Perpetual questions, repetitive questions, necessary questions? The simple task of considering what is important about an artwork or particular set of artworks,, what sets them apart, what is the intangible or unseeable, the thing within the work that makes it special? It is often the task of the artist, to examine and explore these questions, within their own work and/or in relation to work which excites or inspires them. What is it, specifically that sets it apart and attracts the individual to it or makes it that much more relevant?
On examining work and artists that you would consider to be of the modern era, which for the sake of this particular conversation could be defined as those who really came to be recognised after the development of photography in the mid to late 1800s, it is easy enough to draw the conclusion that thus called “modern” art came from the circumstance wherein artists contemporary to that time felt free to represent the expression of a freedom which they found when unshackled from being the visual documentarians of their age. Whilst this could be considered a rather substantial generalisation, lumping artists together as if they co-existed en mass like a penguin colony huddling for warmth, there is, however, a light sprinkling of truth in this generalisation, more so, if you consider it a colony of creative critical thinking, not really a hive mind, but certainly a collective of interwoven contemporary thought. Therefore, there certainly could be an argument that, on a more subliminal level this was more specifically to the case, and that as a sort of overall conclusion based on a selection of circumstantial evidence framed within the basic thinking that society, at a given time would have elements within whose thinking is at a similar enough point in evolution that it could be considered to be related, however tentatively.
For me, at this point in this conversation, and out of a kind of necessity for the purpose of setting the tone of what I am currently examining, there is a certain convenience is considering the juxtaposition of the development of photography and the apparent unshackling of the contemporary artist as somewhat related, and whilst there were certainly artists who didn’t fit into the pure representationalist idea of painting prior to the advent of photography, they seem, rather, the maverick exceptions, even seemingly outlandish creators such as Hieronymus Bosch were examining subjects which at the time would have been very much considered to be completely real.
In this, very casual explosion, of new modes of expression explored in the years straddling the dawning of the 20th century there certainly would appear to have been a great desire to step beyond…
Considering this period and what developed, with remarkable vigour, especially in the shadow of substantial international and political turmoil, over what, historically could be considered a relatively brief period, it would seem to be that artists appeared to be willing to, or indeed be hungry to examine a variety of interesting concept, wherein they started to look at that which they subtract, avoid, ignore or leave out rather that the inclusive documentation previously the domain of their mode of visual media. And it is these wilful voids and spaces which I have come to be fascinated with, and have given considerable thought to. So, if this all really falls under the idea of abstraction, the idea of that which is not necessary or not present having, at least, equal significance to the stroke/.scratch/smudge/line, then, for me, that’s edging towards the truer identity, the absence, the suggestion rather than description, the question rather than the reply. It is when you start to examine the possible reasoning for the simple, the basic, the unresolved that the true identity has the potential to emerge.
Perhaps this is the learning, the reason that it is oft considered that a true painter reaches their peak towards their twilight, finally unshackled, and disinclined to formality, they open up like some rare flowering cactus, or impulse-frenzied salmon, in a burst of pure expression. Is it perhaps at that point, that they realise how much there is that can be left out, how finally they can ignore so much and simply do, maybe even, how there is no longer the time for the apparently frivolous.
It was only when I felt that these omissions and absences were significant that I was able to make sense of what I was looking at, for instance, viewing, with a fortunate abundance of time, work by artists like Patrick Graham. When I got to view Patricks solo show, Lullaby in Luan, Athlone in 2016, I really felt that I got to look into the spaces in his work, at what he felt he didn’t need to express or overtly render on the canvas/paper and how, the power to communicate wasn’t diminished by these voids in expression, not physical absences of paint or line, but rather a more succinct sense of the desire to simply let a certain space be. And, I think this is the true nature of the idea of abstraction, perhaps in an obvious way, but still, one, that when recognised, can draw sense from something that is often readily dismissed as nonsensical or indeed (worse still for an artist) irrelevant. I recently heard art historian/curator Kate Bryan, whilst she discussed Kandinskys “Last Judgement” painting, express that she felt that abstract art is something of, in her opinion, a misnomer and that perhaps it would be better classified as non-figurative, however, I feel that this, in itself, doesn’t really reach far enough into the idea of abstraction, and misses some of the point. For me abstraction is about removal, trimming, streamlining, sometimes to the detriment, but often to the point of pure clarity. It removes the fear, the noise, the argument, the clash, placing the beingness of the subject as central. It is the final stance which says not “look what I can do”, but rather is states, “look what is”. And this, in consideration of its concurrence with the development of photographic documentation, seems to be the heart, wherein one can examine the whole arc of the idea of the artist as storyteller and realise that a novel, or poem or painting, doesn’t necessarily (as modern photography has also found) have to describe ever grain, leaf, line, tone of the whole in order to create a narrative which begets reasonable understanding and insight.
one of the more interesting things I regularly peruse is collaboration with other artists…. as a musician this is, of course, a fundamental, but also working with film makers, poets and other visual artists is interesting, challenging and rewarding…I’m aware, from practice, that it doesn’t suit everyone, but the very act of entering into someone else’s sphere of practice can be educational and almost always leads to an examination of new thinking….
Often art is a somewhat lonely persuit, so getting involved in these other processes of though can enlighten and lead you on to examining your own methodologies,.. and no matter how lacking in physical results (though generally, they are positive) the exercise might seem, it’s highly likely that you will learn something somewhere in the adventure that will certainly illuminate your creative path…
As I’ve said, I’ve been looking at changing things in my art practice. It really felt important, and necessary…. I’d often gotten to a point where I feared I’d just run around in circles, or indeed, get bored with what I was doing or just feel that it wasn’t exciting enough… just one of those things, when you’re sitting somewhere, looking at or merely thinking about what’s happening, and you just think…. this is shite and pointless… so then it’s time to make some sort change…, I kinda feel, if you’re doing the same thing a few years down the road, then you’re doing nothing….
So I hit a landmark birthday, I felt it, it didn’t slip by, it was like a big old train steaming through… I looked out of its window, and I desired that fresh view. This was great, I actually felt that it was a good time to change, to reevaluate…
So I decided, on one hand and it kind of happened on the other, but change was engendered. I didn’t want to keep approaching my practice in the same way, I wanted to reexamine…. everything about how I was painting, drawing, printing, I wanted to look at, and not waste time with it…. and this was very interesting, because it made perfect sense to me.
I’ve been peeling back, chipping away, scrubbing ideas and, when it comes down to it, trying to make everything new and fresh, challenging myself, a new approach, and to be honest, it’s great, and fun, and finally, today, I got stuck into some new work, and it’s joyous…..
It’s fun, sometimes, to consider the secrets paintings and their subjects contain. I enjoy it, even with my own pieces… to think, to consider, what might be going on.
This idea, is part of the dialog between artist and audience, an invitation for consideration….
I sometimes find, that perhaps unintentionally, I have presented an image with a degree of ambiguity or indeed a sense that even I, as the artist, may be unsure… and that’s okay, because, I do feel that, as part of the conversation, the viewer must be comfortable with their own ideas and/or interptritation, rather than just have the work dictate too distinctly..
When a member of the audience for Re:Collect wrote that looking at my works was like looking at themselves, I truly felt it had achieved much more than I could have hoped… and that’s the thing, artists must allow the viewer in through that crack in the door, and when they do, they allow a little more light to shine on the work…..
New work in 2017, thinking about people’s ideas for the future.. the monsters have pulled off their masks and are walking openly amongst us, there is new ugliness of heart and spirit…. the future is in danger of being fucked…. they will leave you with nothing… Your Children Will Witness This.
Well we survived 2016, the loss of our icons, the rise of the cult of men-babies, the new racism and re-normalisation of ignorance, misogyny and racism…. it was indeed a shit year, full of shit things, so we kind of need to overcome.., and as artists, we often feel a responsibility to say/do something, to think our way around these horrors.
So now, back to the easel and the colours… trying to embrace the year and the possibilities of a new year. without getting wrapped up in the negativity… so we just have to work, think, consider, create, and resist.
As an artist, I always look forward to new work, to something new emerging and that is the positivity that an artist always carry forward. And you always hope that the negativity of the current world doesn’t pollute anything you do, and to a certain extent you make better art, and perhaps, through this, shine a little more light back on the world.
You will, as an artist, be asked about your influences and who inspired you.. almost as a way of looking to see if your technique or style has a category… but it can be so much more complex…. it’s not a direct line, or evolution…. often it’s a weird spark that sets you off on a path m a person you met, a colour out of the window of a bus, a music performance you saw on top of the pops in 1973….. something you don’t remember…. a dream.
I think I as much influenced by the attitude of Bowie or The Velvet Underground as I am by the fact I saw Picassos work in books as a child.. hearing Delia Darbyshire….. seeing 2001, the crude paintings or the Children’s Bible, art teachers in school, friends I met in my teens who explored ideas in a fresh way….. I saw Sparks on the telly, I heard poetry in random places, I read books about tesseracts… it all bleeds in, and if you’re lucky it slowly rises to the surface and you make a little sense of it all….
So, our 1916 commemorative print show has opened in the Galway City Museum…. it was a fabulous experience, and the official opening speech was made by Sabina Higgins, whose husband is the President of Ireland, so, very auspicious…. all in all it was a great experience and the Museum themselves were wonderful…