"I try to take stuff out of this everyday and implant some mystery. I see a lot of loneliness and stupidity in the figures I make."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I’m originally from Cork, where I lived until my mid twenties. I’ve drawn since I was young boy, especially comic characters. I was completely immersed and obsessed in these comics; they had such wonderfully drawn heroes and villains with amazing stories. I studied painting at the Crawford College of Art & Design in Cork and graduated in 1992, a long time ago!
I think I was too young going to art school. I struggled to find what I wanted to paint or draw and inevitably you end up partying and then its over. What to do?
There was and is a solid painting community in Cork and Ireland, but I wanted to get out, more to do with wanting a change of environment. It took me a while; I worked in various studios and jobs, but eventually ended up moving to Edinburgh. My current studio is at WASPS studios in Edinburgh.
I have painted the figure obsessively in various guises over the last 15 years or so. Painting takes a long time to reach any sort of understanding of what you are doing. Its always developing and moving this way or that, one thing leads to another and on it goes.
Your work is full of whimsical characters, could you tell us about these people?
I guess you could construe them as whimsical. I don’t know if I want them to be playful. I mean I don’t start with this notion; it’s more about the human. Within this are comedy and amusement, but also stuff that go along with life, like mystery, history, fear and love.
It doesn’t matter where you go, people are generally the same. It can sound mundane and maybe it is. I try to take stuff out of this everyday and implant some mystery. I see a lot of loneliness and stupidity in the figures I make.
Take for example the painting ‘The neighbour’, this begun as an exercise in a sort of life drawing. I was spying. He didn’t know I was photographing him. I see him sitting on his bench alone outside his house regularly. I was a voyeur he was been subjected. This rather mundane image became somewhat inappropriate and questioned for me the notion of a life study.
The painting ‘Migrant’ for example came about from walking past a small circular park in Edinburgh on a regular basis. It has a fascinating quality of the rural and urban, bent trees with a 1970’s building as backdrop and a dirt surface without grass. It seems a lonely and out of place spot, particularly at night, enclosed all around with urban architecture. The protagonist in the painting has a certain pathos and absurdity, perhaps being spied on, someone with nowhere to go, having to perform a basic human need.
There are hints to short narratives in your paintings. Would you call yourself a storyteller as well as a painter?
The work has had more of a narrative as time has gone on. I now paint a figure generally within an environment or engaged in some sort of activity.
When I was growing up there wasn’t much in the way of computer games and certainly no laptops and smart phones. There was a lot more focus on the printed page – books and comics. I found a world within comics, not just the images but also the stories of the unbelievable and extraordinary. I don’t read a huge amount even now but a narrative or story seems essential for me in the process of painting to achieve a more rounded pictorial sense.
My wife is a playwright and I think this has ‘seeped’ into my consciousness over time.
I think I want to set someone up, to get him or her thinking about what is going on here, to give someone a lead. Maybe I’m a brief storyteller.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I visited Louisiana Museum just north of Copenhagen recently. I went specifically to see the ‘Academy of Tal R’ exhibition. A lot of his ideas about painting and what it should be do resonate with me. He has taken ideas on another step and continues to do so. He has a respect for the flat surface, he uses it as a device to interrogate the meaning of painting and his choice of subjects mixing in contemporary and folklore ideas layer the paintings with unpredictability. His colours bring in a sense of the extraordinary which I guess gives them great appeal and he has this comic/cartoon element which really fascinates me.
Also in Copenhagen I visited the Statens Museum where I saw a fabulous collection of Matisse paintings. It struck me how much of an influence he still has on many contemporary painters. They must have been so radical when they were first shown. He turned the key and pushed the door ajar for everyone else.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
My studio is in a studio complex, close to the centre of Edinburgh. I can walk from home to the studio in about 30 minutes. It's a small studio, getting smaller! It's a bit messy but not chaotic. I have a painting wall and a desk area for drawing or doing small works. I don’t work in the studio everyday, but when I do time can pass very quickly. I will generally work about 6 hours or so. Its good to have a space to go and work and to have it the way you want. I can shut the door and think.
I listen to music a lot. I work mostly on one painting at a time, whatever size it is. I can’t work on multiple pieces simultaneously. I need to be fully immersed in the piece I’m working on; otherwise it gets to confusing and muddy. I guess its similar to writing a short story, I don’t think I could write two stories at the same time.
How do you go about naming your work?
I name them after the fact. Some titles are mundane or self-explanatory; others sidestep the obvious simply to get someone thinking. Some titles describe an activity, others a type. I think they are like a suffix, an incentive, a stick to poke someone. People navigate to a panel with a title to get them started. We all need language, maybe I should paint the title on the painting! You should be able to explain a painting down the phone to someone and end with the title.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I have my first solo exhibition in London this year, previewing on the 10th of August at Studio One Gallery. I will be presenting work from this year and am excited to see the work in a new location. A big thank you to Tori and Charlie Day. I have a couple of other unconfirmed things happening this year also, so hopefully they will come to fruition.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date 01/08/2017