Organising Chaos: Diana Coppperwhite

 

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Diana Copperwhite

 

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

How would you describe the act of painting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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installation shot, Galway International Arts Festival, 126 Gallery

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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example installation shot

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

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

http://www.dianacopperwhite.net/

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Past and Present: Mick O’Dea

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Mick O’Dea, photo by Emile Dinneen

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

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

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

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Black and Tan Installation Shot at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, 2010

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Has sculpture always been a medium that interests you?

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

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Drawings from an old folder from NCAD Dublin 1977 – 1979

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

How did you go about finding your sitters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.mickodea.com/

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Every Piece in its Place: Anishta Chooramun

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Anishta Chooramun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And Then We Met [Looks like Perspex], detail

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

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

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

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

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Kathak Dance

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

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mapping movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RHA Futures exhibition series 3, episode 3,

Is it common for you to change works between exhibitions?

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

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

You mentioned earlier about the works being a puzzle.

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

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

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

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

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RDS Visual Arts Awards 2018

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

You can find out more about Anishta Chooramun work through her Instagram page, link below

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

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

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Place is Paramount: Sophie Foster

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Sophie Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Making is obviously very important to you.

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about your research process.

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

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

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

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

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

https://sophiefoster.org/

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

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

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Ways of Communicating : Moza Almatrooshi

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Moza Almatrooshi, photo courtesy of the Muslim Sisterhood

I’m really excited to share with you the work of Moza Almatrooshi. She is a multidisciplinary artist based out of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. For me, the goal of Painting in Text has been not only to show artists with interesting outlooks on their practice but to create awareness of art happening outside of our own spaces and hopefully create connections through that. It was an absolute pleasure talking to Moza about her practice. She was very generous and open with her answers, which I really appreciated. The depth of thought she puts into each aspect of her work is astonishing and I hope from reading this you gain as much from the interview as I did.

 

How important is writing in your practice

For me, they are one and the same. I would say all of my moving image works have required writing. There hasn’t been a video piece where I haven’t written something that really framed things. There is movement to text. In Arabic, alphabetics [a practice of writing which focuses on the representation of spoken sounds by means of letters] looks like this. It is not what you would call text-based work; it focuses on what the Arabic alphabet itself can do. As much as I would like to explore language in that direction, I’m very much still in a mode of explaining my work with text as narrative driving something forward. For me, text is an element in which I can play in exciting ways, where I can use my writing in Arabic in an almost childlike way, to express myself. For example, the narrative of To Whom the Sun May be of Concern is expressed in this fable form which was evident in the video piece. It seems like something that could be read or spoken to a child but it has this kind of dark ending that’s not appropriate. I like that it comes across as very unalarming – something that takes a formal language. Arabic in its classical form is very formal. I feel like this style of story writing is disarming, and that’s why I rely on it to pair up with the other works although it can also stand alone.

There is a prominent use of subtitles in To Whom the Sun May be of Concern. Could you talk a bit about that?

I made To Whom the Sun May be of Concern at a time when I was thinking of the idea of access purely in a linguistic sense. I’m not claiming that English is not a poetic language or anything but I couldn’t exactly match the poetics of my language within English without sounding a bit off. Things get lost in translation. So, I made the conscious decision to keep the English subtitles as basic and to the point as possible. And I use Arabic in an ornate way with different colours assigned to the different characters that come into play. There is no third-person narration just characters that speak.

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To whom the Sun May be of Some Concern, (2018), still

The yellow subtitles translate what I’m voicing in the film. I played with different fonts In one scene, the subtitles were symbols. In another, there is a kind of stylised Arabic font. At that point, I was making the work for an exhibition in Sharjah, and I was playing a lot with political slogans specific to the situation here in the United Arab Emirates. I thought it much more important to push forward language that the people living here could pick up on because it was made for them to view. But within all my work, there is a dense layer of vagueness. I try to find subtle ways of working ideas into my practice.

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To whom the Sun May be of Some Concern, (2018), still

You speak multiple languages. Does that affect your writing and visual practice?

I wouldn’t say that I’m bilingual as much as I would say I have this kind of duality in my mind because I think in both languages constantly. I feel like I dream in English. I was working with an editor while writing something for a publication, and when she looked at my text she said, “I could tell that you had translated from English [into Arabic] in your mind.” I didn’t know how to respond to that! It happens both ways where sometimes I might think in one language and translate it into the other, and vice versa, to see what works. This is going to sound clichéd but sometimes I feel like [the texts] write themselves. It surprises me more when that happens In Arabic because, although it’s my first language, I speak Emirati. Nobody speaks classical Arabic in a colloquial sense. It just doesn’t exist in that way. It’s used in the Quran and formal settings – on the news or in formal letters.

Your recent work, Glaze features in this year’s Lahore Biennale. How did Glaze come about?

I was doing a residency in Cairo around Autumn 2019, while working on a commission for a five-minute film as part of the BBC New Creatives scheme. I went to a bakery that makes Western pastries. What is fascinating about them is I don’t know how to explain this better they make Western pastries in an Arab twist. For example, the croissants were rolled differently and their éclairs are really huge. The resulting work [Staff of Life] is my experience of not only documenting that but working with a sound designer and other artists who lended me their voices for the narrative. It was so amazing but I had that restriction of five minutes. From that, I wondered how I could do that again but in Sharjah. That way, I could take my time with the process. So with Glaze, I focused on the different kinds of spaces in Sharjah that make desserts.

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Staff of Life, (2019), still

What was great about this project was that I was working with a sound designer to create noise as a form of language that went along with movements similar to those in Staff of Life. The focus of Staff of Life is on the hands of the bakers as they make or decorate something. Usually, they’re using big machines to do something very traditional, which was interesting to see. The way they move their hands while preparing or pouring; I thought, why don’t I translate these movements instead of narrating in my usual way? Why don’t I translate these everyday gestures into sound?

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Glaze, (2020), still

Glaze has arrived at a version which very much fits the teahouse in Lahore, Pakistan where it’s being shown. The Pak Teahouse is one of the locations of the Biennale, and it’s supposed to be a significant space for people to gather and discuss politics. I felt that the location worked well and that whoever goes to see the work will be able to absorb everything that is said. It is very much a version that I would like to revisit and do something a bit different with down the line. But at the moment, it’s a moving-image work with sound created for the visuals that tell a story. Using the Tea House as a venue allowed for additional elements to the work such as a menu which itself was a translation of the story. The staff of the teahouse helped with what they could access within their work limitations. With a few adjustments, the work can be consumed as a meal or a tea, or a coffee.

Glaze showing in Pak Teahouse Lahore 2020

Glaze showing in Pak Teahouse Lahore, (2020), photo courtesy of Lahore Biennale Foundation

For me, Glaze was about these visuals that lure the viewer in – the fuzzy feelings people get while watching sweets being made. All of these things that are so beautiful to look at. Even without all the layers I’m injecting into the work, on an elementary level, these things being made are bad for you but it is so easy to be seduced by them. That was basically what I was trying to do.

Food is a common theme in your work. Could you discuss the motivation behind that?

All the food that we eat has heavy symbolism within Arabian culture. Foods like pomegranates, dates, honey, flatbread all have symbolism associated with them – not just in what they represent but also how they are consumed – and this is just as important in pre-Islamic Arabia. Some of my work is about how these rituals in Islamic culture have been appropriated from Pre-Islamic times. That knowledge is important.

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Moza performing Evergreen, (2018), photo by Meera Alqasimi

Evergreen was born out of the frustration of having to translate everything I did. This realisation that when I write or communicate something through any of my works that use text, it must be in English – even here in the UAE. Obviously, it’s because it is the dominant language and there has to be a common language but I couldn’t help but think about this in terms of access. Why does art have to be English to be accessible? That coupled with the experience of being asked really frustrating questions in art school like, when I would be working with ceramics: “is this a response to ISIS?” Completely out of nowhere! As if I’m supposed to have these prepared answers about something because of my cultural or religious background.

When picking materials, I choose foods well known for their symbolism. The pomegranate is significant to a lot of cultures, and both Eastern and Western cultures. It could be something for everyone, regardless of what it means to me. From that starting point, the performance then became about an interaction with a guest through a gestural rather than. To eat the pomegranate after I had sliced it in front of them and went through all that labour; how do they respond to that? How much do they take? Some people just ate one little bit, some took a handful, some people shared their plate, and that was the idea behind it. I found that after that, everything I wanted to say could be said with food – whether a cooking method or a [visual] element. That is why I’m now going to culinary school. I feel I can actually use that, integrate it into my practice and also create some sort of financial stability for myself.

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Evergreen, detail, (2018), photo by Meera Alqasimi

Evergreen was a performance within a larger performance from a group that the Arab Art Salon formed with friends at the Royal College of Art. Basically, we decided to use a domestic space to do a series of performances for one night and invite everyone from the neighbourhood plus our course mates – everyone we could fit. So, it wasn’t just the typical audience you would encounter in white cube spaces. I think as much as I’d love to say the space was very considered, it wasn’t. We were all pleasantly surprised by the way in which people absorbed the performances in a domestic space. That was what the Arab Art Salon was all about; we were just together at a particular time expressing our concerns to one another. We all more or less came from the Gulf States and there are certain things we can’t discuss in these countries (and in London, to a lesser extent). So we felt that it was so important to have this kind of space. It wasn’t about critiquing each other’s work as much as it was about sharing. We thought that a domestic setting would be the best place to accomplish that. These kinds of initiatives that bring people together in person are so important because I don’t think it can be achieved in the same way online.

Your practice involves so many different processes, it would be interesting to see what a day in the studio looks like for you.

Most of my work is research-driven, so you would see a lot of research. I’m still trying to excavate knowledge that has been lost, particularly around pre-Islamic heritage. Much of that information has been destroyed or was never really recorded well enough to begin with. It’s tough to identify how reliable the sources actually are with the very little information that is out there. The past few months have been like a loop of trying to find reliable information or important myths, and figure out how these can also feed into works.

When I’m not researching, I’m just really reactive to what is going on here in UAE, and that drives a lot of my thinking. In the meantime, I’m graduating from culinary school in autumn and I will hopefully have my new studio set up before summer. I’m going to have a kitchen where I will host artists and create exchanges around how they work with food or other materials. The artistic community is really small in UAE; it would be nice to have a space here that is outside of any institution. When we gather and organise ourselves as artists, and really talk about things that matter, it’s much more organic. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. I’d like to cultivate that.

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

About

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

 

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Art in Algorithms: Mattis Kuhn

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Mattis Kuhn

Mattis Kuhn is a German artist/curator who works in Frankfurt and Cologne. It’s artists like Mattis that are the reason I do these interviews.
I got to meet Mattis when he was doing a residency in The Model Arts Center in Sligo, and I didn’t know much about his work prior to getting the chance to meet him for the interview – now, he’s an artist I will frequently tell other artists to check out his practice. It was a great experience to get to talk to Mattis, and he is someone I have immense respect for. The amount of thought that goes into each work is incredible; my favourite parts of some of his works are the subtle fine art references that Mattis is able to fit into his work, artists like Kazimir Malevich and Egon Schiele. It was a really enjoyable experience and I feel very privileged to share this interview with you.

Programming is a common feature of your work – can you talk about that?

In general, it’s an interesting topic for me – the relationship between the algorithms that make up these programmes that we use, and their environment and us as well. How we shape the algorithms, but also how the algorithms somehow shape us. We really force machines to make something that we can comprehend – the machine is different from the human being, and we have to translate everything to put it into a machine and to get meaning out of it – and I don’t think that is always possible.

This is a key point of your piece sketch_150709b.

In that particular case, I was thinking about how algorithms are all around us, but we don’t really get a proper notion of that. I think that’s kind of a problem, that certain types of technology are so hard to perceive. sketch_150709b deals with the relationship between code and its output. You’re seeing in the video parts of coding that we aren’t usually privy to. It shows around 40 small programmes, and they all result in the same output, and you can’t see from the output what lies behind each one.
The black square you see in the video is a reference to the famous painting by Kazimir Malevich – there is a connection between his painting, the transformation from objective or representational painting to abstraction, and the characteristics of algorithms. He says his work emerges from nothing; you could say the same of artefacts produced with code, in a way. Code itself isn’t a concrete object, but you can build different objects from it. It’s somehow not really bound to the world. It’s not predefined, but you can create objects through it. So, this black square, I kind of think of it as a place holder for anything. That it’s just about that you can create anything you can imagine with code. So it’s more about possibilities than the one concrete thing.
I think that we really have to keep in mind that it is us who built the machines – they don’t develop their own intelligence, we influence what comes out of them.

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sketch_150709b, (2015), video, software (processing)

 

forkbombEnsemble was one of those sound installations, but it still has an interesting approach to programming.

So this is one work which really focuses on computation. This came out of my research where I tried to figure out that it makes sense that artists would work with algorithms and that art can contribute to discussions about algorithms. It was inspired by another artwork called forkbomb.pl by Alex McLean and by the Flash Crash from 2010.

McLean made this work where you can execute this algorithm. The general idea is that, depending on your input, it can cause your computer to stop running, because the process duplicates itself every iteration until your machine fails to execute the amount of processes.

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ForkbombEnsemble, (2016/17), sound installation

This forkbomb runs on a single computer. But my second inspiration was the Flash Crash where several thousands of algorithms worked together to create something unpredicted. So I put both together to make a decentralized forkbomb. It is only possible to run as a forkbomb if several machines work together through communication. But of course you can think about social developments or social events which kind of have the same behaviour where several actors working together to make something that wouldn’t have happened if they were working as an individual.

Herz Woyzeck is an interesting piece. Can you talk about that?

Herz Woyzeck is based on Johann Christian Woyzeck, who’s the subject of a Georg Büchner play that was definitely influential for me. He was very poor his whole life — moving from one job to the other, ending up in crime. He pleaded insanity, but after several expert opinions he was found guilty and publicly executed in front of thousands of onlookers. That was one key element for my work. Another important element was medical experiments in which he participated to finance his livelihood. Actually he needed to risk his health because he didn’t have much money, and it wasn’t really scientific. The doctor who performed the experiments, he wrote an extensive report about his studies, and the focus was often about how the heart of this guy reacted to these experiments, so that’s why I focus the heart in the performance.

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Herz Woyzeck, (2012), performance

 

For the performance, I attached myself to a heart monitor which actually dictated the play of three musicians. The notes they had to play appeared on a screen. I’m using something called twelve-tone technique, which is a method of music composition for which Arnold Schoenberg is known. You define a sequence of the twelve tones in which each can only appear once. I used the curve of the ECG to define these twelve tones. Then you can perform several operations on this sequence but you have to make sure that all tones are played before you can start with the next sequence. It’s about an equal distribution of all sounds

So the sequences were defined, but the speed and the style of the play were related to the heartbeat. I could obviously control the heart rate to an extent, but generally it goes in one direction because of the exercise I’m doing on stage.

On the visual side, I did very slow transitions between several poses which are inspired by paintings by Egon Schiele. The setting of the stage is a reference to the setting where this Johann Christian Woyzeck was executed.

Let’s talk about one of your more recent projects, lys.

It is a Norwegian and Danish word, which means ‘light’, and it’s also an acronym for the slogan: ‘leave your self’. The primary aim of lys is to connect oneself with others through implants in the brain. On the one hand with the aim of enlightenment, on the other hand to make decisions on a collective basis.
One thing that it has in common with Herz Woyzeck – and it’s the general approach of my artistic practice – I do some research without knowing what the piece will look like in the end, and through the process I kind of find my right form for it.
In this case I connected this idea of networking with the promises of technology enthusiasts and big companies to save mankind, the planet, the universe etc.. So the right form for it was this idea of a fictional company, and the media it communicates through. First of all it has to look very nice, so we start with this commercial spot which is influenced or inspired by advertising of tech companies. I tried to mimic it, as if I’m advertising some nice product or something – you think it would be very nice to have that product, so I’m using the same technique as those companies, but then I have another layer where I describe it more from a scientific angle. And from this angle you read that you have to give something over to it [the network], so it’s not really all positive maybe?

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lys, (2018), website, image film, brochure, fruit gum packages, fair stand

 

And then on top of that, I think the website follows this idea of making something outside of the gallery. It’s kind of like – I tried to make you as a visitor not see it as a piece of art, but instead something that could be made by a real company to promote their vision.

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Lys, detail, brochure, (2018)

 

Have you curated online exhibitions? Is that somewhere you would consider going with your curatorial practice?

I haven’t, but I think it’s a very interesting thing. Simply because there are shows in physical spaces that are mostly on a very short time frame, maybe a month or two, and for most people it’s tough for them to attend these exhibitions. So I think an online exhibition is really a nice medium or idea in general, but on the other hand, it’s kind of complicated I think – because a lot of it is about this sensual or physical experience, especially when dealing with AI artworks, I think sometimes it’s better to have this physical experience than through a screen.

Can you say something about your interest in dealing with AI?

I think in general with machines there is a lot about ourselves as well in them. So it’s kinda like we try and make things that we want to teach machines to do as well. We can really think about ourselves when we deal with machines because it is kind of a mirror of ourselves sometimes and it also shows us in which things we humans are quite better, but we also recognize some of our weaknesses, for example prejudices.

Can you define some different approach between your artistic and your curatorial practice?

One major difference between my artistic and my curatorial practice – whereas I prefer to go into detail about one topic as an artist, try to work one thing out, when I’m working as a curator I can go more broad, just bring together in a broader sense several different perspectives of artists who deal in detail with aspects of the topic. That’s what I’m mostly interested in when I’m in the curator role, to bring several perspectives to the one space.

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

https://mattiskuhn.com/en

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Mouth Actions: Sáerlaith Molloy

Spit it out, 2016 Durational performance, Limerick School of Art and Design

Sáerlaith Molloy performing Spit it Out, (2016),

“Sáerlaith Molloy is a performance artist that I first came across in 2018 at the K-Fest arts Festival, where she deservedly won their Screaming Pope Prize.” Sáerlaiths exploration of themes made for an amazing interview, as with many great artists you can see her evolving thought process through her work which makes her a very rewarding artist to follow. I’d like to thank her personly for being such an open and generous interviewee.

A recurring image in your work is the mouth – how does thinking about language influence your work?

I began teetering on using language in my second year of college – Labial would be the earliest example. I’ve always been interested in the idea of language, this idea of. When you speak, it’s only there for a moment, then it disappears or evaporates in a sense — that idea of how the spoken word is only there for a moment, for a second.

Language is so versatile in the way it can move or change – we speak English, and we have our own native Irish language. The Irish language is full of exaggerations! In Irish, when they describe water, they don’t just describe it as a stream, or as waves: they describe the waves as horses galloping. Like these almost magical extra added bits of language. My bible during my research was Describing Language, by David Graddol, about the origins of language – like where it came from, how it has developed in places like Ireland, and the shared kind of umbrella that Irish and German and Scandinavian languages come from. And just, you know, more about the physicality of the mouth, the ways the tongue can move and create the noises – how your tongue goes flat for ‘N’, and fat for ‘V’. How your lips would press together for ‘M’ or how your lips are open for a little bit for a ‘V’…

My niece was born four years ago, and watching her learn how to talk was like a lightbulb going off in my head. Seeing how she’s a growing woman, learning by looking at the likes of you and me speaking. Looking at how we move our lips and how that was all going on in her head. And her body was training itself to mimic these sounds, and I remember recording her and just listening to her, watching her trying to say things after my mother or sister had said something. Through that, she learned that your mouth is just an amazing part of your body.

So I was trying to see how all these things could feed into some type of performance work. At the time I wasn’t ready to perform yet in a space, but I just felt that this kind of a retelling of the story – using myself as a medium, as a way to retell something that I think – it needed to be heard. My mother had stories that I felt needed to be told. My grandmother had passed away while I was in college, and there was a lot of things I hadn’t been told about, the stories she would have told my sister and my mother. It’s such valuable information, and it is all about tradition. It’s all very connected. I could alter and distort the material itself, but also get that message across; that connection and how stories change over time. So that is where it’s really started.

Labial is a series of Holographic sculptures/videos of my mouth mirrored and edited in a way that they only produced very simplified speech. Like it was broken down to the simplest abstract noises.

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Labial, (2016), Video Installation, Inverted Truncated Pyramid, Acrylic Perspex

 

I have this real interest in speech development and experimentation, and that is where Labial came from; breaking down speech into quick movements or sounds and put them on repeat making an uneasy parallel, and this repetition makes you aware of what going on. You’re aware of the mechanics of it. At that time, stepping out into space by myself was still very daunting for me, so that’s why Labia was a video piece that turned into a hologram. I created a person, with these two heads that were having a conversation with each other, kind of grotesque in that way, primitive… they were very pared back to the beginnings. Just very raw. Labial will be something I will always be very proud of, and I think it’s been a pivotal moment where I realised this is what I want to do.

Would you say the body is an essential tool of sorts in your work?

I don’t think it’s an accident; it is very much a crucial part of my work. You know with a piece of work when you try it out for a few times, and you will feel that doesn’t work, or this works, etc. – every time I kind of delved further with a piece, I found it was when I used my body a lot more. I always say my work is like I’m creating a conversation; I come in, I’m having a conversation with the audience, and I’m having a conversation with the space I’m in. I’m having a conversation as a woman, with you as a man. Or even more specifically as a woman in Ireland. So there are all these kinds of layers. Maybe in the future, I’d like to invite other people and see how that works, but at the moment it’s just making use of my own interactions. I find that the conversations I’m having are incredibly personal, even when the resulting physical product is extremely abstract.

Gurgle was your next project, and there’s a real physicality to that work and your performance, would you agree?

I’ve performed Gurgle three times – once in college for a degree show, which is kind of a bubble of an environment, and then in K-Fest, which surprised me cos how open people were. I then performed it in Denmark, and likewise, people were extraordinarily open and just wanted to talk to me after.

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Gurgle, (2018), live performance, latex boob balloon, coloured water, performer., [K-Fest performance], photo by David Hegarty

Gurgle is performed under a sculpture that I built that’s filled with water, that water would shower over me. Often filling into my mouth and my interaction with the water informed the performance.

I think endurance is extremely important. I know people who perform with a set time and they would have their movements planned out for the whole performance. They would have a set list of everything they’re doing, a plan in their head. I do have a plan, but I’m not necessarily thinking, ‘I’m five minutes into the performance, I have to do this now!’ That element of endurance, working with the progression of time, I think that’s the real essence of performance art for me.

I’m very much about being in the moment, and I think that’s what performance is all about? If you talk to any performer, they’ll tell you once you are in that zone, it’s hard to describe. Once I step out there, I just completely change, I just go into a completely different mode. And it’s only when you’re there in that zone for a while that really interesting things start to happen, you really begin to work with your body. And you don’t realise it; it’s very in the moment and very intuitive, which is what a lot of performance art is entirely about. It is all about your intuition.

I remember when I worked with Amanda Coogan, I literally had just been given

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Sáelaith performing Amanda Coogan’s ‘You Told Me To Wash And Clean My Ears’ (2016)

something and was told, ‘go into that room and just play around for a bit’, and then the next day, you’re doing it! The first time I did it, I was thinking, ‘oh god am I doing this, right?’ But when the time comes for the performance it switches into this kind of zone, and you almost feel it, and I think that is what really amazing. You switch off all those stupid things you think your head, you have to think: fuck everybody, you’re there to perform! You could perform to nobody, but you’re still going to perform because you want to get into that zone, you want to see where things go and how far they will go. And it’s incredibly empowering.

So yeah, I’m seeing how far I can go, and test my limits in some ways. And sometimes it’s, ‘oh no that’s it; I can’t do any more.’ Like with Gurgle, for example, I was messing around with it, like I could go with this for a long time but after a while, I’m going to start hurting myself. So thirty minutes is my maximum! It was kind of a serendipitous accident actually, where I filled that balloon full of water, and I tried it myself for the first time – just as my throat started hurting, the water just stopped, and I checked the clock, and it was thirty minutes exactly. And I just felt – it felt right, you know?

Pillow Talk is another work of yours that has a similar endurance element.

When I was doing Gurgle for my degree show, I had Pillow Talk in my head. And I was thinking about the mouth and looking at how it moved and wondering how I can create a physical presence of language. Considering I was talking earlier about how fleeting it was, the follow-up was to ask myself, how can I make the conversation permanent? How can I make it last without it being the physically written word? I wanted an alternative mode of mark-making, using my mouth, using the core organ of speech. Pillow Talk was a thirty-minute performance where I was putting lipstick on my face, starting with the lips and moving out around the face to completely cover the head, and then lying face-first into a pillow and reciting a dialogue about my life at the time. Which was about how I just was always calculating in my head, how much time I had, things like that – it was a kind of anxious time for myself, in terms of my mental health. And the movement and the face imprint then became my pillow talk to myself. We all know ‘pillow talk’, as a term, is the kind of talk that you have at night, but this was to myself – this kind of reassurance, that everything would be OK for the next day. The imprint that was left on the pillowcase was my conversation.

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Pillow Talk, (2017), Live Performance, a pile of pillowcases, lipstick, two spotlights, a pillow, a mirror, performer.

 

We’ve talked a lot about the performance part of the equation in your performance art, but there’s also a lot of interesting constructed elements to your work as well – I’d love to hear your thoughts on that side of things.

I think sculpture has always been part of my work. With an object that I use in my performance, it being something I’ve made is really important to me. The work is of the body, so it makes sense for me to use my hands to create a mould of my body.

The balloon you see in Gurgle, that was very hard! It was about six months in construction. It started off with a body-safe silicone mould of my right breast, and from that I made loads of different copies of it – copies in all types of different materials, to see what would be sturdy enough. Initially, I was going to make it from something extremely hard because my thinking was it had to be hard to hold water, which was a total waste of time!

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The balloon from Gurgle

 

Now I’ve always been interested in latex as a material because how you can use it. It is so free as a liquid, and it is still quite flexible once it sets, so I had made my cast – my candy dish, as I call it – my breast mould, and from that, I started making a physical positive in plaster 3D. I had a kind of frame, a big wire mesh frame kind of structure, and I began to place these plaster positives of the boob on the frame and gradually built it up using wet plaster. And then filling in the gaps, smoothing it, sanding and shaving everything to make it as smooth as possible, so when it came to applying latex, I could brush it on to get the fine details of it. I would do about 15 layers, and once that was set, you have your boob made! It was a lot of trial and error, but interesting because of the use of materials and just the experimentation involved – a resin version, or a gypsum one. You know, whatever really. I was trying to see what would be the best material. That kind of trial and error was critical.

You perform with a performance art collective called Evil, tell us a little about them.

We’re all performance artists based in Ireland. There is a good group of us, roughly around ten. We all went to LSAD, and we are trying to bring art to a more public space. Kind of taking that ‘intenseness’ out of it and making it more accessible. By making it more enjoyable, people can come, and they can sit down, have a drink.

We have meetings beforehand to see who wants to perform at the event. The group gives the option for artists to collaborate, two of the artists Niamh Dorgan, and Aoife Lee . actually collaborated on a piece together at one of the performances not long ago. It’s all about getting a space for us to continue our practice – it’s something we hear a lot, how it’s very hard, when you leave college, to maintain your practice. You don’t have a studio, you have to fend for yourself really, so collaboration is something that can really help to keep you going.

It’s a platform, but it is making me more determined to keep it up and make new work in order to show to develop my practice. Particularly now I’m out of that art college kind of bubble. It’s making me want to keep going, showing new work, and it’s always really good to have like-minded people around you – it’s a good influence. We all bounce off each other. It’s something I’ll continue to develop.

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

http://www.saerlaithmolloy.com/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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The Naked Camera: Fionna Murray

 

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Fionna Murray

Fionna Murray was born in London to Irish parents before moving to Ireland where she now resides in Galway. It this questioning of identity and how it relates to environment that informs her work. It is something that I can relate to having spent part of my childhood in England myself before moving back to Ireland. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to have studied under Fionna in GMIT to discuss art with her was very formative for me, and getting to sit down again with her to discuss her work was a privilege. I hope you enjoy this look into her practice and what drives her.

 

Tell me about your approach to your work.

When it comes to making work, I like the mediation of the photograph. You are looking at something that isn’t the actual thing, and that is contained. Through the observation of the photograph you can also begin to see things that you might not have noticed on a fleeting viewing. Working with film adds another interesting layer – the way a still from a film is a split second, and that the movie is again a finite thing to work within. It gives you boundaries and limitations on subject matter, but that paradoxically, allows for great freedom to do with it what you want.

I also enjoy that sense of separation, between you looking and the thing being looked at – I like the idea that this is artifice, that it’s not a realistic take on the world. The notion of the painting as a parallel place, and the freedom to make something that’s slightly awkward. I would hope that the work is ambiguous enough to support these readings.

Let’s talk about your recent work Metropolitan Pastoral, since that uses film as a jumping-off point.

The exhibition Metropolitan Pastoral in Sligo in 2019 was a development from a body of work I did in 2016, shown in London at the Eagle Gallery, which was a series of watercolours responding to Blow-up, the Michelangelo Antonioni film based in London in the 1960s.

Blow Up and Other Stories, Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm, 2016

Blow Up and Other Stories, (2016), Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm,

I had been painting watercolours from photos of shopfronts and different random things, while at the same time I had been watching films based in London. Blow-up was one of those films. I already had a distinct memory of the film, and it had a real effect on me, that resurfaced when I watched it again. The plot wasn’t what interested me in the film – it was the imagery of London, nearly every still in that film was a possible painting. There was a dislocation in the film with a sequence set in an ordinary city park.  One image from Blow-Up was similar to a painting I had been doing before – a rose bed in a park. I decided to paint a watercolour of a still from the film, not thinking it would go anywhere, but then I kept stopping the film as I watched it on my laptop and began to make more and more paintings from the stills! And that eventually developed into the series Blow Up and other Stories.

It was interesting to me that the director Antonioni, an outsider, was able to pick up on the atmosphere of London at that time – albeit of a particular but very creative and influential scene.  I could identify with it;  somehow as I was growing up I could feel the energy and sense of possibility in London at that time and Blow-up really captured a certain quality in London but also, crucially, something else, a darker more mysterious and ambiguous reading that makes the film so compelling.

London is really important to you, isn’t it?

I was looking back at London, but as I made the watercolours they also became something to do with me being in Ireland. My parents grew up in Ireland before they went to London after the war, and home to them was Ireland, and now I’m here living in Ireland. So I’m sort of thinking, which is home – is it London or is it Ireland? And something about that shot of Vanessa Redgrave standing at the edge the park, with her back to you, I could identify with her figure looking into this rural image, you know?

It’s always about this idealistic place that you can never quite reach. Maybe doing the paintings is a way of living in a world that you can create, that you can be in for a period of time in order to resolve something. For me, Metropolitan Pastoral isn’t just nostalgia: the work isn’t about pining for another time, it’s looking at how an environment can affect a person and maybe their sense of self.

Blow Up and Other Stories, Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm, 2016

Blow Up and Other Stories, (2016), Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm

All the same, it’s that classic thing, isn’t it? Writers are always looking back at the place that had the most substantial influence on them. I might have thought I’d be making work about Ireland or of Ireland, but the strongest draw is still to do work about the place that formed me. Maybe it’s because visually you’re taking in so much when you are growing up, and those images embed themselves into who you are.

In a way, the second-generation Irish over in England are an invisible ethnic group, because they look like everyone else there. Even their accents are English a lot of the time. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Second-generation Irish often want to be known as Irish and not British, so there are all these funny nuances and our parents would talk about ‘home’ – which was where you would gradually grow to learn wasn’t where you were living.

You added acrylic and oil paintings to the series – can you talk about that?

Stroll On, Mixed media on canvas, 35 x 40 cm, 2019 copy 2

Stroll On, (2019), mixed media on canvas, 35 x 40 cm

The watercolours were such a beautiful thing to do in themselves and I didn’t feel the need to make larger versions of them.  I had to take a different approach to making paintings on canvas, and my intention was to break the image down and abstract the forms somewhat from the original source. So, you wouldn’t necessarily make a connection to Blow Up in the reading of them. I continued to use stills from the film, but the image takes on a life of its own in the physical making of the work – for instance, the painting Stroll On isn’t in the film, but the idea of the building at night time with sound escaping, developed from the music club that the photographer goes into in the film. I also combined the fence pattern from the tennis court into the base of this painting and that juxtaposing of imagery is the freedom of choice that making a painting offers.

 

Grid like elements are quite common in your work, can you talk about that?

Amp, Mixed media on Canvas, 50 x 60 cm, 2018

Amp, (2018), Mixed media on Canvas, 50 x 60 cm

The idea of paintings within paintings interests me. I often see painting as problem-solving; I like the paintings to look like puzzles that have to be deciphered and sometimes I enjoy the monotony and repetition of making grids like chequer boards. Even hidden things are a game, and that is the creative part of putting on a show. In Amp, the amp shape is another canvas that is not apparent until the viewer examines it more closely -there’s a sort of materiality and layering that brings the image back to the physical surface of the canvas.

 

I made a diptych called The Girls in Their Dresses, that stands out from the rest of the work in the Metropolitan Pastoral exhibition because they are painted in a clean graphic style different from the rest of the works. They are taken from the patterns on the dresses of the two young girls who come into the photographer’s studio at the beginning of the film. When I looked at the dresses, they were like abstract paintings. So why not make them into paintings- which hold a secret – because they are dresses!

The Girls in their Dresses, Acrylic on Canvas, each 20 x 30 cm, 2019

The Girls in Their Dresses, (2019) Acrylic on Canvas, each 20 x 30 cm

I recently I saw a documentary about Blow Up, and apparently, Antonioni painted the dresses because the colours in the cloth weren’t strong enough and that revelation made me go “brilliant”! Those dresses were actually painted! That knowledge made the painting of the diptych all the more enjoyable. Antonioni’s attention to detail also extended to having the grass in the park painted extra green; his use of artificial means to heighten reality created a lucidity to the films he directed.

Let’s talk a bit about your inspirations.

There are many but someone who is an inspiration both in his beautiful brave paintings and how he talks about his practice is Philip Guston; the process in the studio, and his honesty about the doubt that’s involved and taking risks within the work. I’m thinking of how he changed from this sublime abstraction in the 1950s into a sort of cartoony figuration throughout the 1960s and beyond. He took a massive risk at the height of his success but creatively he had no choice. Those paintings can’t be appreciated in reproduction. They have to be seen in terms of being big physical luscious oil paintings, and not just cartoon pictures.

Rose Wylie is a real inspiration in that material sense; when something doesn’t work she sticks another piece of canvas on top and continues painting over the top of that! There is an obvious thread back to Guston in her work as well. Her paintings are far rougher around the edges than mine, but they are really inspiring for their embrace of awkwardness and joyful humour and poetry, and she’s in her eighties! How great is that!

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West End 1, (2018), Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 35cm

Another influence would be Tal R, the Danish painter. I think Tal R is very material in the way that he builds up his surfaces. I saw a retrospective of his work at Louisiana Gallery outside Copenhagen – there were a lot of shop-fronts and sex shops from Copenhagen in the work. And just the way he rendered the architecture of the buildings with a quality like children’s books that gives an innocence to the painting that is not there in reality. The most recent paintings have these beautiful surfaces that look like chalk pastel. But I think it’s this idea of a window into a fantasy world with no recognisable figures that interests me.  It suggests this sort of imaginative possibility behind the closed doors. I think there may be something about the windows and the shop displays, an idea of a theatrical space. It’s artificial and it’s ideal; an ideal world that the window creates.

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

https://www.fionnamurray.com/home

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Shouting Out Loud: Olivia Furey

 

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Olivia Furey

Olivia Furey is a multi-disciplinary artist from my home county of Sligo. Her genuine love for art is evident from the moment you meet her; she lives for art, and that energy is infectious; it can be seen most evidently in her captivating performances. For the first time in Painting in Text’s history, we have to include a mild spoiler warning. We will be discussing Olivia’s performances if you haven’t seen her work I do recommend checking her out it will be well worth your time or failing that check out Olivia’s YouTube channel which we to link at the bottom of the interview.

Your performance work is really unique, mind if we start with talking about that?

Thanks, Barry. I’m interested in reconstructing the typical set up for a gig. Often in a typical performance, the dynamic of the relationship with the audience is entirely passive – I wanted to confront and challenge the relationship. Speaking as an amateur, the hard part is being the person who gets up on stage and does the performance. In contrast, the audience can chill at the back and enjoy the performance. I’m trying to put the hard work on the audience! I try to interact with the audience as fearlessly as I can.

You described yourself as an amateur, that’s interesting.

Punk was an influence. I got into punk I guess in my late teens, early twenties, and it was a big deal for me discovering that. I felt like my skills as a musician didn’t measure up, but when I learned about punk rock and DIY ideology, it was inspirational for me. You didn’t need classical music training if you had something to say – you can just do it. Even with my painting, it wasn’t that I was the most skilled painter, but I would lash on paint and I kind of found my own way to approach it.

That thought process is also seen in the instruments you make for your performance.

I guess I’m quite interested in the idea of deconstructing the instrument, and it reflects on my work in a way that also plays into this lo-fi punk aesthetic. I really don’t like to have things overly polished, and I’m approaching these instruments as an amateur – I like to take an instrument that I don’t know how to play, and then find my own way of doing it. Which might play into my interest in the history of music. I know that there is a long list of musicians and artists who have approached their work this way, but I don’t see it as re-inventing the wheel, I am finding my own unique voice to the area of research. There’s definitely an element of investigation to it.

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instruments overview, (2019), dimensions variable

There’s a sculptural element in the form of pouring paint in different colours on the instruments, which was my way to bring my desire to paint into the work, but then I got to a point where I actually started to be more interested in the function of the work. My background is in painting and zines, so this was the first time it began to not be about how it looked at all! I got interested in things that don’t look right, but have a function or sound interesting. It was quite radical for me in my practice.

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Come On, You Know How To Play This, (2018), instrument, dimensions variable

Originally my performances had no music involved, it was just the vocal aspect, and I concentrated on playing around with the audience. To tell the truth, those performances were really exciting for me to begin with, but didn’t feel right – I felt like I didn’t know if I could sustain the work, and I was struggling because my interest in music wasn’t involved. But I knew that through those performances, I was taking risks that were going to lead me to do something that I would be really proud of in the future!

The instruments were initially a way for me to step away from the performance. I was struggling with my practice because I wanted both my interest in music and painting to be in my work. I needed to get away from the vocal performances for a while. And I enjoyed making music and working with sound, but still, I knew deep down that there wasn’t anything I was doing musically or visually that compared with the intensity of those vocal performances. During a group critique during my MFA, a tutor suggested to me: what if I played music at a gig, then changed during the set and started doing one of those vocal performances! And then about halfway through the second year of my MFA, it all clicked and came together, and I was able to bring the vocal performance and the music aspect together.

I think I’m at a point now where I can be brave enough to have no music in the act on some occasions. For the act to be a spoken word performance, rather than a gig, that’s a step I’m happy to take now. So that is something I feel I will be exploring more going forward, while still maintaining the sound art aspect of my work.

Music is obviously hugely important to you.

Music is my favourite thing. I’ve had an interest in music from a very early age, and I guess because I grew up in a rural area where there wasn’t a lot to do, I would read loads and collect CDs.

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Wow Zone – Pavement Parody, (2015), oil on board,  20.32 x 20.32cm

Some of my early paintings were appropriations of album covers – when I collected albums, one thing I would really enjoy were the covers. I would spend a lot of time looking at these covers admiring them. It was something I wanted to bring into my work, as well as the idea of making parodies of these things, and thought it could be a fun way to present my message when I wasn’t making music.

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Breaking Media, (2017), solo exhibition at Mother Macs, Limerick, curated by the Project Motive

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Gina Birch Quote painting, (2015), oil on board, 29.7 x 42.0cm

When I was making the zines and paintings, a lot of the statements I was making were about feminism and DIY punk ideologies. The statements I was making in these works were very straightforward and literal. After making the zines for a couple of years I started thinking about the artists I really admire, how a lot of them tend to do more ambiguous works, which was something I wanted to experiment with doing myself, so that was how I started doing the vocals performances the first year of my MFA. I definitely wanted to keep feminism in the work. Gina Birch is an influence on my work, The Raincoats are one of my favourite bands – there was a lot of sexism in the industry when they were performing. Gina would say things that were outspoken and confrontational, in way that’s similar to my character in my performances.

Let’s talk about that character.

Yeah, that’s it: the punk rock outsider, the persona I took on this year, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Initially, when I started exploring taking on personas in performance, I guess it was a feminist character that I would perform as. I was playing around with different stereotypes that are forced on women.

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Olivia performing at Edinburgh College of Art, 2019 (photo by Lizzie Dunn)

 

Part of me is fascinated in stage presences; I’m interested in the performative element of it. I want to present my music and my performance as a situationist. I want to put so much of myself into it that I’m sweating by the end of the performance! The movement of the performance really shapes this character. There is kind of a structure to it – first there’s a part where I am in control of everything I am doing, then it starts to come apart, then there’s is a breakthrough where I pull the rug out from under myself and take control of everything in the room on stage and off stage, which involves a lot of intense confrontation and challenges towards the audience; and then I get to a point where the character begins to doubt themselves and tries to win the audience over again, but fails. I don’t want it to be just one thing – I don’t want it just to be music or just a performance. It’s kind of something in between and I quite like being somewhere between the lines.

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Olivia Furey + Band (Owen Kilfeather & Angus Morrissey) performing at The Model, 2019

Why did you decide to go under your own name in your performances? Considering how eccentric your character is.

I guess the reason why I go under my own name is because people come expecting to see me playing the music. Still, all of a sudden it shifts and I’m doing something else. The audience is kind of like, oh what’s happening? I felt like if I used a stage name, I wouldn’t have that.

I did consider taking on Hyper Mundane as a name, and I guess the thing that stopped me was when I tried to change my Facebook page name to Hyper Mundane, but Facebook wouldn’t let me… so we can blame Facebook for that!

How do you view the audience in your work?

I guess I’m quite interested in the stage set up and the relationship to the audience. Maybe you could see that in my earlier paintings, when I was making abstract paintings of photos from concerts that focused on the stage and the audience? I think my most recent works which explore ways to reconstruct the set up for a gig feeds back into my interest in stage and venue atmosphere.

I really rely on the audience for the performances to excel – I’ve done performances before in front of six people and I’ve done them in front of forty people, and the audience dynamic is always significant. I did the performance at one open mic in Edinburgh where people were completely freaked out and didn’t get that it was a performance, and as soon as I finished, they just fled the building! I like to keep some of the performance quite humorous to the end, so to give people a sort of relief, but I like to hold out for as long as possible.

Evil is another project you have been working on – could you talk a bit about that?

Evil was formed during the summer of my MFA, when I came back to Limerick and I wanted to keep performing over the summer, but there weren’t any specific places or nights for performance art, so I decided I would set up my own night. I got in touch with some other performance artists based in Limerick that I knew and asked them if they would be interested in being involved. We started with a group chat on Facebook, and as the weeks went on, more and more people got added to the group, and there was so much enthusiasm. From that we decided to do it as a collective – since there wasn’t really a platform for performance artists in Limerick as such, we started our own. We had our first event at a venue called Pharmacia, the folks who work there were very accommodating and supportive of what we were doing, and from there, we got a really positive response to it. When I returned to Scotland to finish my MFA, the other members really stepped up regarding organising – it’s been a real group effort. We still have the majority of our events at Pharmacia. It’s nice to create a space for something that wouldn’t fit within the confines of a gig and wouldn’t work within a gallery context; an alternative night.

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Oliva Furey performing at Pharmacia 2019 (photo by Eilis Walsh)

You can find out more about Olivia Furey’s work through her website & YouTube channel, links below

https://oliviafurey.weebly.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIYxOvyPeKAWixZOLARkBEQ

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Filling In The Gaps: Blaise Drummond

Blaise Drummond was one of my lectures in GMIT, and my artistic development was

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Blaise Drummond

greatly broadened thanks to him and my other lecturers. My conversations with Blaise were and are hugely beneficial, and elements of those conversations can be found in Painting in Text. Blaise was one of the first names that came to mind when I started the blog, and I’m glad that I can share this interview with you

 

 

In your work you are known for paintings of buildings in nature, would you like to talk about that?

Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Liverpool, there has always been something I’ve liked about that combination of nature and the built environment.  I think in art school (NCAD in the early 90’s) I tended towards making images of that sort , mostly using vernacular architecture. I particularly liked sheds and rural buildings. I remember at a certain point seeing an image of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in a magazine and I thought that was kind of interesting and I made a little painting with that (combined with a sort of cack handed stencil taken from Bocklin’s Island of the Dead as I recall) . I think the modernist thing kind of branched out from there and I started to look at classic high modernism and obviously then when you’re looking at the books you start to read the text and think about them and the philosophy behind those buildings. The attempt to manipulate the environment in different kind of ways in various utopian and idealistic projects and all of that has sort of seeped into my work ever since.

 

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Summer House, (2019), oil on collage, 127 x 167 cm

 

Essentially the impulse is probably a formal one to do with paint in a way. The material

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The Apartment, (2019), oil, collage and beeswax on birch ply, 122 x 161cm

embodies some of those ideas about the wider world. There are contrasts and juxtapositions between flat deliberate hard edge paint, with more fluid deposits- I don’t want to use the word natural – but when paint does something slightly of its own volition, but it’s obviously quite controlled by the artist too, isn’t it? Because you decide how liquid the paint is, what colour it is and where on the canvas you drop it. But there is a certain amount of out of your controlness there. That contrast appeals to me, and the same sorts of tensions can be seen between the built and the ‘natural’ world.

 

I started making these paintings in 2003 – by these paintings, I mean what I think of as the white paintings, where they are quite big, and have a building in some sort of natural setting. A normal show would be those paintings with sculptural elements, or an installation usually occupying the three-dimensional space. All combining into a conversation. After ten years of that, I’d made nearly a hundred pieces in that vein, and began to feel like maybe some of the excitement had gone out of it?

There was excitement at the beginning because you didn’t know how it was going to turn out. And then there is a stage where you’re confident, yeah this is great I know how to do this. And they are coming out good (well some are, some of them bad maybe), but you know you understand what works and doesn’t. But then maybe you get into a later like older stage where it is too well-known territory, maybe comfortable and a bit predictable. So bit by bit over the last few years I’ve been sort of trying to find a little more elbow room in the work and a slightly different way of making things.

How are you pushing those boundaries?

For some reason lately I find myself often drawn back to the history of Black Mountain College. It was an experimental art school in North Carolina in the thirties and forties, it lasted into the fifties a bit. Over the years, I’ve made loads of paintings in relation to that. The first catalogue of my work was called By the Shores of Lake Eden. Lake Eden is on the campus of Black Mountain College. The college is famous for its alumni who went on to be pivotal in the development of modernism in America – Buckminster, Fuller, John Cage, Willem and Elaine de Kooning all taught there, Robert Rauschenberg was a student and most famously Josef and Anni Albers. I’ve been reading a lot of Josef Albers recently and some of that has seeped into the work I’m making. Little visual jokes I suppose about Alber’s colour exercises with his students. So, for example, in this painting Munkkiniemi

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Munkkiniemi Field, (2018), oil on canvas, 167 x 147 cm

Field (Munnkiniemi is a suburb of Helsinki where the Alvar Aalto house is) The painting is based on photographs I took in the back garden of the house which looks out onto an Astro pitch. I was there on a beautifully sunny day in June a couple of years ago and I just thought the artificial colours of the Astro looked great. There’s a part of the painting describing the football goal nets which is a sort of a pun on an Albers colour exercise about transparency.

 

The ways in which we read painting, or any 2-dimensional surface that purports to describe a thing in the round, is interesting to me. While I was painting this, Soren, my 7 year old, was here while I was dropping splashes of paint on the canvas to describe the leaves on the tree and he said – why are you putting it there? What is that?  And after a bit I realised what he was talking about – how could be a leaf there when there was no branch connecting it to the tree? They were just random splashes of paint to him within a painting that otherwise appeared to be descriptive.  Cos when you’re a kid drawing a tree probably every leaf you draw is attached to the tree, which to be fair is logical. But I realised that there is kind of a sophistication of language within painting whereby if you put a leaf out here (in the white of the canvas beyond any branches) the eye reads it as attached or belonging without the whole structure being spelled out. My eye accepts and believes it, but to a kid’s eye it’s not right, makes no sense.

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detail, Munkkiniemi Field

 

You realise your eye is doing a kind of trick. Privileging the visual over the rational. It kinda goes back to what you leave out as much as what you put in. Little things like that prompt me into making something, little hooks. Even the ground that I’ve started using on my canvas. There’s the normal acrylic plastic one that you would be used to, but this one, see? is a slightly different colour, Its my new invention! I saw a Matisse show in Paris about a year ago, they had loads of the fantastic ones like the Pink Studio which until then I’d never seen in real life. I was completely blown away. I noticed while I was scrutinising the Pink Studio painting, it wasn’t on a pure white ground like you would expect nor was it just sized canvas. It had a slight bit of whiteness to it, but it wasn’t a solid white background, and I thought it was really beautiful and I thought maybe I’d steal that.

So that is sized canvas as in rabbit skin glue size and then it has a little bit of zinc oxide floated in it, so it just takes the little bit of brown colour off the canvas. But it doesn’t put on a full coat of gesso so it’s in between a gesso ground and not a gesso ground. That makes it way more absorbent though and so you wouldn’t get away with anything in terms of second attempts. I can’t with white acrylic grounds either really with the way I work, it would still stain but there is absolutely no way with this chalk finish it’s very much a one-shot deal for me. It’s as important what I leave off the canvas as I put on for sure and that puts you under certain amounts of pressure because say for example the shadows on the Astro pitch painting. There is no way once you have put that paint on, that is the end of it- it’s not coming off! So then you’re kind of always in this moment of, well I think this might be good but what if it isn’t? I’ve worked for ages on this thing, what if I wreck it now? Maybe there is a certain energy that comes with that charge of fear? You can’t be too hesitant – that’s the death of a painting.I find something beautiful about these kinds of marks, just laid down with the brush somewhat recklessly with a faint splash on. And then the turpentine bleeds to make these beautiful marks. I often find myself saying this to students, that there is an element of, painting and drawing and all that, that really embody mental states, they are very transparent, sort of expressive in that sort of way that you would see if someone is hesitant or if someone is confident there is an aspect of who dares wins to it. There is an aspect of it that’s powerful, if you’re prepared to make a relatively extravagant no going back gesture on a large painting that’s obviously carefully composed and considered in other ways. I like things just being first time really. I know other painters would be very different, working and overworking a thing til its right.

 

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Summer Faculty, (2018), oil and collage on canvas, 190 x 270 cm

 

I do find myself working slightly differently now, which might be because of this even less forgiving ground. I find myself doing practices beforehand so that I try to work out how am I going to make a painting? It’s quite an old-world, formal thing to do I suppose – making a study. They are pretty much rehearsed. It seems to be the way I’m going, it used to be I would do quite rough working out things with a photocopy, kind of drawings of the paintings and then make them, bam! I’ve started working things out a bit more slowly now. Though I still wouldn’t want to over-prepare a thing though. I still want a large element of surprise in the making. I’d like to get not just what I bargained for but then some.

It’s really interesting just how you incorporate your influences, could you go into that more?

One thing that is an abiding influence on me that keeps coming out over and over again (and sometimes it’s deliberate, and sometimes I don’t realise I’m even doing it) is the Baptism of Christ by Piero Della Francesca. It’s in the National Gallery in London, I’ve been ripping it off in a thousand different ways over the years, from the puddle of water with the reflection of the sky, the colours, the plants, even the little cut tree stumps. Its funny in a way because I’m not religious one bit, but I really love that painting. It is funny to be so moved by that, but it really is a beautiful painting. That’s the thing about influences. You are drawn to and influenced by the stuff that you are already predisposed to in some way. You’re working in a certain way and you see something that really resonates with those interests. I don’t know how much it is conscious, it’s not necessarily that I say hey it would be nice to have another small plant in the foreground. I was probably inclined to that already when I saw it embodied elsewhere. But that is certainly one painting I think about when I paint.

At the moment I am very fond of the American painter, Fairfield Porter. An interesting guy, he was a writer and critic, his background was painting in New York in the thirties, he was friends with the abstract expressionists, but his influences were more Matisse and Vuillard so he carried on through all this making figurative paintings when I suppose it would have been very unfashionable but I think they are amazing. I must admit, I have never seen any in real life. But I’d like to. He was very much in my mind with some of this recent work. For years I wouldn’t have any figures in the paintings, and people would ask me where are all the people in these buildings? So, for years I was consciously going There are no people in these paintings. To allow them in now feels like a slight freedom. Allowing yourself a slightly different subject matter. Not that anyone else cares much one way or another. Ha. But these are the sorts of things you find yourself thinking about. In your own little world.

 

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Centaur, (2018), charcoal, gouache & collage on paper, 120 x 118 cm

 

For example I can’t imagine myself doing this large drawing, Centaur, before now. That is Robert Rauschenberg in the check shirt and he is working on a costume for some kind of school play they are putting on at Black Mountain College, this sort of Centaur figure woman. I had just bought these charcoal pencils that came in different colours and I came across this image when I was cruising around Google images and it occurred to me that it might be a fun thing to do with these materials. Yeah it’s kind of the same sort of hard-edged careful representation with the checkered napkin collage versus these more gestural, more expressive kind of pencil marks. I’d often pocket things like the napkin when I’m out, I have a huge drawer of that sort of stuff in the studio. All kinds of different sweet wrappers and things like veneer and felt and odd bits of plastic and wood and foil. Or even just envelopes. They end up in the work somewhere along the line. Really what you’re interested in really is the materials and these kinds of formal elements. And you are finding an excuse to make one image rather than another. Like how you can just cut out a shape from a completely different context then stick it down into another and suddenly it becomes something different. And you can believe that is a jumper or a dress or whatever, even though its actually only an old crisp packet. It’s nice that you can put down so little and yet your eye can fill in so much. It’s kindly like that.

 

Obviously you put great importance in seeing painting in the flesh.

Realistically most people seeing your work are only going to see it as a reproduction on the internet, aren’t they? The proliferation of images of the things you make on the internet must swamp the percentage of eyeballs that have seen the thing in real life. How many actually go to a show anymore?  And the show is only on for three weeks in like Paris or Germany or wherever. The proliferation of images of your work around the internet is incredible so ideally they ought to be very well recorded least. Sadly its beyond my powers to do this myself so I rely on the galleries to do it for me. My only contribution is to record details of the paintings – little incidents within them that I find beautiful or interesting in some way, that maybe allow a way in for the viewer to understand the materiality of the work. I can probably do that better (in terms of the selection, not the technical competence unfortunately) than the professional photographer recording the whole work. Sometimes though I do see details posted by other people that look great and that I hadn’t noticed myself.

When you see a painting in real life you go right up to it and see how was this made exactly?  Plenty of people seem to have never actually seen paintings by the artists that influence them and in the case of say someone like Peter Doig there are some really rich complex paintings but plenty have never actually seen one. I think that it is vital to see paintings in person when possible. If you’re going to make decent work yourself, you are going to have to. Half what you’re doing is looking at how is that done? Thats where the beauty is often, in the human aspect of things. I remember going to see an Ed Ruscha retrospective and being quite moved by the sort of pathos in the handmade aspect of some of the early works. Works which you’d been looking at all your life in reproduction and never getting a hint of the wobbles and the pencil guide marks and brush strokes, gaps, scuffs and scratches. It’s really hard to get that from reproductions. You end up zooming in like mad on stuff and it’s all pixelated because the reproduction is not good enough. There’s nothing there for you.

But then again, some things work better in reproduction, don’t they? Ha.

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

https://www.instagram.com/blaisedrummond/

thank you Mick Lally for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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