Primary Colours/Realm

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

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

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

Aideen Connolly Primary Colours Residency

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

Jo Lewis Primary Colours Residency

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

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

Jo Lewis studio
Jo Lewis studio

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

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

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

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

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

Aideen Connolly cyanotypes

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

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

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

Jo Lewis installation

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

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

Aideen Connolly eco prints and cyanotypes

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

Aideen Connolly ink recipe book

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

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

Installation shot, Hyde Bridge Gallery, (2022)

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

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

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


Radiant Attention: Yvette Monahan

Yvette Monahan

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

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

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

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

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

How do you start your research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A Revolution of Stardust’, (2019)

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

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

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

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

‘A Revolution of Stardust’, (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your print process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plan’s going forward?

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

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

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

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

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

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

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Dannielle Tegeder: Utopian Spaces


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

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

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

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

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

What has the last year been like for you?

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

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

Pandemic Salon

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

Hilmas Ghost [Spirituality and Abstraction]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library of Abstract Sound (2013)

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

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

How have you found the experience of collaboration?

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

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

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Róisín Power Hackett: Interdisciplinary

Róisín Power Hackett, A Consideration For All Bodies

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

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

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

The Tent, (2020), film still

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

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

The background noise in The Tent is really fascinating.

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

The Tent, (2020), film still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What artists would you consider to influence your work?

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

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

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

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

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

cut-up text method,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interestingly, your curatorial practice mirrors your art practice.

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

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

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

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Organic Alchemy: Kari Cahill

Kari Cahill

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

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

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

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

Studio 2021

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

Materials used for making colour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does painting continue to be the focus? 

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

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

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

Are your pigments directly influenced by your given environment? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

Interview, Painting

Filling In The Gaps: Blaise Drummond

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


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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

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

Installation, Interview, Video

Taking The Right-hand Path: Ann Maria Healy



Ann Maria Healy

The work of Ann Maria Healy was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m glad that he did because she really exemplifies what Painting in Text is all about. A visual artist based in Dublin, she is a thoroughly imaginative artist – someone whose influences are so distinct, yet so deftly presented within her work, that they have been transformed into elements unique to Ann Maria’s work.


You’ve spoken in the past about using text as a kind of landscape for your art – could you elaborate a bit more on that?

The text  is very much part of the materiality of the practice. I think of text as a sculptural object and it comes into contact with the work in various ways – I always write around whatever objects I’m making, or video work, and I guess it is a way to understand the ideas running through a project. It’s a way to channel what is happening, what I’m doing with the materials. This is what I meant when I said the text acts as a landscape, it’s another context for the work to play itself out through, another place for me to figure out what is happening in the work.

Over the last few years, the way I have usually worked would be to bounce around


How To Be Other Than A Body, (2017), Detail

between different elements in the same project. I’ll spend, like, a year or two maybe, making one body of work, and with that there may be various sculptures or video or different things happening. I might make sculptural works, and the sculpture might end up in the video, and it’s usually happening all at once. But this year, the work I’m making at the moment, I’ve kind of segregated it out a bit more.


On that note, let’s talk about what you’re doing at the moment.

The work is called When Dealers are Shamans, which is the work I have been kind of conjuring up since I’ve been here in Fire Station – I’ve been here now for over a year – and I suppose there are a few different threads to it. I’ve just opened an exhibition in Pallas Projects about a month ago, where I showed a video installation, but I’m here for another year and a half so I will continue making within the project for the rest of that time. I’ve been working on it here in Fire Station but the idea for the project originated when I was down in Cow-House Studios, where I was teaching last summer.

Usually, I have a few different threads to a project.  For this, it started with my sister, who has been a shamanic practitioner for many years. About two years ago she started a shamanic counselling course and she needed a guinea pig! I have heard her talking about it for a long time and I was interested in it. Anyway, she needed someone to take a journey with her, and so I said I would do it.

Shamanic practices have happened across the world, in various guises and across different cultures, for hundreds of years. It involves practitioners contacting spirit worlds through altered states of consciousness. The way my sister practices is by listening to specific drum beats which bring you into a relaxed state. We designed a framework before I made the journey, she described to me the steps for how best to get into it and for the purpose of this session I spoke out loud, and we recorded it. It was kind of stream of consciousness – an imagining, while you’re listening to this drum beat. So we had this framework of dropping down into this specific space, imagining and following the dream state. We recorded it and she gave me the recording and it became a kind of significant thing for me I guess, it was an unusual experience which I continued to think about, it stayed with me for some time.

So, tell me a little about George the peacock.

Well, my journey then took me to George [Cow-House’s pet peacock]! And it was mating season. I had seen George do his tail feather display before, but I hadn’t observed him so closely during the mating season, and they do a few different kinds of movements – one of them is called rattling, where he vibrates his feathers twenty-five times a second, and it sounds almost like a snake. It’s quite incredible. I got very interested in this, so I started recording him, and I realised this connection in my mind between the shamanic journey and this peacock vibrational rattling… and he doesn’t actually have a mate, so he does it to the other animals on the farm – they’re really beautiful birds but they are not of this landscape.


When Dealers are Shamans, (2018), installation view

After that I moved here [into Fire Station], and again that was kind of a significant experience.  I don’t know how well you know Dublin but there are a lot social problems around here. You can hear and see people dealing drugs on the street frequently. Drugs is something that has come up in my work before, I’m already kind of attuned to it, and one of the things I noticed was there were medication trays all over the streets – I noticed these trays and started to collect them, because I wanted to see what people were taking, I suppose. In a way I was mostly interested in where I am and my environment. When I started going through the trays I had collected, I noticed that a lot of them were this drug called Zopiclone which is a sleeping pill I already had previous experience with. It’s quite heavily prescribed, I know quite a few people who take it. But still, I was surprised – why is everyone taking sleeping pills? And so I started thinking about this, and why so many people in this area in Dublin were taking this. I’m interested in the polarity, between it being prescribed by your doctor on one end, and then the other end being it being sold on the streets. That’s partly why I called it When Dealers Are Shamans. I was trying to abstract this idea of dealers, of what a dealer could be. Like, there’s a whole conversation around pharma capitalism, places like the United States where there’s a massive industry dedicated to selling medication, and what that can do to communities… I was thinking about this term used to describe Zoplicone – hypnotic agent. I was thinking about George, and how what he’s doing is a kind of hypnosis, bringing you into this kind of trance state with these rhythms. As human beings, we desire these dream states, and maybe that’s something you can attain through spirituality and just asking questions around that.

So I had a few threads, and then I first started making sculptural work and some little kind of video sketches… I wouldn’t even call them pieces, just looking at how things are. And at some point I said right, I want to make a video work – that is, a sculptural video work of George vibrating and rattling. But it needs to be filmed on a high-end camera, so it can be crisp and clear and beautiful quality, and I also wanted to slow it down so you can see the movement clearly – more hypnotic.


When Dealers Are Shamans, (2018),


I first spent a week following George around with my own camera figuring out what shots I wanted and how best to get the shot of him rattling his feathers. I then worked with videographer Kevin Hughes and he shot the work on his Red Epic.  So I took the visuals from that and I spent some time editing. And while that was coming into being, I started to consider what I should do for sound. So I talked to a friend of mine, Karl Burke, who’s an artist and I asked him would he be interested to make some sound for it. We talked about the work and what it was about, and he pulled out some of his work and said, what about this? And it was perfect! So he gave me a lot of raw material which I took to the editing suite, to combine with the visuals. I used a similar practice with the actor doing the voiceover for the video, in that I was conscious that he would be bringing a particular set of skills and to allow him freedom to use those skills. When I wrote the text, the framework that I used was a hypnotherapy session. When I was recording the voiceover, I asked him to think about how there are different stages of dreams. The first half is where he’s trying to bring the audience into this kind of dream state, and there’s that edge where it becomes slightly more sinister. Sinister is too strong of a word, but a sharper vibration, I suppose, or an edge.

Kris Dittel, I met here in Fire Station studios, and she was my writing editor on the project. Kris is a curator based in Rotterdam, she had done a residency here around last May, and we had a studio visit where I talked to her about the work, and she understood all the things I was trying to pull together. We had some interesting conversations, she sent me on some texts that became influential to the work. So I asked her to edit the text that I was writing, because I knew that she knew what I was getting at. So it is a poetic text, and the writing itself has become clearer with time. That was the conversation I was having with her, and it’s what I asked of her when she was editing it.

There is a kind of spectrum, I suppose, between sense to nonsense, that I think about.  I wanted the audience  to understand what I’m talking about and for it to be clear, but then I still wanted it to dissolve back into a kind of nonsense at points. There’s a kind of rational and irrationality that I’m interested in, and there is always an absurdity in the work I think, yeah.

So initially I had been trying to motorise the peacock feathers and use arduino boards to programme the motors. And while I was doing that I was thinking about technology as something like taking drugs like zopiclone, how you absorb it into your body, and how that affects our body. How it affects your memory, how close we have it to our bodies. And then there’s smart objects, like, lots of people have smart homes where all your devices are connected into your phone, what something like that does to your psyche. That links back to the core idea to the whole thing for me, which is this idea of the collective unconscious, using dreams as an access point into your own psyche and the collective unconscious, and what drives communities. What are the drives of our present moment?

Let’s talk about the project How to Be Other Than a Body.

My sister and I, we did a Tarot reading, on the Eighth Amendment, that I video recorded– what the political landscape was, and what was going to happen with the Eighth Amendment. So this project happened between 2015 and 2017, and it became How to Be Other Than a Body.



Beating To Be Real, (2016), still

An important part of the artwork came about when I came back to Ireland, after doing my masters in the Netherlands. Gender is something that had come up for a lot in my work, and this movement around access to abortion in Ireland had been growing and growing. I was conscious of that movement

when I was on my way back to Ireland, and I was inspired at the time by Sun Ra, the jazz musician from the 70s – he was also a performance artist, and he made this film called Space Is The Place. It’s quite out there, it’s explicitly political about race in America, but is also spiritual and esoteric. It projects black consciousness into space, as an alternative reality, using space as a context to imagine a different reality. The overarching motif of the film, the framing device for the narrative, is that he’s having a tarot reading, a kind of futuristic tarot game with the Overseer.

I was influenced by the aesthetic, and by the pairing up of these political elements and the spiritual elements. The tarot is a traditional site of female power and is connected to witchcraft, which would have been knocked down over the years by patriarchy – I really wanted to  utilize that space to have a conversation about the eight amendment, and to do this around the kitchen table. That’s where my sister sometimes has her tarot readings, at the kitchen table, so there’s that sense of it being both a domestic and political space.


How To Be Other Than A Body, (2017), Installation


The main sculptural work of the project was what I called a holy well, and I describe it as a contemporary version of a holy well. It’s made out of domestic objects – attic water tanks, a child’s paddling pool – and it’s plumbed together using copper piping. The paddling pool is resting on a wooden structure that takes the form of a six-pointed star, which is used in witchcraft for conjuring. I’m interested in the holy well  because they’re very prolific in the landscape here, and they’re embedded into the Irish psyche; initially they were pagan sites of ritual, and then they were co-opted by the Catholic Church. Each well has a specific cure that’s attributed to it, so if you have warts you might go to a particular well in Dublin, or if you have hearing damage you might go to a well in Cork or something. And people wash there, they pray and they go to masses there. But some wells are more active than others.

Of course at the time I was looking at the female body, and the Eighth Amendment, and the access to abortion in Ireland. So the cure that this holy well provided, was access to abortion.  This was the central object/sculpture in the work. In the background, you can see this video work, which is a kind of a fictional ethnography, an imagining of the people that would have used this well. I exhibited it in the RHA as part of Futures, and I’d also shown it in the Wexford Arts Centre.


How To Be More Than A Body, (2017), still


So the video work is set in this kind of 3D-rendered environment, an empty city. It was an open source file that I accessed online, someone else made this city and then I took it and animated it through an open source programme called Blender – I green screened the sculptures and then put them into the environment. There are a lot of elements of collaging going on. Sometimes I think of the  the sculptures themselves as 3D collages. Even the voiceover, in the end I recorded it using one one voice, that of academic Zelie Asava but I wrote it as coming from a number of different viewpoints/voices.  An ethnography  would usually  be to go to the community and live with them and study the subject from the view point of the subject, so one or two viewpoints are like that, and some of the other viewpoints are more distant – looking back and trying to understand, through these objects, who these people were, I did this to think through and complicate the act of really trying to know another being(s), which I think is inherent to a discourse around something like the eight amendment, when one group of people are campaigning for change and their voice is going unheard, which it did for many years.

You might see there are no bodies and no people in the landscape, so there’s this sense that the people have disappeared and we’re just learning about them through the objects and this voice over.

Going back to what I was saying about the text and the materiality of it earlier – here the text is written onto the holy well. I wanted to reference the kind of way you see people writing on the back of toilet doors, because at the time you would always find it in those places in bars and restaurants – information about the Eighth Amendment, how you get access to abortion pills, where you can go for support, things like that. It was a way to communicate with each other and form a community, I guess, so I wanted to mimic that somehow within the sculptural work, but that is would also reference the way people tend to leave things at holy wells,  talismans like religious statues and rosary beads. So for me, these words are the talismans for this holy well.

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

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

Looking In: Dragana Jurisic


Dragana Jurisic

In my opinion, Dragana Jurisic is one of the best artists working in Ireland today. A photographer based in Dublin, Dragana’s ability to blend narrative and technique in her work makes her practice both accessible and stimulating to viewers. Her openness in conversation made talking to her such a rewarding experience. I hope to do her justice in this interview.


Can you describe what an average day in the studio is like for you?

I get up early and do some exercise, get a coffee and I am at my desk by 8am. My studio is tidy, I like my work environment to be organised. I’m not a person who will have test prints all over the space – studio is where I think.

What does the camera mean to you?

For me, the camera provides a tool to better understand the world around me. When I studied psychology, I worked a lot with children on the autistic spectrum, and I would observe how many of the kids would need to have a support in the form of an object, an animal, a ritual, something to help focus, to open up and learn. I understand that need for separation from the world, in order to be able to see it with more clarity. This is what photography gives me. It’s a membrane that helps me filter experiences and make sense of them. Otherwise, life can be overwhelming.

I touch on it in Seeing Things, my first significant photography project, a Government commission to depict poverty in Ireland. My position in Irish society, at that time was one of an outsider. I used the symbolism of a bird flying in and out of the photos to illustrate the role of the photographer in these kinds of situations; we’re just flying in and out, we don’t have to live the lives of the people we’re portraying. I think Seeing Things represents my discomfort with being in a position of power, or should I say, discomfort with an intrinsic exploitative nature of photography as a medium.

seeing things

Seeing Things, (2010), Photograph


A famous example of issues with social documentary is Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. When Lange took this iconic photograph, she never asked the woman what her name was; Lange only asked her how old she was. And when she would talk about that picture, Lange would say that the woman allowed her to take photographs of herself and her children, because she knew that by helping the photographer, she would be helped somehow. Many years later, when the journalists found this woman and interviewed her, she was still poor, living in a trailer camp in Modesto, California. The photograph didn’t do anything for her. She was a face of one of the most recognisable images of the twentieth century, a face that made Dorothea Lange famous – but has done nothing for the person portrayed. Her name was Florence Thompson.

I wanted to ask you about your recent work Tarantula – can you talk about that a bit?

Tarantula was a commission by the National Gallery – Brian Fay, Maser and myself were asked to respond to the Vermeer exhibition [Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, 2018]. The idea was to take three artists who work in Ireland and who are all very different, and try to see what they come up with.


Tarantula, (2017), photographic composite


I was interested in women in Vermeer’s work and also in how critics tried to diminish Vermeer by saying that he used camera obscura to make his paintings, claiming he was stencilling out of nature. But there are two main subjects in Vermeer’s paintings, women in domestic settings and light, and light is not something one can sketch by using camera obscura. That’s why I photographed a female figure over a number of hours, tracking the light in my studio and then made a composite image that consisted of multiple layers. The idea was to animate the pensive female character that features regularly in Vermeer’s paintings, and by doing so to capture the light dancing around the studio. The title ‘Tarantula’ was inspired by Ibsen’s Doll House. I used the seventeenth-century Dutch frame from the National Gallery’s collection – producing an object that to many appeared almost like a religious icon. People spent a long time in front of that piece.

Do you feel you will do more composite images?

Yes, I think so. I enjoy making them; perhaps because they take a lot of work! Some kind of magic has to happen for them to sing.

I also like the idea of movement inside of the image. I feel like a lot of work that I do is attempting to do something that’s not possible by nature… the photograph is still and two-dimensional, and what I’m trying to do is to animate that still image.

100 Muses is another work that uses that composite image technique – could you talk a bit about how that project came about?

When I started making the 100 Muses project, I didn’t know it would become what it turned out to be – for me, it was an experiment. It was an experiment to see if I, as a female artist, would treat women the same way they were traditionally treated by male artists. Specifically the traditional master kind of approach. That element of nameless, anonymous women who are only used as the subject of the work, but they are never given credit. When I started making 100 Muses, when the first person came in, I did what “they” do… I started manoeuvring women into position. And I realised very quickly, within the first session, that this was totally wrong. This is taking away the woman’s agency; she had no decision about what image is going to go out into the world to represent her. So at that point in the process, I realised that I can’t dictate how they move and behave. And then the project became about collaboration – I became a facilitator, not the maker. Women performed and directed themselves, and they chose their own image.


The Mother, (2015), photographic composite


What was your relationship to the muses?


100 Muses (2015), photography

I knew about eighteen of the hundred women I photographed. The rest were strangers. There was a great element of a surprise every time a woman who I did not know, rung the studio bell and came into the room. Once a person took their clothes off, the majority would tell you something very personal and intimate, they would share traumatic experiences from their lives. I guess when you disrobe in front of a stranger, you’re already feeling vulnerable so you might as well! So that was quite surprising at first, but also an incredibly intimate and powerful experience. It was a quite cathartic thing for them, and me as well. 100 Muses was a growing experience; every woman who told me something, I could see myself reflected in their story.  It was a two-way therapy, a healing process. A lot of contemporary artists are scared of this idea of art as a therapy, but I really could not care about that. I have no desire to appear cool! Of course it was not all serious and intense, there was an element of play in the project as well, lots of joy – lots of dancing and goofing around.

The research you did is very evident in your work.


Draganas bookshelf in studio

I enjoy research. At the moment I’m writing a novel and I love the research part – it delays you from actually committing words to paper, because to start making is to invoke self-doubt. I have very high aspirations, I set the bar very high for myself. So it is challenging to plough through that kind of treacle of self-criticism, in any kind of creative endeavour. For me it’s important to hash out all of the possible pitfalls of a creative project, before I show them to the world.

You’re collaborating with Paula on a project at the moment – do you mind talking about that?

Paula Meehan, what can I say? She is a wonderful poet. Dublin City Council commissioned the two of us, to respond to Number 14 Henrietta Street (a Georgian townhouse that went from being a family home to a tenement). Paula wrote her poems first, and I got to read them before I said yes to the commission – I mean, after reading them it would have been impossible to say no.

It was important to me I create images worthy of her poems. Luckily, I was collaborating with a very helpful and openhearted person – she was so generous with her time and her ideas. I’m not a poet so I don’t know a lot about structures of poems, but she patiently explained her process to me when writing Museum and that helped me unlock a way forward, a way to photograph. The book is out in July. It’s a beauty.


14 Henrietta street saying goodbye, (2019), photography

Looking at works like YU and My Own Unknown where 100 Muses comes from, I feel like there’s almost a through line in some of your work, a theme of birth through destruction?

Yeah, that is very interesting, I think you’re right – there is continuity in my projects. From YU that looks at loss of national identity and loss of a country, to My Own Unknown that takes the life of my aunt as a starting point (a woman who escaped Yugoslavia and became a spy in Cold War Paris), to pondering on a status of representation of female within the Western Art tradition (100 Muses).

A lot of my works seem to come from some kind of personal or societal devastation. I am attempting to use art as a way of putting back the broken pieces together, reassembling, reconstructing, making good. Like that Japanese art of repair – Kintsugi – where gold is used to fill in the cracks. Making broken beautiful.



Yu The Lost Country (2014) photographic series + book


Let’s finish by talking about influences.

I think the best exhibition I saw in the last ten years was Andrea Fraser’s retrospective at MACBA. She’s in her fifties now, and she has been working for the last few decades, so I am embarrassed to say I never saw her work before, or even heard about her, which is even worse! A lot of her artwork revolves around institutional criticism and also a critique of modes of representation. My favourite piece was White People in West Africa, where she photographed and collected photos of white people in West Africa. White tourists taking pictures of the exotic Other when they go on holiday, safari style; a pale guy in Birkenstocks dancing his socks off during a tribal dance! The last image was of a white rhino hiding in the bushes – brilliant. The work talks about the impact of colonialism and neo-colonialism on Africa, and at the same time is saying something about the art world too. She does a great job of parodying the cult of the artist.

Finally, I’m delighted that Vivian Dick is here in Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. I love her work. And it is nice to be able to become friends with someone you admire.

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

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing


You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below



Interview, Painting, Video

Real & Imagined: Cléa van der Grijn


Screenshot_2019-05-09 Cléa van der Grijn on Instagram.jpg

Cléa van der Grijn

Cléa van der Grijn is an artist based in Sligo. Her deeply personal work has often delved into matters of mortality and memory, and her latest touring exhibition JUMP is no exception. I recently got a chance to sit down with Clea to discuss the new exhibition, her influences, and the variety of media she works in.


Why did you call your recent exhibition JUMP?

I called the exhibition JUMP because there is a sense of suspension in jumping where time can hold still, since you are neither here nor there. Jump is a place in between.

The exhibition is a combination of my paintings and a film that I’ve written and directed in collaboration with a soundscape creative called Joseph P. Hunt and cinematographer Ciaran Carty. Michael Cummins designed the pod which it’s viewed in. The pod is really important because I am in control of each person’s experience – so I know that if you see it in Sligo or Dublin or America or wherever, you will all have the same experience. I think the word is immersive; I wanted it to be an immersive experience. Experiential.


JUMP, still, (2019)


How do the paintings relate to the film?

The paintings are like instants of the film: very beautiful little flickers. Stills, which hopefully give  one, time to reflect back at what was experienced. The smaller are like moments, flickers of the film.

JUMP#5 oil on board

JUMP #5, (2019), oil on board, 56x56cm

[The paintings] were painted alongside the making of the film. I have a fairly big studio. This was where we did all the editing and tech for the film. I wanted Joe, Ciaran and Michael to see my process while working on the project, and allow them to respond to it in some way.

I know exactly what I want. So, I strive to act on that vision. Professionalism is important when working with others. Even though I can be exacting, it’s the same expectation I lay on myself.


Can you talk a little about the film?

What I hope to do with the film is put forward questions to the viewer. I want to create a platform for a narrative, for a dialogue. I want people to engage, and maybe to keep still for a little while. To gather their thoughts and reflect: what is death and what is life? What are memories, real and perceived?  What about false memories? Can they become real memories? I really just want people to stop and think about mortality and life.

The film does not intend to be disturbing. But it is, meant to make people consider what death is. It gives us a little moment of reflection, where we can perhaps almost project our own feelings onto the film. Yes, it could be about death but that is only a very small thing, and the culture around death is a very large conversation.  This is something I’m personally trying to unravel.



Reconstructing Memory presented in The Model, (2015)



Death is a subject you have touched on in the past.

You’re talking about Reconstructing Memory which was a rather huge exhibition I did in (The Model Gallery [2015]. Limerick City Gallery, Rochester Arts Centre USA and Solomon Dubli) It was a real in-depth investigation into culture’s relationship to death, in particular Mexican death traditions and how they compare to the Western sense of mourning.

When I started the project, my whole family went to live in Mexico to understand the culture of death. It was quite a lonely experience making a show by myself of such size. When working on that, my only direct involvement with other people was with my family. And god love them, they spent two years growing and cutting marigolds!


Reconstructing Memory presented in The Model, (2015)


Elements from Reconstructing Memory like marigolds appear in the film. Can you go into that?

Within Mexican culture on Dia de Muertos,  dead souls are drawn back by the very pungent smell of the marigold. Marigolds play a strong role in both Reconstructing memory and JUMP.

Repetition is also really important to me: I don’t know if it is my rhythm or if it helps my mind to stay clear. Even though my paintings are different to one other, there is still a form of iteration to the paintings. Even if you go back, back, back, there are elements which are reused continuously in my practice.

The death mask was another element from Reconstructing Memory. I have three death masks made. The masks were made because I think that people are celebrated when they die but not while they are alive, and I find that quite interesting. Why? Why this way and not the other way round? Why does Irish culture or culture generally prefer to celebrate the dead and not the living. This is what the death mask asks.

When it comes down to it, there are similarities between Reconstructing Memory and JUMP. As I continue to develop this state of “in-between” in my practice I am aware of things becoming simpler, of a paring back. Of allowing the essence of my subject to be more …  perhaps subtle.

I am also looking out more for references whereas before I always looked within.


Going back to what you said about eyes; one of the paintings literally depicts eyes. That has to be deliberate?

The eyes in the painting are a reference to the hand-blown glass balls from Reconstructing Memory. They are direct replicas of my eyes. I should say that the painting is called Ways of Seeing (which is based on the title from a book by the writer John Berger). I believe that, as the title says, you don’t necessarily need your eyes for seeing. If you just remain still, you can see with your heart or your emotions. There are so many different ways of seeing without your eyes. And when you die, the first thing to go are your eyes. I have a lazy eye myself, and eyes have always been important to me. I’m aware of the many other ways of seeing.


Ways of seeingoil on linen.jpg

Ways of Seeing, (2019), oil on linen, 152x152cm



I love titles, but I think that once you title something, that’s it. It can often close ways of interpreting a work, so it can be a delicate balance.



JUMP, still, (2019)



That’s interesting that the name comes from Berger’s book. There seems to be text written into the painting itself.

I have scraped the text into the painting. It says, “I dream of dead people”. And I do – I dream of dead people all the time because they are alive in my dreams.

Reading is something that is really important to me. I am a voracious reader. I have book shelves  which I live vicariously through. I’ve just read Marina Abramović’s memoir.

I like to write and often write in my work, I wrote a book which is now finished. Most was done in solitude over an intense two-week residency in Cill Rialaig, overlooking the Skelligs.

I’m now awaiting an agent to find the correct publishing house.

JUMP as the book is also called is a fictional memoir. A tale of wicked truths interwoven with dream, imagination and dark thoughts. JUMP is a celebration and a curse about dysfunctional families.

It is about addiction and the search for a way through.

The protagonist is a young woman whose experiences and memories (both real and perceived) are outlined from her birth to the death of her brother, when the story abruptly ends.

Writing it has enabled me, as an artist to have more confidence in my practice.


Let’s delve into your influences. Are there names that come to mind?

That’s a hard question but I can say that seeing the work of Francis Bacon when I was either ten or eleven had a huge impact on me. It sticks with me as the first time that I really became enthralled in a work. Because I was brought up around art, I didn’t notice it most of the time but I remember seeing Bacons painting well. We were visiting a little chapel in the south of France and the Bacon painting was there. I remember just going, “woah!”.


What’s next for you?

I’d love to make a feature film but I need time to breathe first. The film has been picked up to premier at the New York independent Film Festival (NYIFF). So, I would like to let this digest. I’ve only just started painting again. Where is that going to go? I don’t know. I have to keep working in some capacity. If you don’t, things won’t happen. You can’t just switch it on and off. It’s something you have to keep active but I’m keeping my options open.

You can find out more about Cléa’s work through her website links below


thank you Emer Mc Hugh & Meadhbh McNutt for both your work editing


You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

Interview, Painting

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Marcus Cope



Marcus next to an early version of Handshake with a Giant (2018)

Marcus Cope is an English painter working out of APT Studios in London. He’s also a curator and the co-founder of the Marmite Prize, an award for painting. His thought process, not only on his own painting but on art in general, is fascinating and insightful – my conversations with him have really made me think differently about how I look at art and its relationship to the viewer. I hope this interview is as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

Let’s talk about the painting that you’re working on at the moment.

This painting is a story of a moment in Turkey over a decade ago. I went with my girlfriend, travelling from Northern Cyprus to southern Turkey by ferry – there was a delay once we were on board which made for a really long journey, almost 24 hours I think – and this ferry was very basic, no café, or shops, not quite like the ferry you would take from Wales to Ireland.

Once we arrived transport was difficult, we got on a bus but that didn’t quite work out so we got a dolmuş, one of those shared taxis. When we got off in this little town called Silifke, there was this old guy sitting there, under a tree… and he just came up to me and shook my hand, and he was so happy to see us, and welcoming. At that moment for us, everything was new because we were the ‘out of towners’, but he saw us, and we must have stood out, both looking like we were new to this town in southern Turkey, both with wild blonde hair. For him it must have been like, ‘Wow, look at these guys!’. Something different to the norm, coming into his town. For us, it was like this whole weird thing, and we were so knackered from travelling, so I guess that made it a memorable moment in that sense. And he is represented in the painting by one of the figures.

handshake with the giant, 300x210cm, oil on canvas, 2018 copy(1)

Handshake with a Giant (2018), oil on canvas, 300x210cm


Part of the work of making the painting is trying to remember that situation, I mean, to ask ‘Where was he?’, ‘What was the situation around that moment?’. So the process then is me finding an image of the tree and whatever else surrounded it, substitutes of the situation, the scene, finding this stuff, finding the right images to try to recreate the moment in an image. The [image I used for the] guy comes from a postcard that John Kasmin had collected. John established the Kasmin Gallery in the 1960’s, but he’s also an avid postcard collector. He’s produced a few of these books of his postcard collections and I found a picture of this guy in one of those books, and he seemed to fit the bill. The other figure in the painting is a partial redition of a guy I had taken a photo of in the Serpentine Gallery, looking at a painting by Hilma af Klint.

So, there’s a little bit of me trying to remember the scene, but I’m also putting things together so it feels organic – those decisions are in the editing. Most of my paintings are total compositions of other stuff… I either make up a space, or I find an image that seems like the right thing, or an image of the actual thing, and then everything else comes together during the painting process.

I’m always a bit cautious of leaning into representing memory – this moment is a fleeting memory, he’s kind of there but he’s not there. From my point of view everything should be a little transparent in the picture, not just the figures. I think this painting… maybe it has a slightly filmic quality, imagining these ghostly figures in the way you remember a place where something significant has happened. There is something about how a person is central to a painting, and yet I tried not to overemphasise that, or ‘over-paint’ their features – it could be a slippery slope, I think. I just tried to keep that sort of feeling of their simply being part of the painting, part of the place. It’s quite a tricky thing to do, every time I paint a face I wonder, ‘How do I do this?’, it’s like I haven’t ever done it before…

I intend to call it Handshake with a Giant. In this situation I’m the giant, but you can’t see me because it’s from my viewpoint (which is quite a high vantage point). I want it [the title] to be intriguing, or something to make you think, because there isn’t actually a handshake going on and there isn’t a giant. Titling paintings is a tricky one, because obviously with every painting I make, I don’t know if I am even going to get an opportunity to show it. I don’t really think of the title, maybe sometimes it just brews up and appears as a thought, or I think about the title, but not in relation to the audience. When you show a painting, the title becomes your opportunity to have a little influence on the conversation with the viewer, which is something I’m always debating, how instructive or descriptive it should or could be.


There is something very unique, very personal, about your work.

Yeah, all the paintings are stories of people I’ve met, or places I’ve been. I just had an exhibition (in May 2018) at studio1.1, an artist-run space in Shoreditch,– I had five large paintings in the exhibition, and four of these were scenes from Cyprus and the other was of my kitchen in London with a little story from Ireland thrown in. I’m kind of painting my history.


Stealing from the Natives, (2017), oil on canvas, 300x210cm

I could have marketed the show as Paintings of Cyprus, because all the stories came from time spent in Cyprus or people from Cyprus – it’s a place I’ve been to several times, a place I went to when I finished my degree [in 2003 to do a residency at the Cyprus College of Art]. I don’t feel like it works in that way, where there’s a strategy or a tagline. They are just the pictures that I want to make, so they are personal. It just happens to be that a lot of it is in Cyprus. I do sometimes think I should make some London paintings, but I don’t want to force that.

At one point I felt that every (solo) exhibition I had had to be a complete 180 turn from the last. It was madness, that I felt that way. I remember quoting Lichtenstein in an essay for college, where he said that when he was 31 or 35 or something he discovered his way of making paintings – that we all know as the dots – but before that everything that he was doing, even though he didn’t know it at the time, was him experimenting, trying to find his way, his visual language.

Looking back at my desire to make things different all the time was part of me not having my voice yet… I wouldn’t say I was looking for it, or didn’t realise I was, it sort of fell on me, you know?  It found me! I did paintings that were tight, photoreal paintings, and now they’re quite loose, never really abstract but sort of verging on it. Two ends of the spectrum I suppose, and that probably comes from learning about paint and what it does, how to use the mark making, and the simple stuff, maybe? It doesn’t feel like I’ve got that urge to change that I used to have, and even now that I’ve just had a show… I’d like the next show to look a bit like that that one, because it was really good! Yeah, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.


Let’s talk about your day-to-day practice.

My general routine is either I do a day of work and childcare, and I come here at nine pm when I’m a bit tired, or I come here at nine in the morning. I think it probably affects my approach, because at night I’m much more relaxed, a little worn out from the day. If I’m here during the day, it usually means that I’ve got to go pick up my daughter from nursery later.


studio wall

Marcus’s studio wall in APT Studios


So, in the morning I try and do watercolours or oil sketches and then come downstairs and do an afternoon of painting. Painting can just take over – so it’s really important to keep creating drawings for future works, even when I’m painting and I’m in the thick of it, because you can come to an end of a painting and feel like ‘What the fuck am I going to do now?’. I need to continue generating the ‘stuff’ that goes into the paintings. I also have things to work from, or to work out within the painting that I might try and resolve with a sketch. I work on several large paintings at the same time, and also I do other things that come up, little sketches, note taking, thinking! It’s a little bit more of a natural process, even with the best intention of ‘finishing’ something, I will find myself working on something else. I sometimes need to take myself away from painting for a bit, to contemplate what’s happened, then do some drawing… I need to be bouncing between them. But when a painting is at the point where it’s close to completion, when it takes off and I have that feeling that’s it’s all open for manouvre, it does take over; it does become my whole focus. There might as well be nothing else.

studio pair

Eight Years Ago, (2018) in studio

I have this way of working with a lot of the paintings – I’ll paint something on and I’ll flick paint on it, or some turps and then I’ll get a rag or some off-cuts of canvas and I’ll soak it with some other paint and push it on [the surface]. There is a lot of physicality in the process and yet it’s kind of a vague thing to describe. When you look at anything in the world, nothing is flat clean white – green – red- etc, there are always details, there is stuff in everything, even just due to light, and I try and give every surface of my paintings that feature. I often think, for me things begin to get tighter and neater as the work progresses and gets close to completion, and when I find that I’m going in that direction I’ll pull back in some way, and that is the moment when it can all come together.



8 years ago, 2018, oil on canvas, 170x130cm copy

Eight Years Ago, (2018), oil on canvas, 170x130cm


Your work often references some of your older pieces – what is the thought process to that?

I guess the most immediate example of this would be Out the Back (2017). In it, there is a vulture’s eye, and yeah, I think it was kind of symbolic of the end of something, and the beginning of something else. The vulture’s eye comes from a series of vulture paintings I did in 2011 called Carrion, where I had based my work on research I’d done into vultures. On reflection it led me down the wrong path, in a way. Anyway the eye seemed to fit in with this outdoor studio which is taken from a photograph I took over a decade ago of the old backyard of the Cyprus College of Art in Limassol. I suppose putting bits of the vultures in there – it’s sort of like putting bits of me, my history of painting, into the work. It’s something that led me towards where I am today. In the end, regardless of content for me, every painting is a series of decisions I have to make, and I try to be very careful with that.


Out the Back, (2017), oil on canvas, 170x250cm


marcuscopeaegypiuscalvus120x85cmoiloncanvas2011.jpg (small)

Aegypius Calvus, (2011), oil on canvas, 120x85cm

I would add though that those references made to older works are fading fast. And when they do appear I’m not usually completely conscious that I’m doing that. There aren’t any in any of the current work.

As we all do I look at other people’s work on Instagram, and for example… the other day, someone posted a painting of an old Spanish lady with a turquoise face, and I thought, ‘Why does she have a turquoise face?’.  It sort of seems like people can be flippant with the colour they use. For whatever reason I can’t do that at the moment, that’s not for me, but it once was and could be again, but for now I want the colours to be representing reality, or at least my perspective on reality. I guess that’s what they were doing for the turquise lady painter too. In the past a turquoise face wouldn’t have been something I’d have questioned.


I see you worked with Sacha Craddock on some accompanying text with your last exhibition – would you care to touch on that?

It’s always interesting when someone else engages with what you do. Sacha came in here, and said: “I don’t want you to tell me what you think they are about – I’ll tell you.”

She is interesting. To have that perspective, that comes from forty odd years of experience dealing with art… she has much more experience than me. So often people don’t really tell me what they really think. Or maybe they say what they think I want to hear!


I had asked her to write a text for the exhibition, I respect her opinion. She was adamant the paintings are not about the stories, it’s still about the painting and what it looks like. The story is the starting point for each work, and directs the collection of the visual materials, but from there it becomes about my relationship with making paintings. This is totally true. That relationship is formed through decisions (editing), and that’s how the piece of work became this thing in front of you. For so many years when I went to the studio, I wouldn’t know what to do, so I would just do anything! I’ve always been very productive, and I do sometimes think, when something went against the last thing I did, I thought that was enough. That sort of confusion in what was going on, it meant there must be something going on, but now I just get on with it, because there is something going on. No questions. There’s another story and another encounter and another situation that is occupying me, and that directs the image search, becomes the sketches, develops the paintings… so it feels really positive.


Finally, can we talk about some of your influences?

For a long time I was really into Pieter de Hooch and Gabriël Metsu, those old Dutch guys. And whenever I go to the National Gallery or the Wallace Collection, those are still the ones that I’m drawn to. But these days I’m more influenced by people like Daumier, or Jean-François Millet, their paintings and drawings of real people in real situations. Especially the sort of paintings Millet did, a lot of paintings of people working in fields – they were a big influence.

I’m a lifelong fan of Philip Guston, that never seems to abate. And Goya of course.

One of the big recent influences was seeing the Daniel Richter show at the Camden Arts Centre a year and a half ago. That show, I thought it was really hit and miss, but the ones that hit, they really hit. And that’s what made me realise my desire to do my paintings really big – because when you’re confronted with a painting that kind of size, and the figures in it are almost life-sized, you have that real sense of it being an actual space that you can interact with. I suppose that’s kind of theatrical. I like that. I remember I came away from that show and ordered some big stretchers straight away. It was a very immediate response, almost overwhelming that desire to do that.

More recently I’ve been thinking about the subtleties of Vuillard and Bonnard – and perhaps even Sickert – and how they got their figures into spaces without them dominating. It’s great stuff!

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

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