Helen O’Leary in conversation with Diana Copperwhite

Helen O'Leary, Quarantine 2, 2015, 7' x 12'

Helen O’Leary, Quarantine 2, 2015, 7′ x 12′

Diana Copperwhite   Could you talk a little about the day-to-day process of working in the studio?

Helen O’Leary   I work every day and prefer like most artists long days unpunctuated by anything else. I keep distractions to the bare minimum; the dog, coffee, and the radio are all the visitors I need. I start by tidying, putting things in an order of sorts, moving things around, picking at things. I try to do the real finicky stuff as early as possible when I’m alert; the physical building takes a lot of focus. Getting ready to paint takes time, I use pigments, eggs, grounds, so there is a lot of prep work. I start most days with a healthy unravelling and dismantling of things I’m not happy with, and try to put a bit of order on the studio. At night as I finish, I like to make a list as I leave of things I will get to in the morning, or to finish with a job that needs drying time. I use egg tempera, so it takes a lot of layers to get the right colour. I have a live work space, which is how I prefer it to be as I’m always leaving things to ‘settle’ or dry and I can go out to the studio at all hours of the night to switch off a pot of glue, or put another layer of ground on. I don’t like a division between my domestic life and that of the studio.

Helen O'Leary, Quarantine detail, 7' x 12', wood, egg oil emulsion. 2015

Helen O’Leary, Quarantine detail, 7′ x 12′, wood, egg oil emulsion. 2015

DC    You talk about your cultural roots and what it was like for you growing up, so is there a link between that and your current practice?

HO’L  The economy of little turned into a lot in my early life has influenced me; leisure was squashed into work so trying to find fun in work was a normal thing. I think about the rhythm of working the farm as a child and the delight that was found in labour and its avoidance, play seemed stolen or squashed in. There was an innocence and curiosity in the physical world of the world of the farm that I find again and again in the studio. It was a time with little use for sentimentality, where pragmatism and lyricism was hand in hand. I try to keep that alive in the studio and life.

The objects that surrounded me as a child told the story of people who farmed the land where I grew up, we had no photos of them but instead we had a wealth of objects that held our history, carved granite feeding troughs, floors that with packed with cobbled stones in geometric patterns, a straight line of a lane was cut through the fields to the new road by my father with a shovel, stones piled into uneasy but sturdy fences, and more suspect objects such as a holy well, and a devils track in the bottom of the strand field. The farm held our place in the world, past and present in much the same way as my studio holds mine now. My father made boats, lobster pots and nets when he wasnt down the land after cattle. Days were long and divided into different kind of work. Bits of trees and timber were bent into boats at the side of the house. We always had a bolt of canvas on the feed loft, and each spring we would watch his sails in the regatta as tiny triangles on the horizon line. There was always a job on the go, things ready to do, and it gave me a real sense of materiality.

Helen O'Leary, Quarantine, detail, 2015

Helen O’Leary, Quarantine, detail, 2015

It was I suppose pre -industrial, and it ended abruptly with a collision of events over a couple of years. A tornado, rare enough in Wexford, hit the farm, two years later the new television antenna got hit by lightening and the thatch caught fire. The fire brigade was called and turned the hoses on it. It was a mud house and it pretty much washed away in front of us. (As a child I imagined Tarzan burnt our house down). And a couple of years later my father died. We were suddenly and with little warning or warmth in a cold new world of modernity.

Helen O'Leary, Delicate negotiations geometry group

Helen O’Leary, Delicate negotiations geometry group

DC    How do you relate that to the painting world now?

HO’L I’m very aware of the collision between the old and new, destruction and rebuilding are very much a part of my practice. I think of how people construct lives and I construct paintings with awareness of the failures and foibles that are part and parcel of being alive. Painting is a language, we push it forward to keep it going, but I’m always aware of its history as I work. The farm was littered with functional objects with great familial meaning. I think of that a lot, of things that have a function but the meaning has been skewed or changed.

Helen O'Leary, Delicate negotiations, blue, (back view)

Helen O’Leary, Delicate negotiations, blue, (back view)

A well-meaning tourist once sent us Frisbees from America; I remember the excitement of opening the parcel as if it were yesterday. We thought they has sent us a set of highly coloured neon plastic lids, a little useless but we ended up feeding the cats out of them in the cow house. I still remember the laughter and embarrassment when another tourist picked them up and showed us how to use them. I like that slippage of meaning, from one generation or culture to another, and it’s something I now welcome in the studio.

I learned defiance and gentleness from my mother, I remember sitting in a feminist studies class in Chicago Art Institute, and realized that I had learned it all first hand while keeping the farm afloat with her and my sisters as a child.

Helen O'Leary, Efficiency of love 2014-15, egg, oil on constructed wood, 66

Helen O’Leary, Efficiency of love 2014-15, egg, oil on constructed wood, 66″ X 54″

Helen O'Leary, Delicate negotiations, 2014-15, egg, oil on constructed wood, sizes vary

Helen O’Leary, Delicate negotiations, 2014-15, egg, oil on constructed wood, sizes vary

DC    What are your influences in the broad sense of the word?

HO’L   I’m interested in thwarted gestures, of how people speak despite being silenced – of reused and re purposed language. Resilience, defiance and fortitude seemed even more important to me as I head into the uncharted territory of middle age. A few years ago I spent a while in Paris and found myself triangulating between Brancusi’s studio outside of the Pompidou, Raft of the Medusa in the Louvre, and the Museum of War. I had a well-worn path worn to all three by the time I left. The Museum of War was and still is a real favourite, especially the armour section and its collection of ‘failed’ armour, with cannon ball holes in the chest. Painting is a language that is well able to take a few hits, and can gather itself up stronger and taller, and keeps on speaking.

Helen O'Leary, Geometry of home

Helen O’Leary, Geometry of home

DC  Is subversion of closure important for the work?

HO’L    I need the work to make me laugh while I’m making it. Keeping things on a wobble, never settling completely is important to me. My earlier work was a series of large ‘abstract’ paintings in the 80’s, which was a collection of offs and ends from the studio floor. These paintings took on the appearance of abstract paintings; I was interested in earnest paintings of their kind, tired third generation abstract expressionist paintings, but I wanted to make paintings through the trials and errors of making. I thought about them as making do with the left over small efforts, compared to the certainty present in the language of other kinds of painting.

In recent work, the same preoccupation is present; I nod to minimalism and to the language of modernism while accumulating the odds and ends of my attempts to speak. I’m thinking of a more catholic sort of minimalism though.

I also think of the multiple ways of using or seeing an object, of re-doing something that already exists in another form in the language of painting. I gather up everything; nothing is ever wasted. I collect the ends of the sticks or paint, or jars, and they in turn become the next accumulated gesture.

Helen O'Leary, Delicate negotiations, portrait, 2014-15. egg, oil on constructed wood. 65

Helen O’Leary, Delicate negotiations, portrait, 2014-15. egg, oil on constructed wood. 65″ x 54″

DC   Do you think there’s been a shift in your process recently?

What’s next for you? You are the inaugural recipient of the Joan Mitchell Artist-in-Residency Award amongst other things!

HO’L    I’m expanding the materiality of the work, and using wood and lots of joinery, I’ve put metal aside for now until my arm recovers. I’m really trying to explore surface, egg, encaustic, fresco, silver point; it’s all up for grabs. I’m also looking for even more compactness and frugality in the finished piece. I’m always on the lookout for old techniques of painting, and new things to fold into painting.

I will be at the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New Orleans in November, I’m really looking forward to it, Joan Mitchell was a big influence on me as a young painter, and it is a real honour to be invited to the residency. The studios are amazing; it will be good to see the work out of my jammed Bushwick studio.

In December I have a booth at Pulse Miami with Lesley Heller.

My show at the MAC Belfast opens in February, its a great space, I can’t wait to spread out there. I am in the process of making one of the biggest paintings that I have done to date. I want to make a painting that is self-supportive, and can fall in on itself. I’m building it in bits that will hopefully all lock together.

I have a show at Fenderesky, Belfast sometime in the late spring, and then a rest.

Helen O'Leary, Refusal, 2010-13, wood, metal, ceramic, gold, linen, detail from 30

Helen O’Leary, Refusal, 2010-13, wood, metal, ceramic, gold, linen, detail from 30″ x 12″

Helen O’Leary is currently a Professor of Art at Penn State University. Recently she has been a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her show Delicate Negotiations has just closed at the Leslie Heller Workspace, 54 Orchard Street, New York.

Diana Copperwhite is an artist living in Dublin and is on the lecturing staff in the Painting Department, NCAD.

The conversation took place in New York, summer 2015. Photographs by Eva O’Leary

Pat Byrne – MFA Graduate, 2015

Pat Byrne, 2015, 'The New Baal Fires', Oil on canvas, 57x40cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, ‘The New Baal Fires’, Oil on canvas, 57x40cm

My practice explores superstitions and folklore. Superstitions have always held a core place in Irish culture but as time progresses the mischievous and malevolent spirits that once occupied the spoken word and imagination are being forgotten only to be seen as figures of parody.

Pat Byrne, 2015 'Industrious', Oil on Canvas, 41x31cm

Pat Byrne, 2015 ‘Industrious’, Oil on Canvas, 41x31cm

I take mythological humanoids and fairies and attempt to portray them in a more realistic and contemporary fashion, wanting to render them as somebody who could possibly pass us by on the street giving them invisibility through their normality. This is achieved by depicting them in everyday, casual attire such as hoodies and tracksuits, clothes surrounded with misperceptions of shady character that serve to amplify their reputations as tricksters. I work very figuratively because it creates an interesting contradiction to the make believe subject matter of the paintings.

Pat Byrne, 2014, 'Now, Look Around', Oil on Canvas, 21x17cm

Pat Byrne, 2014, ‘Now, Look Around’, Oil on Canvas, 21x17cm

I’m interested in how we rationalise events that could be the results of otherworldly actions with an explanation due to a lack of belief, a refusal to believe or possibly to keep this supernatural spectrum secret. Using this lack of fear towards fairy folk combined with the clothing is something that I use to reflect the contemporary human condition. Leprechauns are no longer needed to mend shoes and nor are banshees an omen of death, these characters of superstition are effectively unemployed.

Pat Byrne, 2015, 'One Who Holds November Sacred', Oil on Canvas, 38x28cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, ‘One Who Holds November Sacred’, Oil on Canvas, 38x28cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, 'Masquerading', Oil on Canvas, 25cm x 18cm,

Pat Byrne, 2015, ‘Masquerading’, Oil on Canvas, 25cm x 18cm,

In order for the light and shadows to fall as accurately as possible and heighten the level of realism I build props that are added as prosthetics such as an oversized clover for the leprechaun or horns for the pooka. All of this has inadvertently given the early stages of each painting an element of theatricality.

Pat Byrne, 2015 'Leaves', Oil on Canvas, 55x35cm

Pat Byrne, 2015 ‘Leaves’, Oil on Canvas, 55x35cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, 'Half in the World of Form', Oil on Canvas, 55x35cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, ‘Half in the World of Form’, Oil on Canvas, 55x35cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, 'The Result of Solitude', Oil on Canvas, 36x25cm

Pat Byrne, 2015, ‘The Result of Solitude’, Oil on Canvas, 36x25cm

Stranger Shores

Article by Michael Hill:

Stranger Shores is an exhibition taking place at the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast, from May 21 to June 26, 2015. Curated by Peter Burns, it includes a total of thirty-nine paintings by John Albert Duigenan, Aileen Murphy, Sheila Rennick, and Burns himself. The many paintings, in a range of sizes and variety of media, depict myriad peculiar people, plants, visions, and environments in an extraordinary and vivid manner. Even the more commonplace characters seem to find themselves in compromising or stimulating scenarios. Despite the encyclopaedic diversity of the works in this exhibition, the four artists share a great sensitivity towards their subject matter and a most direct approach to confronting it. Some further observations are offered below:

Ancient Times, Oil on Canvas, Peter Burns

Ancient Times, Oil on Canvas, Peter Burns

“The colossal eye of a prehistoric lizard takes in a barren volcanic landscape during Ancient Times. His tongue flicks through the sulfuric air to the edge of the canvas. A tiny and unlikely hero reaches to pierce the beast’s throat with his lance – or perhaps it is a reluctant painter reaching with a giant brush to complete his menacing creation. In the background of the scene, lava and semen erupt violently towards a suspended vulva in an urgent race to propagate life in this primordial dawn.

Flower, Acrylic on Canvas, John Albert Duigenan

Flower, Acrylic on Canvas, John Albert Duigenan

A curtain of canvas is drawn back and hooked over the top of the stretcher, revealing a tottering monstrosity lurching forth from a cloud of talcum powder like Joseph Merrick uncovered to the world at a penny gaff show on the Whitechapel Road. Paint dribbles towards the base of the picture like sticky boiled sweets spat out by the Toddler.

Rose, oil on board, Aileen Murphy

Rose, oil on board, Aileen Murphy

A series of pensive felines peer across the gallery; their ears pricked forward inquisitivly at their chaotic neighbours. Shhhhhhhh. Their tightly curled bodies are wound up and ready to pounce or scram in an instant. The cats’ senses are attuned to the chemical substances permeating the air; pheromones surrounding them and painted in electric colours. Their hackles rise as they become acutely aware of every change in scent, heat or movement.

Rose and Mary’s Cat will remain perturbed by the sex and surrealism around them but tricolor Tom Cat reclines, head and tail out of the frame, as his pink penis protrudes from his body. Have you heard the way the cats yowl at night in the car park across the road from the gallery?

Some fruits and flowers also have barbed tips and prickly skin to ward away prying hands and insects but others welcome curious fingers and proboscises.

Megabats are frugivorous and nectarivorous. They either have sharp teeth to pierce hard fruit skins or long tongues that are inserted deep into a flower, collecting pollen on the way, which is then transferred to the next blossom. Cross-pollination allows the flora to reproduce, and hybrid strains of a species to emerge.

Some plants expel toxic fumes into the air or sweet perfumed flurries; others purify their atmosphere. The NASA Clean Air Study demonstrates that certain common household plants naturally remove toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air helping to counteract the effects of sick building syndrome.

A Teacher checks his txts before class starts. New Message. 3Message. To restore 3 data services, please access your device settings. <Messages. Edit. Delete. He glances up and catches his own gaze in the staffroom mirror. Camera. Click. He stares blankly at his own self-portrait on the tiny greasy screen. He doesn’t notice the jizzing cocks and bulbous tits graffitied on the wall behind him. The biology students have done their homework.

Schoolboys in Wolves Clothes, Oil on Canvas, Sheila Rennick

Schoolboys in Wolves Clothes, Oil on Canvas, Sheila Rennick

In the classroom a protractor spins across one of the desks as a boy lurches back in his seat. Some of his fellow classmates look on or away in dismay. A pack of lads with wolf carcasses draped over their heads point their fingers at the startled teen. His face has morphed into that of a soured Guanajuato mummy. They pull their triggers. A simple sketch of a sunrise or utopian domed sanctuary drifts to the floor.

At the top of a candy-coloured precipice, a lone figure surveys a barren but beautiful landscape. Reminiscent of the Huangshan UNESCO World Heritage Site following a cataclysmic disaster, the nuclear scorched peaks with sparse unnatural foliage reach to the heavens. The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is revealed to be American television and social media personality, Kim Kardashian. She clutches the shrunken head of her husband, rapper and entrepreneur, Kanye West. It is hard to imagine why she has undertaken this perilous journey and how she will survive in this newly emerging world.

Yesterday’s seductress Salome sits above her table like a disinterested Sheela na gig. A silver platter rests before her but rather than the head of a decapitated prophet, the small kitten on the scarlet table cloth next to her sniffs a rock-pool of baptised shellfish.

A fried egg plummets through the blackness of space towards a copulating couple within the screen of a tiny television. The aerial is tuned to the correct frequency and it takes a second to realise that it is the bed shuddering and not the transmitted image. But it’s not going to happen tonight. An egg needs to be fertilised and incubated before a world can be created, before life can emerge, before an eye can open.”

Michael Hill, June 2015

Posted by Kristina Huxley

Anne Marie Webb

Anne Marie Webb

Anne Marie Webb

Ann Marie Webb graduated in 2014 from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin with an MFA in Painting. She draws inspiration from Baroque theatre and explores identity by obscuring the human figure in a web of abstracted, gestural strokes. Ann Marie received the Peter O’Kane award from the Royal Dublin Society and was shortlisted for the Most Promising Graduate award at the Talbot Gallery, Dublin. She has participated in several group and solo shows across Ireland, including RHA Dublin and RDS Student Awards, and her work is held in private collections in the UK and Europe. 

Anne Marie Webb, Drummer, oil on canvas

Anne Marie Webb, Drummer, oil on canvas

Posted by Robert Armstrong

Brian Maguire: High Wire Act

Brian Maguire, installation Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, NY

Brian Maguire, installation Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, NY

Despite the horrific depictions of body parts, severed heads, statues and perhaps most creepy of all a huge cache of dollar bills, the monumental new paintings in The absence of justice demands this act at the new Fergus McCaffrey Gallery in Chelsea, NY have a strange compelling beauty.

Comparable in scale to Goya’s The Second Of May (1808), Brian Maguire’s paintings tell the story of the contemporary Mexican drug wars around the city of Juárez – the murder capital of the world – where more than 5,000 people have been butchered by drug cartels over the past six years. Maguire has worked regularly in the area painting portraits of victims and trying to find humanity in the wake of continuous tragedy. His documentary film Blood Rising, co-produced by Mark McLoughlin and Brian Maguire, which details the murder of 1400 young women in Juárez and Maguire’s engagement with that situation, is included in the exhibition.

Brian Maguire, Nature Morte (4), 2014

Brian Maguire, Nature Morte (4), 2014

Writing about the film, Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian of London has observed, “Narrators of stories of this kind, if they care, have a fear of exploiting grief as they walk the high wire between narrative and voyeurism.” While the paintings deal directly with images of horror, the effect is not sensational or overtly shocking. Stylistically Maguire is of a generation sympathetic to expressionist gestures, but this work takes its time and disarms with an almost lyrical approach. It uses paint’s ability to render humanity via flesh tones, and in a simple depiction of blue jeans, invites the viewer to connect with the headless victim. In another painting of mangled bodies bathed in a yellow light, the composition suggests an altarpiece, but where the religious icon might be expected, we find instead a container for formaldyhide. The paintings are operating on a high wire, not only as depictions of extraordinary content, but also in the inherent appeal of painting itself, as it operates in Maguire’s work in the realm between the ugly and the beautiful.

Brian Maguire – Police Graduation (Juarez), 2014

Brian Maguire – Police Graduation (Juarez), 2014

Brian Maguire, installation Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, NY

Brian Maguire, installation Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, NY

Brian Maguire, installation Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, NY

Brian Maguire, installation Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, NY

Posted by Robert Armstrong

Aisling Ní Chlaonadh | John Busher – Transferrals


Aisling Ní Chlaonadh

Aisling Ní Chlaonadh, ‘Bubbleswatch 2’, acrylic on board, 2014.

aisling transferrals4 (2)

John Busher, 'Sunburn , (9pm), oil on canvas, 2014

John Busher, ‘Sunburn (9pm)’, oil on canvas, 2014

john busher install


Aisling Ní Chlaonadh and John Busher, two Art in the Contemporary World students at NCAD recently showed their work in the Project Space at Pallas Projects/Studios. The accompanying text describes: ‘Transferrals is a reference to the unknown, how this is marked with both uneasiness and hesitation. Both practices of John and Aisling share a mutual concern in relation to painting within a contemporary context. This ranges from preoccupations that question the role of photography within contemporary painting discourse, to the exploration of phenomenological interests that inform their practice.’

Aisling Ní Chlaonadh’s website can be found here.

John Busher’s website can be found here.

Posted by Kristina Huxley

Diana Copperwhite – Shadowlands

Diana Copperwhite, Green Portrait, 2014, oil on canvas. 30x25 cms

Diana Copperwhite, Green Portrait, 2014, oil on canvas. 30×25 cms

Shadowland is the title of the exhibition by Diana Copperwhite currently on show at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel in New York.

Writing about her work Colm Toibin says:

Her work is about painting first and foremost; [these] references merely serve a purpose.  Thus digital images, which freeze and fragment an original image fascinate her, but such images in themselves are not enough, they provide a way into the painting.  It is their visuality, which inspires rather than any precise sense of a blurred or fragmented reality.  Because she physically likes making paintings, everything is subservient to what paint will achieve.”

Diana Copperwhite, Atomic, 2014, oil on canvas. 180x175 cms

Diana Copperwhite, Atomic, 2014, oil on canvas. 180×175 cms

Copperwhite makes paintings that move fluidly between representation and abstraction. Photographs, montage and assemblage all aid the process and become ancillary works that pin down fleeting thoughts, glimpses and reactions to a media saturated age.  Her interests and sources are eclectic and wide ranging, from social media to philosophical debate to art historical references.  Yet, as Toibin points out, her paintings are no more about the image than they are about the process of painting itself.  Her work is phenomenological in that momentarily emotional responses override the need to capture reality.  Something has piqued her interest and from that initial interest she thinks in colour, in tone, and texture, in setting herself a visual problem to which there is no single definitive solution.  Her palette is composed of murky undertones punctuated by bright neon rifts. The fluidity and expressiveness of the painting gives little hint of the rigorous and formal abstract principles applied to the making.

Diana Copperwhite, 3  paintings at 352 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel

Diana Copperwhite, 3 paintings at 352 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel

Amelia Stein and Mick O'Dea at the exhibition

Amelia Stein and Mick O’Dea at the exhibition

Diana Copperwhite, Sideways, 2014, oil on canvas, 44x44 cms

Diana Copperwhite, Sideways, 2014, oil on canvas, 44×44 cms

Posted by Robert Armstrong