The Human Subject and Painting:Tajh Rust

Tajh Rust

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is history an important aspect to your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has your practice been affected in the last year?

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

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

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

Where We Meet install shot, Mathew Brown Gallery, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is your work developing, going forward?

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

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

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

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below


Past and Present: Mick O’Dea

Emile Dinneen Foggy Dew Pics (1 of 95)
Mick O’Dea, photo by Emile Dinneen
I’m really happy to share with you my 25th interview – it was a great privilege to get to interview Irish Painter and Sculptor,  Mick O’Dea, an artist that I have huge respect and affinity for. Talking to him about his practice was a pleasure, and it was important to me to get across his warm nature and immense knowledge of Irish history in this interview. It has been a while in the making, but I think you will agree it has been worth the wait.
I’d love to start with the exhibition you did for the RHA [Royal Hibernian Academy], The Foggy Dew. What was the impulse behind that project?

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

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

Black and Tan Installation Shot at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has sculpture always been a medium that interests you?

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

Drawings from an old folder from NCAD Dublin 1977 – 1979

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you go about finding your sitters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview, Painting

Ways of Showing: Andy Parsons

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

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



Andy next to his self portrait

How would you describe Floating World?

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

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

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

Unfolding the Archive?

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

And your own Involvement?

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

And the show itself?

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

What have you been doing since Unfolding Places?

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


The Rebel(s), promotional poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you say that the book has influenced your painting?

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

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

Could you talk more about your current painting?

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

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


Portrait of Tina Brooks

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

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


Andy’s Studio

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



With those goals in mind what artists inspire you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing


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