All Welcome to the upcoming Symposium on Genre Painting in the Sybil Connolly Lecture Theatre at NCAD next Friday 19th January at 11 am.
All Welcome to the upcoming Symposium on Genre Painting in the Sybil Connolly Lecture Theatre at NCAD next Friday 19th January at 11 am.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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
Andro Wekua, from the show ‘1995’ at the Gladstone Gallery, 2010. Click here for more work by this artist.
Posted by Madeleine Moore
Hurvin Andersen, Untitled (Black Street), 2000, oil on canvas, 150 x 239 cm
Hurvin Anderson draws from his heritage as second generation Jamaican-British; the subjects of his paintings are developed from both of these cultures, overlapping his parents’ generation’s experiences with his own. This sense of something familiar yet detached is conveyed through his canvases in their dislocated sense of place and hazy interpretation of detail. Anderson works from photographs rather than actual memory, a process which further enhances his aesthetic of distance. He shows with the Thomas Dane Gallery. For more information click here.
Posted by Madeleine Moore