"I try to create a feeling of decay and transience in the work. Nothing is fixed or set, but actually organic, living and dying"
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
Well, I’m originally from Castlebar, County Mayo in the west of Ireland. I studied at Galway Mayo I. T., Sligo I. T. and the University of Ulster in Belfast. I guess I’ve been practicing since 1998, although I didn’t finish my post grad until 2003. I’ve spent the past 11 years working in Hong Kong, most recently working as a professor of painting and foundation studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong. During that time I’ve had a number of studios in the city, but the most productive one has been a home studio. I showed with AJC gallery for a few years in Hong Kong as well as taking part in the Hong Kong/Shenzhen biennale of Urbanism and Architecture.
Your paintings have a quiet quality about them, almost like they could fade away. Could you tell us the thoughts behind this?
Landscape or looking at space and light has always fascinated me. The fade away quality you mention is quite deliberate, as I try to create a feeling of decay and transience in the work. Nothing is fixed or set, but actually organic, living and dying. I think of the works as depicting elemental spaces but also as a material (paint, wood, medium) that also lives and dies and has a fragile life. I use the chemical qualities of oils to disrupt the image surface and set off an opposition between illusion of image and the materials physical nature.
Your works often depict valleys, trees and lakes, with a mysterious edge to them. Could you tell us about these landscapes and what they mean to you?
The subjects have often been sparked by moving back and over between Ireland and Hong Kong. The spaces of a condensed city like Hong Kong are in many ways the total opposite of what you experience in the west of Ireland. I tend to look at subjects that have an anonymity to them, places that could be anywhere. It’s just a tree standing within a park, or a river in a valley. Its part of a stripping away process that I’m interested in, stripping away a nostalgic connection to place and allowing them to become more universal. Colour is also something that I strip away or pull on. I imagine a 3D representation of the visible colour spectrum and I pull on the saturation until it hovers over a neutral grey. Grey is endlessly interesting to me. It’s full of potential and it’s very dominant in much of the paintings.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
Well, for want of a better phrase, I hope it can create a long-term relationship with a viewer. I imagine that the paintings might spark a memory of a place and time, maybe a glimpse of a feeling of light, lack of light or what a sense of a space instinctively feels like. Memory plays an important role for me. I have strong visual memories of looking at spaces in varied light; again this experience is temporal and fades. I recall being blinded by low winter sun, and that couple of seconds where detail is overwhelmed, and shapes, tone and form begin to merge and simplify. Like overexposing a photograph, or a Polaroid image that is half developed.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?
I tend to work in rhythms. Paintings seem to come in batches of 2 or 3 with perhaps similar color schemes, subjects or some vague ambiguous idea that I’m running with. I also tend to move against something I’ve been doing, such as reintroducing stabs of color if things are becoming too monochromatic. Something that might upset the pictorial space in an interesting way. My most recent studio was a home studio in Hong Kong, which was very productive. I’ve worked in larger spaces in the cities industrial areas, but unusually, that restricted space was quite fertile for making work. That space restriction is also something I think a lot about. Most of my work is small to medium scale and this for me relates to our own human scale. They become an object that can be held. I don’t want them to compete with the vastness of the natural world, or to be a large, impressive object. There is a quality I love about playing with big, ephemeral spaces on a small scale. The paintings tend to go from a table top to the floor and back again as I often use pours or glazes of medium, that need time to settle.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I enjoyed the recent installations of Antony Gormley’s work on top of skyscrapers in Hong Kong. There was also a showing of photographs by Michael Kenna, a photographer who makes modestly sized BW prints using a medium format film camera. He captures these beautiful long exposures on film that have a stillness that appeals to me. There are many painters I follow, but most recently I saw some
gorgeous works by Callum Innes, Maureen Gallace and Elizabeth Magill at Art Basel in Hong Kong. I suppose I respond to a certain lyrical quality in works, that says something universal about us, our environments and our lives and deaths.
How do you go about naming your work?
I think of this as also being like the stripping away process I mentioned earlier, taking away connection to place. I think of the elements in the image and really just go with nouns like tree, lake, winter, evening, etc. These are just words that describe what it is, and maybe something about its season or time. I want that to be as straightforward as possible.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Well, my immediate future is all very practical as my whole life in currently in boxes. I’ve just relocated from Hong Kong to Ireland and I’m in the process of property/studio hunting. It’s a big change after 11 years in Hong Kong, but I’m really excited to look at my home with different eyes. It’s already changing my sketchbook and idea notes. I have a few residencies set up for next year, mostly in out of the way locations. This is something I need to reset myself after living in a hyper paced city.
Publish date: 25/11/16
All images courtesy of the artist