on Navarino Island in Chile. She is the last speaker of Yaghan, the language of the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Does your work as an educator influence your artistic practice?

There is an educational element to it. I try to really caution art students to be careful that their practice doesn’t become an illustration of someone else’s theories. The worst thing we can do as artists is to open a book by Deleuze or Derrida and try to make a piece of art solely from that. You become a poor illustrator of an idea that you might not have understood to begin with. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very important to engage in the discourse of a period and understand the history but your practice is something separate. It will naturally seep into your practice anyway. As an educator, I am trained to think about the audience. That is the number one question I must ask myself: who is my audience? Who am I working with and how do I produce discourse with a particular group? Language must be used differently depending on an audience’s familiarity with the subject matter. You have to be open and transparent, and treat your audience with respect by tailoring the language to them. An important thing I learned was to avoid talking down to your audience. When working with a community, my process is one of listening, not dictating ideas. We are creating a dialogue – an exchange of knowledge.

You can find out more about Pablo Helguera work through his website link below

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


Movement, Lines, Shapes: Karolina Albricht

Karolina Albritch at Turps Studio October 2020 (photo by Laura Wormell)

Karolina Albricht is a Polish painter based in the UK. I interviewed Karolina over Zoom in late 2020. It was actually a friend that suggested that I check out Karolina’s work, and I am very glad that he did. I really enjoyed my conversation with Karolina; it got me thinking of how space is represented on canvas. In this interview, we talk about her painting practice and how her paintings are often responses and interpretations of external factors. We talk about the effect of the studio on her work, and we even discuss her approach to scale in her painting.

Let’s start with a day in the studio. How do you approach your practice?

I like to be in the studio first thing in the morning and have the whole day ahead of me. No interruptions, just get into it. It allows me to take my time, to think and look at what’s been done the previous day. Like warming up or stretching. Drawing is one of the studio activities that can easily shift the gears of thinking, without the pressure that painting sometimes may have.

I make notes of words that I hear or read, which resonate with me and somehow might come in useful in the studio. It might be fragments of lyrics that I’ve listened to. Sometimes it’s just a single word, that I think, “I must make a note of this.” And before I start the work, I often look through my notes, look at the words, and see if anything happens, see how I react. Sometimes it can be a physical reaction, or internal reaction, it can set things in motion.

Studio February 2021

I listen to a lot of music in the studio. I find that it helps me to disconnect from all those things that might hinder the process, and to isolate things I should focus on. So, music and dancing, amongst other things, help to get into the headspace that I need when I’m painting. A dance can simply mean a basic movement of a hand or leg, nothing too elaborate, just locating yourself in the body, a kind of kinaesthetic experience. Music and dancing have the most immediacy across the arts so they interact with you physically before being then filtered by the intellect. Music opens up a lot of ‘head’ and ‘body’ doors for me. It has an innate relationship with my work, and somehow things I’m listening to can find a way out, transgress.

It’s a multi-layered game, like a domino effect with books, with music, with painting: it’s all intertwined: the word, the sound, the line. But the music is the core layer, it is underneath the painting.

It’s interesting that you mention dancing as an influence on your work.

I’ve generally been thinking about the physicality in my work, and why it is that physicality such an important aspect of my work. It is a combination of things, of course. In a way, it might be a reaction to where we are now, as a society, and how we interact with one another, and with the world, or what these interactions have been reduced to. With digital media, the physicality is essentially wiped out so that must have a degree of influence.

Knuckle Rotation, (2020),oil on panel, 23x16cm

The shapes, the line and the movement, it’s all a constant exchange, in relation to the body. During first lockdown my attention shifted to how the body moves within the studio, and how/if that is linked and translated in the work. The series of paintings I then started developed a titling system: combining specific types of movement or direction, and body parts. All that was to do with mapping my movements within the studio and then transferring them from the floor to the wall- flipping them. The way you move about the studio floor, the way your arm might move to draw a line or how your foot might step on the ground— that creates a pattern, a repetition: a rhythm. I read that rhythm might have developed in humans as a way to unite collectively during wars and battles- a ‘battle trance’.  And I’m thinking what the rhythm is, what its function is and how it surfaces in my studio. I think my work, in many ways, is relying on this heavy, intrinsic thing of rhythm/ multi-rhythm/ syncopation. Especially syncopation. (Syncopation is the combining of rhythms)

There’s a very textural element to the way you lay on paint. Is that tied to physicality, with the use of materials like burlap?

Yes, that’s yet another layer of that physicality, which, over the years, gradually became more and more prominent in my work. I’ve started using different mediums and thinking about alternative substances that I can mix with the paint. I got my first Lukas Painting Butter maybe four years ago, and it’s become one of my go-to medium. What it does is it gives the paint a heavy body and speeds up drying. It gives it more flexibility as well.

Soft Dock, (2020), oil & other stuff on jute, 220x180cm
Soft Dock detail

It allows me to add what I want, from hair to volcanic rock. I have a box of sawdust that I’m looking forward to experimenting with. I can really play with the surface of the paintings with these materials.

Knee Cap North, (2020), oil & other stuff on panel, 30x24cm

How did that interest in materiality spawn for you?

I guess the explanation for it is more of a bodily reaction to looking; looking and thinking and processing everything that is happening around you and within you.

You experience the world through your body, through the entirety of your senses, named and unnamed, and my painting hugely relies on those experiences. The body can often act as a filter, it constantly processes the space around it.

We have talked about physicality in your work, but you also work in very different scales with certain paintings. How important is scale for you?

Yes, playing with scale is important. I recently finished Turps Studio Programme. While I was there, I had more space- larger walls, and I could experiment with larger paintings.

I’ve started painting on 220cm by 180cm canvases. Before Turps, the largest I had worked on was around 150cm. So it was a significant change. And I’m still learning to find myself on that scale. I also continue working on the smaller ones, small paintings, which are around 30 centimeters high — and trying to shift things between large and small, often simultaneously.

Studio February 2021

The small paintings are a kind of compression. It’s as if they demand more intensity, in terms of layering and in terms of detail, like snippets of something much larger.

Whereas the bigger paintings are a space you can physically enter. That space, you know, you can walk around. That scale means it’s already an object that you can spatially interact with and perceive in a very direct way, you can’t help it. It’s a different kind of an ‘entry point’.

There is this constant interaction in painting, how the body behaves when approaching these different scales, you know? From entering a painting which is taller than yourself, and then going back to something that is the length of your forearm.

These changes teach flexibility. There is an element of contraction and expansion, which continues to exist on all scales in various ways. You have to be alert at all times. I think of it as a way to challenge myself, and I like a challenge. The gesture or mark cannot be the same on such differences in scale. It’s a completely different approach.

I’ve found it very interesting the way that you name exhibitions and certain selections of works, like The baddies, the goodies & the sheriff (2020).

The baddies, the goodies & the sheriff is a group of paintings that I started working on during the initial lockdown. I had started painting some smaller works in Turps’ studios, but then they had to temporarily close because of Covid-19 restrictions. So I picked up my works, and I moved back into my old space in ASC. Something shifted when I put them up in a different space, on a different wall, in a space occupied by myself only. Divisions came about whereby some became “the good paintings, the nice paintings, the polite paintings,” the paintings that I knew how to make, and I felt comfortable making — and the other paintings, which were the opposite of those. They felt like the opposite because they were doing something forbidden (forbidden by myself…). So, if I’d look at one of the ‘nice’ paintings, I then immediately was tempted to just pack it up, take it and destroy it. Not in a physical way, not to tear it up into pieces, but just disrupt it completely, contradict it somehow.

Small Ones [formerly The baddies, the goodies & the sheriff] (2020), Studio Wall February 2021

And so while that process started happening, that was a point of departure as well for my work, because I started to experiment more — things kind of erupted. And later on, I divided the group of paintings, or they divided themselves, into the baddies and goodies, the wild ones that would misbehave and the ones that were easier to manage. And there was a painting that sort of connected the two groups, which I called  The Sheriff. The sheriff was watching both the baddies and the goodies!

No.3 [The Sheriff], (2020), oil on canvas, 30x26cm

However, these paintings now departed from my initial attempt to identify them, getting some kind of grasp of them. I now see them as simply the ‘Small Ones’ as they continue transmuting and twisting.

Before the lockdown, I think I’d gotten to a point where I was comfortable within the parameters of where I was operating. I suppose the lockdown and moving studio were the push that led to this change. And of course my time at Turps. I think I have to be 100% engaged and preoccupied with what I’m doing, otherwise the practice and thoughts slips away. I think you have to try to remain in this state of alertness, always on your guard, always be ready to attack.

You can find out more about Karolina Albricht’s work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

Installation, Photography, Video

Perception, and Experience: Ruth Le Gear

Ruth Le Grear remedy making

Ruth Le Gear is a multi-discipline artist based in Sligo. We sat down earlier in the year to discuss her work, and I am really grateful to Ruth for taking the time to sit down with me as it was a really great discussion. Ruth shows the unique flexibility that art has in how can approach subjects in ways other mediums would struggle with. Ruth’s blending of the scientific and the Homeopathic through her art practice to use an often overused term is distinctly unique. In this interview, Ruth discusses how she balances these different aspects to her practice and touches on the importance of research in her work. I feel safe in saying Ruth Le Gear is a one of a kind artist. hope you enjoy our discussion.

Homeopathy is a key element of your practice. How did that come to be?

I went to GMIT Cluain Mhuire thirteen years ago. At the time, I was really sick while I was studying. I have a remitting and relapsing illness, and I was in a lot of pain at the time. It was tough. It got to the point where I had a bed set up on campus while I was there. Luckily GMIT were super supportive. I don’t think I could have done it if I wasn’t for the support of Cluain Mhuire.  

I was using homeopathy at the time as a method to relieve my symptoms. I was crying a lot because I was in so much pain. I then started looking at the emotional content in a tear. That led to then looking at it in a homeopathic way. Within homeopathy, the more that you dilute something, the stronger it gets. So for my degree show, I collected tears from myself and other people. I put an ad in the paper for tear collectors and left tear collecting packages all over Galway. You could find them on buses and in toilets in places where people might find them and cry, and people sent them back to me. I then worked with a homoeopath, and I made a remedy from all the tears put together and created an installation called Teardrops In Wonderscape, which is still my favorite thing that I’ve made. It was shown in Ev+a (now known as EVA International) the same year as I graduated.

Teardrops In Wonderscape, (2008), Installation

It consisted of thousands of small vials, which held remedies made from tears. The vials had this incredible quality that when they were suspended upside down, you didn’t need to put a lid on them because the surface tension held the liquid it in. This body of water was held in four and a half thousand vials, which suspended above you. There was this sense of transition that something was waiting to happen. People were invited to lie underneath it, and there was projection through it, and underwater sounds came from the pillow. And in lots of ways, I still feel like my practice is unravelling that piece. Those little vials are the same vials I use now to give out my essences and remedies.

Teardrops In Wonderscape, detail

A lot of your work is the outcome of the residencies you have done. That is interesting. 

I really enjoy the time and space a residency creates. Early on I spent time in Iceland and it was transformative for me. I have spent time on a tall ship in the Arctic, weeks in Cill Railig in Kerry. Travelled in the high desert in New Mexico and spent time in Nowy Port in Gdansk, which was one of my favourite yet unexpected places to wind up for months over a number of years. As an artist, I am strongly attracted by methodologies of investigation of nonphysical phenomena. I explore scientific methodologies as well as the more intuitive process of understanding these phenomena, including homeopathy. I have worked with the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of the Sciences (IO PAN). The institute conducts scientific research in the Baltic and European Arctic Seas. This work contributed to a significant solo show ‘Trace” which was exhibited at the Centre of Contemporary art in Gdansk in 2015. I also worked intuitively with the waters from Gdansk and consulted with a number of homeopaths. These methodologies are polar opposites, but I feel that crucial connections are involved in perception, and a unified experience is created from differences. Hahnemann, who is now credited with creating homeopathy, refers to two different kinds of knowledge: Wissen and Kenntniss. Wissen is the kind of knowledge you get from studying or reading books, while Kenntniss is that deep personal knowledge you gain through experience. This is the difference between knowing about wetness by reading about it versus knowing wetness by immersing yourself in water.

Trace installation shot, CCA Lazina II, (2015-2016)

I find it interesting that you do most of your research on-site rather than prior to arriving at residences.

I love research. I see my work as a research-based practice. What I do, it’s a very intuitive conversation, for lack of a better word, with the water. When I do a residency, I’ll go, and I’ll sit with the water. There is no real language to the conversation, and in a way, that’s why I make the artwork; they are the results or interpretations of those conversations. When I went to Gdansk in Poland, had I known before I got there that it was where World War II started, I may not have signed up for a two-year residency there! It’s a very intense place. I was over and back a lot, and I spent three stints there for roughly two to three months apiece. It was an amazing opportunity to really engage with the place.

Another residency had me spend time in New Mexico back in 2017. For that residency, I went to some devastatingly brutal environmental situations in the Diné reservation, and it has taken me a little while to process that. Water from the San Juan area in New Mexico, and the water rights and the water pollution therefrom fracking. It’s really heavy. On the one hand, if you know all that before you go, you might have a bias or even an intention which isn’t responsive to the land. I’ll have a remedy session with the waters or the land. A lot of the time with the healing on the landscape it’s like layers of an onion, there might be one thing that’s not immediately apparent, but when you spend enough time in a space, everything starts to come up. This work in collaboration with Kaitlin Bryson was recently shown in Visual Carlow as part of Artworks.

New Mexico land arts, (2016)

Would you then consider your works landscape pieces? 

I don’t love labels, but they are beneficial for people to understand. They are also helpful for me when trying to explain what I’m up to. They are landscape interventions. I spent three years with Glenade lake while I worked from a studio at the in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, which led to Water Senses. I did a residency there, and then I ended up living near to the lake for three years, where I explored much of the mythology and narratives around the lough from the perspective of the water. I have been working with the lake for years now. I still monitor the water levels there on the lake; it’s kind of habit to check now when there’s heavy rain. Recently it had the highest rainfall ever since records were kept back in 1865.

Water Senses, (2017)

Colour frequently comes up in your practice around the water.

When I make a water essence from a place, I always have to return it to the site before it comes into being or is birthed and ready for use with humans. Often there is a one or two-year period where it’s just for the landscape. Then when it’s deep within the landscape, people can start taking it. It’s in that time I will take them in order to bring them forth. That is when the colours, those deep sensations come through. It is a kind of meditation by ingesting the landscape. It’s a bit like having a baby, now that I think about it! You’re bringing through, bringing the essences earthside and it’s a tricky one to put language on.

An interesting part of Water Senses are the mind maps that you presented in your publication.

That’s generally the way that the remedies or the water essences will appear, through that kind of drawing or meditation. That’s how I will map them out first. As they come through, when I take them, I’ve never sat and written text, it’s more visual poetry. It’s the way I think, or even the way that I remember, maybe. I enjoyed making the publication for Water Senses, and I do wonder if that’s the way things are going to be going forward.

Ruth Le Gears studio space

It can be heartbreaking when an exhibition comes down, like what has happened to a lot of exhibitions due to Covid. You pour your heart and soul into a show, and it’s up for six weeks or three months, then you pack it up. Sometimes it moves on, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find that drop after an exhibition can be really difficult. You could be working on something for years, but there’s something about the tangibility of a publication that continues that little bit further.

Water Senses publication, Leitrim Sculpture Centre, (2017)

Video and photography are another important element of your work. Could you discuss that side of your practice?

I guess because I try and travel so much and do so many residencies, video and photography are for me easy ways to document material. I love working with video; it’s a very beautiful and tactile process. You’re telling a story to the viewer. Most of my videos are very slow meditative pieces intended to lull you into the same kind of emotion as what taking the remedy would do, because a lot of people aren’t going to take the remedy. So in a way, I get the essence of the feeling across in these pieces. I used to work in very long, and when I say long, I mean hour-long pieces, but very few people watched them in their entirety. Though saying that, I had a show in Schwandorf Germany in 2018 a while back and I showed around six or seven pieces that were 40 minutes long apiece, and they sat and watched them all! Everyone that came into the gallery. It was like, “Wow!” They took it very seriously—this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. But in general, I do try and get the sense of the place across in under twelve minutes; I think twelve minutes is very long for people these days.  

video still, Nowey Port remedy return, CCA Laznia, (2015)

I would say the gallery context is interesting; I often treat people in gallery or studio spaces. So usually, if there wasn’t the current global situation, I would have invited you into the studio. I would have done a remedy session with you because that’s probably the best way for you to experience my practice and engage. It’s a feeling; it’s hard to use language to explain. I generally get curators I’m working with to sit down in my studio and do a short session. When I’m treating people in the gallery context, I’ll also show a film in the background. It can lull people into a different atmosphere in the gallery. It’s really interesting treating people in the gallery setting because it’s taking something that would normally be done somewhere else and bringing it right into the gallery; that kind of blending of environments is very interesting for me. Whether it is a video or my water remedies, I’m very interested in seeing how people respond in a gallery setting. It’s such a flexible space that can accommodate many things.

remedy sessions SFAI New Mexico

I think work presented in online spaces has to be made specifically for an online space. For example, I can send you my video, and you can watch it on your phone or your laptop. I have very little control over how you will look at it. You might not open it full screen, or you might have crappy speakers. We’re all human, but when you watch it in the cinematic way it’s supposed to be seen, it’s such a different experience. I think when moving things online, platforms have to be designed for that; I don’t think everyone can just be firing their work up online – you have to be very aware of how people are going to interact with it.

I am currently planning a film, Sensitive Chaos, that shares the sublime through images of water bodies. This body of work was proposed to be completed at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, but this residency is currently postponed, and now I have to develop creative ways to make this work here as it is something that I am deeply invested in.

My way of working has slowed due to having a child, but my vision and my relationship to water and my practice remains constant.

If we think of ourselves as bodies of water, it becomes clear how connected we are with nature and the environment; on becoming a body of water; I am also currently working with blown glass which is a slow, beautiful alchemical process which I am delighted to be up-skilling in. Again, this is a work in progress, but I am really enjoying returning to the sculptural element of my practice. It lends to the slow-moving meditation of the waterworks, and it is incorporated into the film works.

You can find out more about Ruth Le Gear work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below