Fresh Irish painters: 10 under 30 to watch – selected for the RTE blog by Cristín Leech, art critic of The Sunday Times. Seven of the ten graduated from NCAD.
Click on artists names and be taken to their websites:
Posted by Robert Armstrong
Fresh Irish painters: 10 under 30 to watch – selected for the RTE blog by Cristín Leech, art critic of The Sunday Times. Seven of the ten graduated from NCAD.
Click on artists names and be taken to their websites:
Posted by Robert Armstrong
The paintings often describe no specific events, with the beginning, the end and the transgressive or progressive middle, often folding in on each other. The works are always in a state of flux, living somewhere in-between representation and abstraction, depicting things that are of this world but also not of this world. Tangible things that you can almost touch collide with unrecognisable abstract marks that are very much involved and about the act of painting. The worlds are suspended in time, with no sense of gravity, living within a liminal space that is neither here nor there. Bright in colour the works pulsate against each other causing harmonious connections as well as uneasy clashes. A sense of overwhelming uneasy and awkwardness occupy the painting, alluding that all is not what it seems.
The Paintings are about the day-to-day activities of being in the studio and the Quixotic nature of the working process. The characters in the paintings are ones that I chose to bring in to the studio for narrative reasons. This narrative involves a theatrical conflict between abstraction and figuration, play-fullness and melancholy, hopefulness and despair, and is used as a vehicle or stage for exploring the absurdity of things. Joseph Heffernan
Kiran Riaz grew up in Pakistan and moved to Dublin for her MFA. Her practice revolves around the counterbalance between Western and Eastern cultures. The work deals with cultural perceptions and her own experience of living between East and West. Riaz explores beauty, terrorism, religion and stereotypes of Eastern men as adversaries post 9/11. She has combined the Pakistani textile motif of Ajarak with Irish lace patterns in a mosaic format, using Photoshop software and traditional miniature painting. The work alludes to the mysteries and layers of visual storytelling from both societies, by revealing and concealing our combined histories.
Farrell Brickhouse in conversation with Diana Copperwhite during a studio visit to Staten Island in March 2016
DC: Farrell you‘ve had a long and varied career to date; teaching at SVA is currently a big part of what you do, how does this impact and affect your studio practice?
FB: It is a privilege to teach, a sharing of one’s experience and a dialogue with another generation, to be relevant is a blessing. I want them to become students, as artists we are eternally students. I want to create a safe place for them to learn and to fail, which is what happens when you ask yourself to do things you have never done before and I want to share my passion. I come home and ask myself to do what I just spent hours asking my young artists to do. At times it is humbling what they achieve.
The students are also an endless reserve of abandoned materials! It is where the glitter came from, I had used it in encaustic works in the 70’s but here it was again! It was a bit like pixy dust, magical. Recently I used it to see what else there was to say, besides telling stories and tried to make more “abstract” works. Glitter suited this with its heightened materiality. It became a way to create this all- over feeling but eventually the glitter evolved to become just another paint which lead back to the stories. Every asset can become a liability; glitter had to earn its way in or it was gratuitous.
I also have an “SVA Waste Paint Series” where all left- over student paint goes onto one canvas at the end of the day’s class rather than into the garbage, I then bring it home at the end of the Semester and continue work. It is a great lesson in the mutability of paint. I just finished one brought home in 1999.
DC: What are your influences?
FB: Ah Influences, what one consults, well they change over time. As for many artists it can lay outside of Art History, the light on a building, a couple sitting side by side, for awhile it was Corot; the flickering light off the water catching leaves and debris floating in the air thru the forest breaking down notions of abstraction and figuration. Auerbach, Rouault and even Vuillard; I feel I am part of that trajectory all the way thru to the flickering light of a pixelated image streaming on the monitor, fragments of light and structure that inform how I build my painting, as in de Kooning’s idea of “a glance”. Light is paramount in a painting, it’s portal. As I paint I follow the light, how it moves over the imagery and surface. There’s a sentence from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man- a fantastic world of sombre masses with lakelike spaces of dark rosy light- I’ve been trying to make a painting as good as that sentence for quite awhile. Many of my contemporaries inspire me, hold the bar up to what needs to and can be said.
When I was a kid growing up in New York I went to the Museum of Natural History on a regular basis. I loved the dioramas. A world complete along darkened corridors and would come home and build my own stages cannibalizing my electric train set landscapes. My dad was a carpenter, I watched as he always found value in the material world of things as did my Mom who was an artist and home maker. I inherited this belief that everything can be of use, is sacred in a way. From the discarded materials my students leave behind I collect canvases, their surfaces, their previous history peeping thru, a face, a piece of someone else’s world, it’s archeology sometimes giving the work another dimension or place to start.
DC: Talk a little about the scale of your current work.
FB: It came about because of my resources and health. I lost my studio for a time after 9/11 living just 2 blocks North of the World Trade Center and that put limits on money, space, time and energy, so one does what one can. I like this small scale as there’s an intimacy that usually isn’t there in current larger paintings which can become almost operatic. I am more interested in finding a work thru the revelatory act of making a painted surface which I do more successfully on this current size mostly below 30” (76.2cm). Moving to a new smaller studio some years back required a belief I would be able to make good work at a reduced scale. There are 4” Goya’s on ivory and 5” Rouault’s that are stunning.
DC: Tell me more about the content and narrative structure of your thoughts in relation to your surfaces.
FB: Our elites seem to have failed us in some manner, when a society senses this it moves to an embrace of rumor and myth which allows for the creation of personal mythologies for better or worse, see late Goya. Looking thru Art History there are these fantastical stories. I’ve read whole European societies were on a diet that contained rye! When rye rots it produces a hallucinogenic, ergot which to me seems to have informed people’s imagination, see the Illuminated Manuscripts. They saw animals as stand-ins for people, but pharmacology and human intelligence were always linked creating space for mythological creatures and stories. I “muck about” and in that process I seem to arrive at some place of value which has allowed stories from my youth, current events and personal doings to be available to me in paint. Sometimes I find that in one or two sittings but most times it takes place over time which dictates the nature of my thick surfaces. I find it exciting to take what may be an end and turn it into a beginning. In my artist statement I wrote- I believe the making of a painting needs that moment of epiphany and a trace of how the imagery conveyed thru paint was discovered and experienced by the artist. Not a graphic notation of the language of experience but the mystery of it.
DC: You have an amazing palette, how important is it that you see the history of your scraped off and abandoned decisions? It’s like a sculpture!
FB: My actual physical palette- That’s my vocabulary and history, paint piles into sculptures and onto canvas. The paint becomes a living thing. I dislike giving up on stuff and use discarded paint that builds up over the years, it takes on a life of its own and often gets worked into a new piece along with other bits of found debris or even a free standing sculpture. Many artists look at their palettes and wonder why at that moment it is better than their painting. I often, at the end of a working day, grab a canvas and use up as much of my left- over paint as I can, sometimes it feels like the day was but a warm- up for this release and surprising things happen.
DC : Talk a little about your painting career to date.
FB: I realize how fortunate I was as a youth to come up in the early 70’s when there was no student debt and space in Manhattan was cheap. I was young and living in an emerging artist community in NYC. I started showing with Julian Pretto. He too was an urban pioneer and took over large spaces in what was to become Tribeca in Lower Manhattan back when no one wanted them. Julian turned these cavernous floors into warehouse galleries. Guys like Robert Ryman Mike Goldberg and Al Held who showed uptown but wanted to show in these large spaces would hang work there and I was one of the new kids invited in. The Senior Critic of The New York Times, John Russell, came to see the big guys and saw my work and reviewed me quite favorably. From there I started working with Max Protetch but after some time with Max I dropped out as things were moving too fast. About 6 years later I was ready again and started showing with Pamela Auchincloss in the late 1980’s. When postmodernism came along by the mid 90’s very few were interested in painterly narratives and my career collapsed! In the long run this was actually beneficial as it allowed me to explore and experiment and make work without a due date for a show or collectors deciding what was important. This is now my third incarnation after a decade or more of working more or less in solitude except for a few artists and friends who remained committed.
DC How has social media affected your work?
FB: Well, that “third incarnation” is largely due to social media. My wife and I were forced out of Manhattan and moved to a then isolated part of NYC in 2004. My students were going online to this thing called “Facebook” and other social outlets so I thought I’d give it a try since I’d largely lost my actual community over the years. It was kinda fascinating and I quickly found this digital scene of serious artists posting their work. It didn’t take long before a gallerist, John Davis in upstate Hudson, NY, that I’d known many years earlier asked if I’d like to have a show. That kind of response and those opportunities have continued due to that community on Facebook. But also there is this great exchange of information, I am constantly informed of other folks work much of which I would most likely not have gotten to see or be aware of and also this great art history lesson by astute fellow artists. Some times a post will be the missing part of the puzzle to get to the next step in the studio as well as getting a useful response to my own work, it provides a kind of eyes- on that I need digital as it may be. It’s also a huge bulletin board of all the events going on, a bit overwhelming at times but quite appreciated. There is the notion that we are misplacing this all for a real community but at this moment it is a true supplement for face to face dialogue.
DC: Do you see your work as part of expressionism?
FB: If I were to use hashtags# that might be one but I think those terms are limiting and start to dictate how the work is seen before eyes even get on the art. Of course the “soul selects its own company” and I seek out many painterly artists for inspiration but too other art informs my work that wouldn’t fall into that category. We find beauty and meaning where we can and no one form has a lock on the truth.
DC: How important is drawing to your practice?
FB: I feel if you can’t draw it you can’t paint it. But the practice is not linear; drawing comes both before, during and after painting. I liken it to the musician practicing, looking at the notes on the page, learning the song and coming to know it to the point where when one goes on stage, for the artist the canvas, one is not looking at where one’s fingers go but eyes closed is now free to explore the possibilities of the song, what it may offer as a creative vehicle. I think of it too as how one comes to the final calligraphic brush mark by the repeated making of a from. It is a coming to know. Often it amazes me what just a few minutes of sketching will do for my understanding of what may be possible in a painting and in offering ways forward. I usually finish off the day in the studio by sketching in my Journals, documenting where I’ve “landed”.
DC: How important is music in your studio while working?
FB: I now have Amazon’s Echo so I just ask it to play what ever I feel like listening to, and of course on my cell phone there’s Pandora, Spotify and Radio Paradise apps amongst others. At specific times of the day I play different kinds of music, it transports one and is a conduit to emotion, memories and is incredibly energizing. I just discovered the wonderful Mary Margaret O’Hara thanks to Helen O’Leary. But too I am a bit dismayed at the time I use in setting up all this technology to have access to the world’s musical output but it’s worth it. Listening to the new Grimes’ Art Angel now.
DC: Your studio is also your home; one melts into the other?
FB: When I was young we hardly ever slept so one was painting, eating and sleeping at all hours and there was no sense in not living in the studio. Now I need to putter and I multi- task and so being at home has always been the way I live and work. I also need to keep seeing things, to kind of dwell in their presence, new reads and possibilities appear at any time, especially coming downstairs to the studio in the early morning to see if what I think I accomplished the previous day is actually there or what remains. I also often don’t know when my day is truly over, lots of good stuff happens just wandering back into the studio and finding myself working again for hours. Of course real distance is important, one goes out of town and upon returning nothing is precious any longer, being out of the trenches so to speak allows one to be an observer rather than a maker and that too is important.
Thanks so much Diana for this opportunity to share my thoughts. For those who may be interested there are Links on my website to further conversations.
An odd sound now pervades the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin. The almost in-audible high octave frequency rings from the ten Jan Pleitner paintings hung on its walls. The fast paced thud, thud, thud of the painting’s lines form jittering, sweeping, scratches of folding colour that have a distinct harmonic resonance, organic in nature yet distantly mechanistic.
It may come then as no surprise that Pleitner often completes a work in a single session, while listening to techno music. The painting’s metallic droning colours share a tempo with techno, which in turn atavistically follow the lineage of the shamanistic drum circle, both utilising a repetitive, boundary dissolving rhythmic structure. As we move in dark spaces intermittently interrupted by pulsing lights, listening to machine beat wailing, the fireside dancing of our ancient past does not seem so distant. Our collective desire to dissolve ourselves into our external reality is manifested visually in Pleitner’s painting. When standing in front of one with a spirit of generosity, the boundary between the dichotomies of subject/object relaxes ever so slightly. We are gifted with an almost formless expanse of shifting oscillations and deep nothings, which acknowledge our innate connection to the numen.
According to the press release the exhibition’s title Water for the Tribe is a reference to Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic Dune, indicating a techno-foundation of future oriented, fast flowing, cinematic interconnectivity. This space exploring futurism functions as one side of a coin, whose other face remains rooted in the organic and the archaic. He succeeds in evoking the pulsing lights of a Neo-Tokyo while simultaneously drawing on the psychedelic dreamscapes of tribal shamanism. This is played out across ten canvas through rapid scratching, scraping, blurring and removing of paint which has evidently often come straight from the tube. The technique is qualitatively fast. Speed functions here as a key value resulting in a kind of high key naturalism that is both visionary and mechanical. Scale and colour ultimately determine the subtle differences between individual works, but in their affect they all function similarly.
Pleitner’s rich synesthetic cadences draw on our electric extensions and our private chthonic moments. What we see in his paintings is what largely goes unseen; the currency of being. His paintings are an isthmus of force between our known and unknown realities. Bold and striking, Water for the Tribe is not to be missed.
Diana Copperwhite: What’s your day-to-day process in the studio? Do you have routine?
Marcus Cope: I like to get into the studio as early as I can, I take lunch with me so that the day isn’t interrupted. I concentrate better when I listen to music through headphones. There is something insular about that which I need, it helps me to shut off the outside world and enter into the painting zone quickly, and get involved in the work I’m making.
The studio floor is chaotic, and I tend to sit on the floor amid the chaos, with everything I need in arms reach in a circle around me. Over the past 18 months I’ve had 20 or so small paintings (45 x 70 cm) on the go at one time, in various forms of completeness. I only work on a few at a time though, so the mood and ideas can change during their making. I also have drawings that I make using fine-liner pens and oil paint. I started this process about three years ago having first made one for the Drawing Biennial at the Drawing Room, priming A4 paper and spraying or flicking (mostly) black, red and white paint onto them at random, with the drawings overlapping each other masking off areas, creating gradient triangles of colour, suggesting space. I like them being this small because – even though I have a tendency towards the gestural – if one of these drawings is not working out it is easy to erase it. I also find the size is good for both my need to be gestural as well as tight at times. Sometimes I’m drawing images of imagined rooms packed with things in fine detail, and other times I might be drawing something from life in the studio – a paint tube, a chair, an old jam jar used for turps, brushes, the plant in the corner of my studio or translating information from photographs. These drawings are what inform or become the smaller paintings. I usually find myself working on a new or a few new drawings every time I’m in the studio even if I have a deadline to finish something. I like this about the studio, it makes up the rules for me and doesn’t concern itself with deadlines.
These are the first paintings that you have exhibited since 2011?. Why did you have this break?
For the show at studio1.1 I have made large-scale paintings for the first time in almost 4 years. It’s a great feeling to make these and they have had a long period of gestation, although they didn’t all make it into the show. I’m not in the hurry that I used to be to produce work. I think as I mature as an artist I find that there is much less of a need to please other people – or to make those paintings that have that immediate impact on others, liked or disliked – and I am much more settled into what is important to me to put in the pictures. I’m developing my compositions to include a much greater array of the stuff of my life and the things that interest me.
My last painting show ‘Carrion’, was also at studio1.1. The show centred around paintings of Vultures. I made the paintings for that show in a relatively short amount of time, around 4 weeks if I recall correctly. I really like those paintings, but I realised quickly that they were pictures I would not have made if I hadn’t had the show. After that I was in a studio that was really hard to heat during the particularly long cold winter of 2012, making another series of bigger vulture paintings, this time the images were of dead and dying birds. I put all I had into those pictures and really entered the darkness that winter. I was also very busy with the last Marmite Prize at the time and I think the experience of all of those things led me to take a break from painting, unintentionally for about 18 months. For that period and up until now I have only really been interested in showing the drawings, as I didn’t want to rush the paintings into completeness before they were really ready.
Over the past couple of years the content of your work has focused on the studio. Where did this come from?
The focus on the studio developed from drawings that I was doing whilst working on that series of dead and dying vultures. Even though I had worked hard on the paintings over a six month period the thing that really resonated was these dozen or so drawings that I had made almost automatically or thoughtlessly on the side – drawings which depicted artists in the action of painting big paintings of dead vultures, sometimes upside down, their heads sticking out of bags – very scruffy stuff using marker pens and the leftover paint on the brush or pallete.
Soon after I finished those paintings I moved to a smaller studio on the sixth floor of a building (and moved house and moved from my storage) and I made a vow to myself that I wasn’t going to carry any big paintings up or downstairs in that (lift-less) building. I just worked on paper there for 12 months and it was an incredibly productive time for me, where I really developed those drawings of the artist at work in the studio, images of the gallery, artist in conversation etc., as well as some images of singular stuff. I had good fun imagining large studios filled with big abstract paintings…
I later spent a lot of time looking at how artists throughout history had depicted the studio. There are some, particularly George Braque and Philip Guston, who are and always have been a constant inspiration, but as we know great examples exist throughout history: Courbet, Monet, Delecroix, Cezanne, Immendorf etc.
The introduction to your show focuses on the painters tools and creating a space that celebrates that moment where there is potential. Could you talk a little more about that?
Yes, the works are a celebration of being in the studio. What a privilege. When I finished my BA and first went to Cyprus to do a residency at the Cyprus College of Art I recall the feeling of freedom, gone was the need to contextualise or justify this stuff I was making. But what should I paint? Well that’s about life I think – what is around us, what we respond to, and of course a lot of the time this is the studio. It’s also the news, politics, relationships, the light on the walk to work or the studio, something past or some hopes future. I like comedy, and I think that humour and play are absolutely essential aspects to include within my practice. I think of the studio as a creative place, where in theory anything can happen, as you say potential. All artists are different, but the tools that we choose to have there, angle grinder or tube of paint, tend to determine our approach to how we will go about expressing our ideas, they are our potential.
You and a friend set up the Marmite Prize after you’d been at Chelsea College of Art, validating the pursuit of painting away from a direct market environment and creating a real space for painting. Has that influenced the content in your own work?
Ha! I like that question. I don’t think the pursuit of painting needs any more validation than it already has. I suppose I think of it the other way round – it’s the painters who matter. Someone who buys a painting is just the same as someone who ‘likes’ a painting on social media or whatever, only they’ve got more money. I guess you are alluding to the problem we have with the commercial side of things and it having too much of a perceived stranglehold over the art world. I don’t care about that of course, but at the same time it’s not my world. I work. I earn money for the rent and I paint when I can. I’m happy like this. Of course I’d like to be in the studio more, but I’m aware of the value of being part of society and how that informs my work. Although my pictures are of the studio, I do hope that the references are not all art world. I like to think of it as an insight into the painters’ world. I don’t think that running the prize has had an influence on the content of my work, but it certainly has an influence on how I see the art world and on the decisions that I make about how I choose to promote my own work.
What are your influences?
The things I see around me. Life experiences. Memories. Dreams. Cyprus. I guess in a way, structure- building/carpentry. I love painting of course.
Can you expand on what you mean by ‘life experience’. How much or what influence does your life have on your work.
I guess it’s all of it. Life is about looking and seeing form, travel and experience, people and relationships. Within the paintingGetting Beyond the Blue Hands, there is a drawing of my daughter, one of Percy my cat, that battered old table, bits of Cyprus – the studios and the accommodation, the sculpture of those hands that has been the topic of so many conversations, as well as acting as a land mark – past paintings, elements of space thought through from my carpentry work building studios and gallery spaces. It’s very diaristic. Things resonate, sometime I’m not sure why but they can become an obsession and continue to feature in the paintings for years.
The paintings and drawings over the past two years have a very limited palette. Is there a reason for this?
Again, during my break from painting I was able to take stock of what I really liked, with coIour as with all aspects of painting. People always find it funny when I say this but I’ve never been a fan of blue, and I don’t get on that well with yellow either. This is really why the red, white and black started to dominate. Also as a combination those colours really do it for me, so I consciously put the other colours back in the paint box and used these. It’s also interesting focussing on this, and really getting to know the properties and differences between the different colours hues. The yellowness of Vine black by contrast to the cool black of Ivory, and then how these two colours react differently again as thin washes sitting on top of zinc white for example. This is painters’ stuff. I mentioned Guston (in relation to his studio painting) who also used this palette. There is really a challenge there to make the paintings with the same palette and similar subject but avoid direct comparison. Pieter De Hooch also used a lot of red and grey tones and painted many interiors. I love those paintings. When I came to do the larger paintings the red also seemed to drop away, and the results are black and white. This was the inspiration for painting the gallery floor black for the show. Using the same colours on the walls and floor as is in the paintings brought out all the highlights and darkest depth of the paintings beautifully.
What role does drawing play?
Drawing is really the cornerstone of what I do. Without drawing the paintings couldn’t exist. Drawing is all aspects, and can be quick or in depth. I have dozens of drawings of an old table that I have been looking at for a few years, some drawn from life, some from photos, others from other drawings. In some the table is in an imaginary scene, some in a remembered one, some floating on an abstract ground. The table sometimes has objects on it, or the drawing of it exists for colour relationships. Several versions are mirrored, with the colours inverted, a shadow becoming a highlight etc. Going back slightly to the earlier question about having a break from painting, I think that when you have produced X amount of paintings – and seen a whole lot more than that – you set personal standards higher. It’s no longer an interest just to paint singular objects for example, because they can exist much more interestingly within a setting, or scene, and a lot of this can be worked out beforehand in the drawings. When I paint I still tend to put thin layer upon layer, changing tones and colours as I go, but the graphic details and placing of things within the picture are (usually, but not always) pretty set. So if I’m happy with the image in the drawing I can scale it up and then have fun with the handling of the painting.
You mention the recurring motif of an old table. Where does this image come from and why does it occur so often in your work?
The table is at the Cyprus College of Art in Lemba. It sits outside in the courtyard and has been there for many years, since before I started going there in 2003. I guess that Stass Paraskos would have made it, or perhaps his assistant. It has seen better days and is pretty battered but you can see that it never was a pristine table. A functional work bench perhaps or made as a pedestal from whatever wood happened to be lying around. The table itself is of interest in its form and history, but it also represents my Cyprus experience, and the draw of that college in that country. Over there things are often made quite ramshackle and knocked together with a temporary permanence, with much more of the hand made in day to day life – from carved road signs welcoming you to the villages, to painted signs for bars and restaurants. I like the charm of that, and the effort (or lack of) that goes into producing that stuff. I would say for me it represents a great connection between art and life.
Marcus Cope is an artist based in London and one of the founders of the Marmite Prize.
Diana Copperwhite is an artist based in Dublin and New York, and a part-time lecturer at NCAD.