Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
I make small scale oil paintings; usually depicting isolated objects of mid-century furniture and occasionally items of clothing. I employ a muted palette of earth tones and greys to create intimate works that are quiet, contemplative, and unpeopled. My starting point is an image and then a surface. The images are all found (on the internet), they are selected for their compositional values and their palette as much as the object they depict. While I don’t make photo realist paintings, I never stray too far from the original image either. My practice is one of documentation, not invention, and so it is important that the found image is “correct” and able to convey my formal concerns before I begin painting.
The surfaces are meticulously prepared, sometimes stretched calico or canvas and other times panels, layered with gesso, sometimes a combination of the two, with canvas or calico stretched over panels. Each of these surfaces require different approaches when painting, and each enables the pursuit of different results. The surfaces are always still discernible in the concluded paintings to some degree.
Each painting goes through a process of layered paint application and then paint removal, then re-application, and so on. Mistake making, and correction are an integral part of the process. These painted layers are often opposing in their process of making and execution. I will spend time measuring and rendering considered and precise painting and then use rags and sandpaper to disturb the surface and challenge and disrupt that precision.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
My parents. My Dad in particular. They never thought it unusual that I wanted to be an artist. Both my parents have always been enthusiastically supportive and encouraging of my arts practice and that has been hugely influential.
When I began art school, the painter Sean Scully, played a very simple but crucial role in my progression as an artist. While watching an interview with him, he talked about art and painting in an intellectual way through a thick, working class, Irish accent. That one experience turned my entire perception of myself and my own potential on its head. It allowed me to be comfortable with the idea of learning and improving myself intellectually and artistically, through engagement with the arts, and to understand it as an achievable and legitimate pursuit.
Later in my practice, I discovered the writings of installation artist Annette Messager. Her writings became pivotal to my understanding of what I was doing as an artist. I’m not an inventor of things or of images, I collect images that already exist, I sort through them and reformulate them as paintings. I draw attention to these images and put them before a different audience, in a different environment, through a different medium and for a different purpose. That is how I define my role as a painter, and it was Messager’s writings that led me to that understanding of what I am doing.
Your paintings feature interiors and furniture that are devoid of human presence, and the detritus of human existence, can you talk further about why this is so important to your works?
First and foremost, my works are simple studies of objects of furniture, depictions of them. That is intrinsically important to their conception. It’s a place for me to discuss my love of modernist furniture and interior design. I’m forever drawn to interior spaces and furniture because of their unapologetic and relentless simplicity, their functionality, and their formality.
I would disagree however, that the paintings are “devoid of human presence”. There is a human history behind these objects, and I think it is present in the paintings even if the human form is not pictorially present.
The normal traces of, and the detritus of, existence are removed or were never in the original photographs I work from (I use a lot of eBay photographs, so often the objects are deliberately presented isolated and devoid of detritus). That is a deliberate strategy on my part. There is a messiness to life, to human existence, relationships, and actions, which I find troublesome and often distressing, an untidiness and lack of order which constantly perturbs me. I long for simplicity, for quiet, and a sense of order that is just not available in real life. My paintings are a space for me to find that.
Also, importantly, I want the paintings to behave as stage sets, onto which the viewer can project a narrative of their own imagining or remembering. The more everyday detritus and other information I include in the paintings, the more obstacles there are to the viewer’s own narrative.
Very important. Painting has an inseparable relationship with time and temporality. It is a relationship that is grounded in the activity of looking, over sustained periods of time. Oil painting especially, due to its reliance on extended drying times, and layering techniques, has an inherent slowness, which challenges and disturbs time. It’s a medium that can be considered as a radical act of defiance in a frenetic, contemporary world so enraptured with immediacy. My paintings invite the viewer to invest their time, to stand and look, in the same way as I invest my time in the manner of their making.
The subject matter also plays its part in this relationship with time. The objects I depict are misplaced within linear time, they occupy an atemporal space, they are objects from history, which act as memory triggers for viewers, and yet the source of the images is inherently contemporary.
I use a lot of tools when I paint, I think all painters do, brushes, obviously, but also my fingers, sandpaper, rulers, cotton buds, rags etc. It’s difficult to single one out as being the most important. If I removed any one of them, my paintings would not be the same.
I guess if I was forced to choose one, I couldn’t live without, it would be masking tape. I use it in a lot of different ways, including as a drawing tool. Many of the lines and edges in my paintings are not hand drawn lines but are created automatically at the edges of masked areas of paint. So, my paintings would be very different things if it were not for masking tape.
Word for Word - The writings of Annette Messager had a profound effect on my understanding of what it is that I am doing as an artist.
Likewise, although not a book, but an essay, David Joselit’s “Marking, Scoring, Storing and Speculating on Time” has been vital to my understanding of what, in my view, painting is, what it does, and why I choose to do it.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I currently have work showing in the following exhibitions: