My practice explores the idea of studying ‘identity’ and more importantly, how cultural and national identity is realized today, albeit in a romanticized, reminiscent concept. Everything I believe in; my country, its historical reference, its language, its culture and identity forms who I am and thus informs my work. My practice is informed by place so therefore I feel it is very important for me, as an artist, to be able to ‘escape’ and to simply immerse myself by establishing connection with this ‘place’. This does not necessarily always result into the physical making of work but more often than not can just lead to a collection of a diverse range of source materials.
Predominantly a painter, I have become increasingly interested in multi-sensory installation, including painting in a three dimensional format. Since 2016 I have been collaborating with landscape writer and poet, Dr. Martin Cromie researching visual and tangible dialogue in response to his current book. In an attempt to translate an individual’s ‘response to place’ through Cromie’s own identities, histories and geographical meanderings, the intention is to be a symbiotic process of action and reaction in which each artist acts as the other’s ideal audience. The Spirits of the Stones is a work of literary non-fiction which explores a number of rural town lands in South Armagh, Northern Ireland. My fascination lies with the organics of the book and how everything stems from ‘stone’, focusing in particular on the significance of the stone Neolithic forts and portal tombs and the impact they had on the landscape and to the people who went before and after.
I remember when I first saw Jack B Yeat’s work, Queen Maeve Walks Upon this Strand (1950) His expressive use of colour and his way of painting was so unique in its style but more importantly, it was when I actually studied the conceptual significance behind the subject matter, it was to impact upon my practice in a very profound way. Yeats was obsessed with memory and he utilized the variegated brush strokes as a visual language to express his concept of memories and assemblage of ‘half memories’ that he had conjured up and scribbled down in sketch books. ‘Half memory’ for him meant a state that where memory was stimulated and transcended by the imagination- he was freed from the past. The new state allowed memory to develop and fluctuate after it first gripped the mind, to distort the original experience. This discovery was a complete revelation and it changed the way I thought about painting from that day forward. I realized that I didn’t have to paint what was immediate or obvious but that I could be in control of what I painted from the all of the ‘assemblages’ of poetry, photography, imagery, words, that I had in my head.
More recently, I have become very interested in the work by the artist Richard Tuttle, and how his work straddles the barriers between genres. He combines elements of drawing, painting and sculpture but his work manages to defy characterization as one or the other. What intrigues me is that in a culture that sets great store by monumental and glamorous art, his work is so unobtrusive and self-effacing. He too has been described as a collector and you are made aware of this as his work transcends into much more than a multi-disciplinary approach.
I think the opportunities that ArtCan are offering are amazing! I live in a small village, Omeath, Co. Louth, Ireland where I also have a very small rented studio in the local community centre. I am very much isolated from any contemporary art scene and as such I work in a very solitary way. I suppose most artists do, but to be able to connect, collaborate and share through social media in the company of my peers is an incredible opportunity. Also, more and more establishments and galleries are charging submission fees so it is becoming increasingly difficult to get your work shown and get it ‘out there’, so I welcome any alternative exhibition spaces outside of the formal gallery structure with open arms!
Unfortunately, it is very hard to be an artist in today’s climate. I work part time in my local Museum but at one stage I had three jobs just to keep the all the plates spinning. I eventually gave up the other two as I just found it impossible to give time to my practice. You need to practice but you need time to practice. You also need a place to make that work so therefore you need to make money. You need to make money so that you can live and pay bills but then you realize you have no time to practice because you are too busy making money so it is a never ending, extremely frustrating ‘juggling of plates’ scenario. What I am trying to say is that yes, I need to work – I couldn’t survive any other way – but I think if you can be lucky enough to get a balance and also work somewhere, if you can, that you can relate to your practice in some way.
I graduated in 2009, the height of the recession in this country so I was never under any illusion of ‘grandeur’, so to speak. My advice for artists starting out in their careers is to treat your practice as a ‘profession’. I try to dedicate half my time to the business/computer side of things and the other half to the creative side. I think having a ‘presence’ on social media is extremely important and constantly trying to get your work out there and making the public aware of it is equally so. I was constantly applying for things when I first left university but now I am more selective and always ask the questions, ‘How will this help me?’ and ‘How will this further my career as an artist?’
After every rejection, I just tell myself to ‘keep on…keeping on…’
I want to push my collaboration Spiorad na gCloch (The Spirits of the Stones) further, exploring multi sensory elements such as sound and smell whilst also incorporating pinhole photography. At the moment I am experimenting with drone photography and I find it amazing and my ultimate aim is to have a solo show to showcase this work. I have recently had two group shows in the UK so I really want to make this bond stronger and exhibit a lot more there. Sometime I feel that when your work is about identity and place it is more realised and accepted from a distance.
Thank you for taking the time and look forward to many future collaborations and exciting things to come.