February 7, 2007
“My Da is an accountant and I’ve never really felt he enjoys his job, he just fell into it. The way I look at it is this - you only get one life and you're going to spend 35–40 years of it working ... it should be doing something you’re passionate about, that you love doing ... as long as I’m doing what I want and I am keeping my head above water I’ll be happy..”
(David Blackmore, February 2007).
ARTIST INTERVIEW: David Blackmore in email conversation with Nicola Murphy on Wednesday 7 February 2007.
David Blackmore will present a series of photographs entitled Detox, in Draíocht's Ground Floor Gallery starting 9 March 2007. These images were taken in various locations in Dublin and the UK. Over the past decade institutions and public sector organisations within Ireland and the UK have used blue (UV) lighting in certain areas of semi-public space where intravenous drug users have been known to frequent. His work investigates these spaces, combining technical excellence, a painterly approach to composition and an acute awareness of the interaction of architecture, public space and the people who use it. David Blackmore is a London-based Irish artist, his series Detox was shortlisted for the 2005 Next Level, Vorsprung durch Technik Photography awards and has also been published in part by Gomma Magazine. Blackmore recently had a solo exhibition at Galerie Vassie, Amsterdam and has exhibited in group shows at the ICA London, the M+R Gallery London, and Iontas, at Sligo Art Gallery.
A&E X-ray department, The Adelaide & Meath Hospital, Dublin, Eire
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from and where you live?
A: I live and work in the East end of London having moved from Dublin in 2003. I am originally from Terenure. I initially studied photography at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and I continued my studies at The University of Westminster, London. Since then I have trained as a Further Education Tutor completing a Postgraduate Education Certificate [PGCE] at Reading University.
Q: How long have you been a photographer and why choose an arty profession over a more conventional career, like being an accountant, or working in an office for instance?
A: I have been taking photographs for 10 or 11 years now, although I’m not too sure if I would say I am a photographer. My Da is an accountant and I’ve never really felt he enjoys his job, he just fell into it. The way I look at it is this - you only get one life and you're going to spend 35–40 years of it working. If you are going to spend such a large part of your life working, it should be doing something you’re passionate about, that you love doing. It may not be the most financially secure route but the way I look at it is as long as I’m doing what I want and I am keeping my head above water I’ll be happy.
Arts Block, Trinity College, Dublin, Eire
Q: Perhaps you also have a conventional day job to supplement your income as an artist and if yes does this interfere with your creativity and focus?
A: I currently work as a sessional Further Education [FE] Tutor at The University College for the Creative Arts, Surrey, UK, where I also work as an FE Photography /Audio Visual Technician. I work part time, which gives me the opportunity to get on with my own work. I am quite lucky because this work has been very flexible. Throughout my education I have seen teaching as a good way for an artist to supplement their income while allowing the flexibility to continue making work. Through my work at the University I come into contact with numerous practitioners covering all disciplines, which I find inspiring. I always have someone to show work to and get feedback from - sometimes a completely non-photographic perspective. If I want to learn how to do something new I can just ask.
When I was studying I worked at a number of Museums in London primarily the National Gallery where I met a lot of other artists, some of whom I have ended up working collaboratively with on some projects and publications. It gave me an insight into how museums work which was valuable experience.
Corridor leading form 16, The Four Courts, Dublin, Eire
Q: When did you take your first photograph and what was your subject matter?
A: I have always pressed shutters on cameras even as a kid. My Da always had a manual camera, which I used to mess round with even though I didn’t know anything about exposure or f-stops. I’m trying to remember what my first picture was. The first picture I intentionally took was most probably in Black and white of a bare autumn tree or it could have been taken at an ‘M people’ press conference at the Westbury Hotel while on work experience at The Irish Times in 1997?
Q: Has your style changed over the years and what might have influenced this change if yes?
A: I used to do a lot of biographical work which drew inspiration from Nan Golden and Wolfgang Tillmans, both in the subject matter and method of presentation. It used to be quite chaotic at times; my work now is clinical I suppose in its presentation and has a higher production value. 'Detox', my most recent body of work would share a visual language with the German school of photographic practice instigated by Bernd & Hilda Becher in Düsseldorf, but the work was also strongly influenced by installation artists James Turrell, Dan Flavin and the conceptual artist Yves Klein.
I would like to think I wouldn’t restrict myself in the production of new work by adhering to a specific style or genre. I hope my practice will evolve throughout my career. I like the idea of approaching a new body of work in a fresh manner, looking outside of the box and even breaking the box to pieces.
Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like drawing, painting or sculpting, making music, or dancing for instance?
A: When I was in school I always did art and got a kick out of it. I did a lot of drawing while at school. Then I got really in to taking photographs, not just the taking of the actual photographs but the whole process, like developing the film in the bathroom and making prints in the darkroom. I was really drawn to the photographic medium initially because of its perceived relationship to reality. I would like to become more skilled in other mediums in the future, which is the good thing about working in education because not only do I have access to the facilities but I also have experienced practitioners to show me the ropes and answer questions. At present I am planning on making some sculpted surfaces and photographing them, but its early days yet.
Holding cells, Rathfarnham Garda station, Dublin, Eire
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
A: I feel privileged to have studied with so many genuine and talented people at IADT. We still are a close-knit group even though we now live all over Europe. They are a constant source of inspiration and support ... I am sure that most people who studied photography at IADT would say that David Farrell was and still is a source of inspiration.
In terms of artists working with photography, Hannah Starkey, Edgar Martins, and Dan Holdsworth would be of particular interest to me. Apart from artists working primarily with the photographic medium I am also drawn to installation artists working with light such as James Turrell and Dan Flavin. Edward Hopper the American painter has been a big influence as has Yves Klein and Mark Rothko.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?
A: I like to be kept busy - it serves as a distraction to problems sometimes. However going travelling I find really recharges the batteries and gets the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes I just need to completely remove myself from the situation - go for a wander, have a coffee or visit friends. I find family and friends have a great
knack of bringing me back down to earth and relaxing.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work etc?
A: I was discussing this recently with a teaching colleague of mine in the UK. The creative side of things doesn’t take anywhere near as long in comparison to the amount of time putting together proposals for funding, submissions for publications and research relevant opportunities.
At first I found it difficult primarily because it’s not something that Colleges and University’s prepare students for [at least when I was studying]. What I mean by that is I hadn’t a clue how much to charge for a days work as an artist, how to draw up a contract or how to put together a proposal for funding or a commission. Luckily there are a number of organisations both here in Ireland and in the Uk such as Visual Artists Ireland and a-N in the UK, which offer advice on these issues. At first the business side of things and promoting your work can feel a bit removed from the original intention, but it is something that I have come to realise is part and parcel of contemporary art practice. Artists from my experience are usually quite savvy when it comes to the business side of things, as most self-employed individuals have to be.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your forthcoming exhibition in Draíocht ‘Detox’? How did the exhibition come about and can you describe the work a little?
A: I was contacted by Carissa Farrell the Visual Arts Officer in Draíocht just over a year ago. She had seen some of my previous work in the Iontas 2003 catalogue and asked me to send her some more work. We were in correspondence intermittently throughout the year and we met up last autumn when I was back in Dublin.
I was working on ‘Detox’ from 2003-2005. I was initially attracted to the vividness of the blue lighting without really knowing why the light was used. Through research I found that the lights are used to deter intravenous drug use, usually within public toilets, specific spaces in which habitual users have been known to frequent. The reasoning behind their use is that under blue light it is difficult to find a vein. Veins being a blue/green colour do not appear visible to the eye under such conditions therefore restricting intravenous drug use within these spaces.
‘Detox’ deals with the stark contrast that exists between this arresting colour and the functional purpose of its installation in pubic spaces. The work enters into a discourse surrounding addiction and the control of the state and semi-public organisations. Heroin, along with crack cocaine above all other substances, seem to possess such power over the individuals concerned. For me each light, apart from performing a desired function, stands as a form of vigil light in the same way a lighthouse warns approaching ships.
Q: Do you have any advice you could give to an artist just starting out?
A: ‘There is nothing more common than unsuccessful people with talent; leave the house before you find something worth staying in for.” Bansky.
I like this quote because you have to be dedicated and persevere. There are so many people doing what you are that if you stop to think about the sheer volume of people competing, it can stump you. Most importantly you have to enjoy it. I am sure that most artists / creative individuals would agree that it‘s not just a career, it’s a way of life; cliché perhaps, but when you are passionate about something it seeps into every aspect of your existence.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Ideally I will be working largely on my own work supplementing my income through teaching and architectural/editorial photography.
Q: What are your interests and hobbies outside of photography?
A: Socialising with friends and family, going to exhibitions, music, travelling and yoga.
David Blackmore is represented by Gallery Vassie [Formerly The Hug Gallery for International Photography] Amsterdam .
David Blackmore's exhibition ‘Detox’, will be in Draíocht’s Ground Floor Gallery from 9 March to 21 April 2007.
For further information about this or any exhibition in Draíocht, please contact: Visual Arts Officer, Draíocht / Tel: 01-8098026
For Marketing or Press information please contact: Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht Tel: 01-8098021
September 28, 2006
Q&A with Hilda Fay and Nicola Murphy, Draíocht's Marketing Manager / 28 September 2006
Hilda Fay joins Twink and Anne Charleston in 'The Vagina Monologues' next week in Draíocht (3-7 October 2006).
Q: What inspired you to become an actress?
It was always something I have been involved in since I was a child. Probably working with Maureen Potter when I was young inspired me too.
Q: How old were you when you got your start in acting?
I started working professionally at the age of six, and then went on to train in Trinity when I was 19.
Q: What have you enjoyed performing in the most?
Brenden Kennelly's adaptation of ‘Trojan Women’
Q: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I’d probably work in Fashion
Q: Are you a full time actor or do you have another job as well?
Q: What’s the hardest thing about being an actor?
The insecurity of not knowing if you’re going to work again.
Q: Do you have to make sacrifices in your personal life for your career?
It’s hard to plan holidays and big occasions because you have to take the work when its offered.
Q: What do you think the biggest misconception about acting is?
That it’s easy.
Q: What attracted you to ‘The Vagina Monologues’?
The comedy and of course working with Michael Scott.
Q: What can audiences expect to experience at this show?
To be fully entertained and moved.
Q: Have you had good audience reaction on the tour so far?
Amazing - people love it. The show is so much fun.
Q: Are there any other actors or actresses that you would really like to work with?
Loads - Juliette Lewis, Meryl Streep, the list goes on.
Q: Do you have a favourite film?
Q: Is there a particular character in a film or a play that you would really like to play?
Probably Nora in the ‘Plough and the Stars’.
Q: What draws you to a new project?
New, bold, dark writing.
Q: Do you still get the jitters when going to an audition?
Nerves come with the job.
Q: Have you been asked any funny questions in the street by people?
Some people ask me if I wear my own clothes in Fair City. That always give me a good laugh because Tracey’s clothes are mingen!
Q: What's the best bit of advice anyone has ever given you?
To have patience.
Q: What advice would you give to someone thinking of acting as a career?
Enrole in a good acting school.
Q: What do you like to do to un-wind and have fun?
Go surfing with my boy. And curl up with a good book.
Q: So what’s coming up next for you after 'The Vagina Monologues'?
More ‘ Fair City’ and probably a play next year.
The Vagina Monologues
City Theatre Dublin
Based on author Eve Ensler’s ‘Vagina Interviews’ conducted with women from all around the world, this hilariously witty and moving collection of tales give voice to a chorus of lusty, outrageous, poignant, brave and thoroughly human stories. A staggering number of the world’s most famous and talented women from Kate Winslet and Whoopi Goldberg, to Sophie Dahl and Jerry Hall, have chosen to take part in the show in productions in New York, Los Angeles and London. Since its debut in 1997, this show has become a unique international phenomenon, wowing enthusiastic audiences all over the world from Antartica to Zaire. In the hands of the large number of leading actresses in the show, Ensler’s words have achieved a new fusion and relevance, resulting in a theatrical experience that is funny, poignant and exhilarating but above all, presents a view of the world that is defiantly female. The Vagina Monologues is a show that deals with the politics of sex and the self, but it is primarily a show of celebration. In keeping with the show’s tradition of casting a vibrant and intriguing mix of women, the cast includes Hilda Fay (Fair City), Anne Charleston (formerly 'Madge' of Neighbours) and Adele King (Twink).
Tues 3 – Sat 7 Oct, 8pm
For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht / Tel: 01-8098021
May 1, 2006
".. When I was 9 years old I wrote a little essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote that I wanted to first become a secretary and live in a big city. Then I would meet my husband, get married, and when I was 40 years old I would become a poet ... Then at age 13 I wanted to be a scientist ...”.
Helena Hugel, May 2006
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Helena Hugel
in conversation with Anne O'Gorman in early May 2006
Puppet Making Project for Schools
To coincide with Spréacha 2006, Draíocht will be running a puppet making project in 5 local primary schools in Dublin 15: St. Mochta’s National School, Scoil an Chroi Ro Naofa Iosa, Tyrellstown Educate Together, Scoil Bride Girls NS and Mary Mother of Hope National School. Helene Hugel, puppet maker, artist and play specialist will be showing the children how to design, create and move their own puppet character over 3 days of workshops to take place in their schools. That way, when the children come to see puppets at Spréacha (12-17 June), they will understand the skill of a puppeteer from the inside-out!
Helene Hugel began her professional career as a puppeteer in 1997 as co-founder and partner of the award winning Púca Puppets where she worked as deviser, maker, performer, and facilitator. She now specialises in the dynamic field of art and health and is engaged as a puppeteer, clown doctor, and arts and health practitioner with certification in hospital play specialism.
Anne: Helene, when you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Helene: When I was 9 years old I wrote a little essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote that I wanted to first become a secretary and live in a big city. Then I would meet my husband, get married, and when I was 40 years old I would become a poet. This was all written in one essay when I was 9 years. Then at age 13 I wanted to be a scientist. I think even when I went to college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be. It changes as you grow up, I think.
Anne: And were you interested in theatre and puppets and masks as a child? Are there any clues in your childhood that you would follow this path later?
Helene: Well my mother started and led the youth theatre in my middle school (I grew up in the States). There was no youth theatre there, so mum started that; she was always really interested in youth theatre. So I suppose her interest in drama encouraged me (not that I ever got the leading parts!). And then I was always roping my twin brothers into putting on little plays with the puppets and puppet theatre that my German grandparents sent us. They came all the way from East Germany at a time when there was very little there, and we loved them and we played with them, like kids do, behind the sofa. The puppet theatre even had little curtains, and we’d pull them back, putting on little shows. I would always be saying, ‘let’s perform this, let’s perform that’, and then we would all break into giggles like kids do.
Anne: So there were clues in your childhood …
Helene: Yeah, it’s funny - it’s not something I thought I would go and do. I think it’s a lot to do with your parent’s encouragement too. My Dad was very playful; he would always be speaking to things, like things had a character, like they were alive. Our house is still full of all these strange statues or strange things that my Dad made connections with …
Anne: … And that he animated for you …
Helene: He wouldn’t necessarily make things dance around but there were particular things he’d do. I grew up on a farm and there was this one big piece of farm machinery that my Dad used to call ‘the weather machine’. He used to drive past it going to the grocery store or whatever, and he would sneak out into the field and he would turn it around to face one direction and then the other direction, so that when we passed it, it would be turned the other way and he would say “Look! The weather machine! It’s pointing the other way today kids, you know what that means – it’s going to snow tomorrow or it’s going to be sunny tomorrow”, or whatever and he’d do this regularly - sneak out and make the machine turn, little things like that.
Anne: And is that where your interest in puppets and your interest in theatre came from or is that something that developed maybe later in your childhood, or when you went to college?
Helene: While still living in the States, I applied to Trinity College in Dublin to study English literature and was accepted. Before starting in Trinity I spent a little time with an Irish friend of mine studying in the States for a year and a half. He was studying film, and it was a bit of an arty college, and I’d never really been exposed to art in that way before, as a possibility of something to do with my life, and here I was suddenly surrounded by people who were trying to make a career out of it.
Anne: What college was that?
Helene: It was just outside New York City: Suni Purchase, a state university, a particularly arty one. It was very renowned for its film programme, and I met this Irish guy and he introduced me to puppets. He would say “y’know, puppets are great, working with puppets is great” and it was like a light bulb in my head just went ‘bing’! And this whole other world just opened up to me. Unfortunately at that point, I had already made the decision to do literature, so I did go and do that. But all through college I never studied. I was always making puppets and putting on puppet shows! And the Lamberts! My Irish friend from the states said I should make contact with the Lamberts when I came to Ireland. So I did and I spent my Saturdays there and two afternoons a week there so that was like an apprenticeship in puppets!
Anne: Could you tell us about your work in hospitals, how that developed and how you got interested in that?
Helene: My father was a doctor, so I was always aware, growing up, of health and healing and being in that line of work. So when I was working on puppet shows and on the road, there was always a little thing at the back of my mind that was missing, that I couldn’t put my finger on. A couple of years ago I saw an ad where The Ark were looking for people interested in working in the area of arts and health and I thought ‘that’s it’! So I began training as a clown doctor and now spend my time working with children who are staying in hospitals. We make puppets from medical instruments and equipment that the children will see in the course of their stay in hospital and that equipment hopefully becomes much less intimidating when you’ve animated it, made a character from it and put it into a puppet show!
Anne: What is the thing you most enjoy about your work?
Helene: I like the variety and the different people and young people you get to work with and the variety of settings you get to work in – from hospitals to schools to arts centres.
Anne: Helene, thank you for your time and I’m looking forward to us getting out into schools in May, when we work with local schools on the puppetry project!
Helene: Me too!
For further information about this project or the Children & Youth Arts programme please contact: Children & Youth Arts Officer, Draíocht
Tel: 01-809 8029
For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht
April 10, 2006
'My work seeks to explore the power of the images and structures which flow incessantly towards us. The waves of signs, architecture, ads, monuments and art seem to be in limitless supply and have a heavy influence on our thinking and how we experience our world”.
Noel Brennan, April 2006
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Noel Brennan
in conversation with Nicola Murphy on Monday 10 April 2006
Through a specially commissioned installation which directly addresses the architecture of Draíocht’s ground floor gallery, Noel Brennan created his exhibition on site one week before the show opened to the public on 10 March 2006. The central force of this show is the dynamic tension that exists between the artists conceptual choices in the making of an art object and its presence within a purposely designed gallery space.
While making his work in the space Noel Brennan used the architecture of the gallery to impact the sculptural process. The show combines sculpture and photography in addition to other two-dimensional works.
Noel Brennan graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the National College of Art and Design in 2002. Previous exhibitions include, the Goethe Institute 2005, (two person show), Crawford Open 5, 2004, Artomatic/Artomatique and Gallery, 44 Belgium, 2002. He currently works at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Draíocht's Ground Floor Gallery, View 1 of Noel Brennan's Exhibition
Q: Can you explain some of the ideas behind your artworks and your practice?
A: My work seeks to explore the power of the images and structures which flow incessantly towards us. The waves of signs, architecture, ads, monuments and art seem to be in limitless supply and have a heavy influence on our thinking and how we experience our world. In Ireland we are living in a time of huge shifts in our environmental and cultural landscape. The cities and towns are expanding at an unprecedented rate, with blocks of buildings going up seemingly overnight. I often wonder how this affects us as citizens. What effect does it have on our senses, our value systems and our discernment? These are just some of the questions which drive my practice.
Q: Tell us about your current exhibition in Draíocht’s Ground Floor Gallery and talk us through some of the works?
A: The most notable features of my practice, which are particularly relevant to this current exhibition, can be broken up into three main areas of development:
1) site-specific sculptures
2) photography based works, and
3) free-standing sculptures
Noel Brennan, 'Leak'
In the construction of the large scale, site-specific sculptures ‘Shine Block’ and ‘Leak’, it is mostly 2”x 1” white deal wood which I’ve predominately used. This wood for me has a regular ‘work-a-day’ aesthetic and a common appearance. It is found in canvas stretchers and building-site carpentry. The 2”x 1” appeals to me because of the natural root contrasted with its machined shape. These sculptural constructions deal directly with the architecture of Draíocht’s Gallery space and surrounds. In working with the form, function and significance of the space the sculptures began to emerge. I painted the surfaces of the wooden lengths in a variety of colours which reference the space and surrounding environment. I’ve used paint to add a synthetic quality to the wood without obliterating its’ natural origin. The colours I’ve chosen compliment and contrast with the local ambience.
Equally, the physical construction is based on a set of relationships which balance, counterbalance and unbalance the space. The creation of dynamic tension is a central aim in the construction of the work.
Noel Brennan, 'Shine Block'
It is the production of similar tensions within the frame that constitute the main concerns in the creation of the photographic works and photo-installations.
The ongoing series Aesthetic Stick (2004-continuing) is a case in point.
The work is enacted through the use of the Aesthetic Stick which is designed as a ruler ‘to measure the degrees of beauty in everything’. The Aesthetic Stick is a hybrid of the primary colours of pigment and the primary colours of light. This ruler is held up against items or scenes of interest and then photographed. The Stick cuts through the composition of each of these photographed measurements. This initiates a set of relationships within the frame and the concept, which are humorous on one level but aggressive and autocratic just behind the surface.
And then in contrast, the free-standing sculptures do not rely upon or react directly to the architecture of the space. These sculptures offer a strong family resemblance to the architectural works yet differ in their scale and their inclusion of non-art objects, like the basin in ‘Nude reclining with tears’, and the wine glass in ‘Aerial’.
These contributing factors lead to a more human quality in these free-standing works. There is a physical dynamism strived for in these pieces. The scale and introduction of familiar objects gives the sculptures an abstracted figurative energy. This component gives me the opportunity to describe the experience of living in the fray, which is being examined in both the environmental and photographic artworks.
Noel Brennan’s exhibition They are doing something on us behind the fog
will be on view in Draíocht’s Ground Floor Gallery until 29 April 2006.
Draíocht’s Galleries are open from Monday to Saturday 10am-6pm and admission is free.
For further information about this exhibition or the Visual Arts programme please contact: Visual Arts Officer, Draíocht / Tel: 01-809 8026
For media information please contact: Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht / Tel: 01-8098021
September 5, 2005
"I never paint places in my landscapes. They are all in my head and I work them out onto the canvas.” Seán Cotter, Sept 2005.
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Seán Cotter in conversation with Nicola Murphy on Monday 5 September 2005
“Paintings and their imagery can be generated out of the act of drawing. Drawing is useful as a quick method of capturing an idea or format, for a more involved and detailed work later. This is not to dismiss drawings as simply throw away notes, for the essence of a work can sometimes be caught more dramatically within the moments it takes to create a sketch. It can be frustrating and tedious work trying to recreate that snap of drama on canvas. Sometimes there is no point in going any further than a charcoal or mixed media drawing. This is not to say that a canvas can’t send you back to paper. Both feed off each other creating a symbiotic relationship wherein the artist can work and develop ideas.” Seán Cotter July 2005.
After a very successful exhibition of paintings at Eigse Carlow in June of this year, this solo show by Seán at Draíocht is a new body of work comprising mainly of charcoal drawings with one painting and is primarily concerned with the act of drawing, exploring the abstract notions of mood, tonality and sensitivity of line and movement.
Seán’s work has featured in many exhibitions, including both solo and group exhibitions. Before his exhibition in Eigse Carlow in June, Seán’s exhibition Corvidophilia was shown at the Hallward Gallery in Dublin. He has also mounted solo shows at the Galway Arts Centre, the Linenhall Arts Centre (Castlebar), and St John’s Arts Centre (Listowel). His paintings have been included in many group exhibitions in France and Germany, as well as throughout Ireland. Seán’s work is also in private collections in Ireland, England, Scotland, France and the United States.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from and how you got started on the road to becoming an artist?
I was born and raised in Monasterevin, Co Kildare. I grew up on stables, my father trained racehorses, so I grew up riding out the horses. At the age of 13 or 14 I thought that was the way my career was going to go. I never entertained the thought of becoming an artist; I didn’t even know there was such as thing as being an artist as a career. I always loved art in school and it was an aunt of mine who first said to me ‘you’re always painting and you love it, why don’t you become an artist?’ So I latched on to that and there was nothing else on my wish list when leaving school.
I still loved the horses mind and still rode out all through secondary school, and even since then. Unfortunately, De la Salle Brother’s Secondary School didn’t have an art room or an art teacher, so in third year, I was let go to the girl’s school for some art classes. But I got sick of that fairly quickly; say after about 6 months or a year. All we ever did was still life, posters & imaginative composition, and I thought “I can’t do this day in day out”. So I left that go.
So it came to 5 th year and I still hadn’t had any formal art education in school. Then, the school burnt down a month before the summer holidays that year! Luckily they had to build a whole new school and with that came an art room and an art teacher and it was fully kitted out with everything from a kiln to a printing press, the whole works.
So I returned to school in September for my final year. All applications had to be into Art College by January. The new art teacher was fresh out of the National College of Art and Design and we had to work flat out to get my portfolio together. We had a whole CV of 2 years of work to try to get ready in just 4 months. We just blasted into it. We didn’t do any history of art during school, we just worked on painting. And any time I had a free class, I’d come into him in the art room, whether there were other students there or not, and worked in there. We’d stay late in school on Thursdays until 7pm, and on Tuesday nights he drove over to my house on his moped to Monasterevin (about 6 miles away) to do Art History with me. So we became friends out of it. He was only 4 or 5 years older than me. We lost touch after Art College unfortunately. I went to Galway and he went to Carlow. So that’s how I got into NCAD , and I graduated in 1991 with an honours degree in fine art painting.
Q: Was there a real career pull between horses and art?
I loved horses. I loved riding out. They’re lovely animals - the power and speed of them - they get in under your skin and you get so wrapped up in it. Every horse has a completely different character. One could be a real messer, or a pure brat, another could be quiet, or lazy, or you’d think one had the devil inside him – they’re like people. I knew my older brother was definitely going that way career wise, so I decided to give the art a shot. My parents worried initially about me going to Art College – would there be any money in it, would I make a career from it.
Q: Do you also have a conventional day job to supplement your income as an artist and if yes does this interfere with your creativity and focus?
I supplement my income working as a stonemason. In art college, I was never quite sure after the first year whether I wanted to do painting or sculpture. So I could see myself going back to sculpture again, especially with the stonework skills I’ve now developed. I’m good with my hands and have projects ticking over in my head the whole time that I can never get around to doing and things that I’d like to do with regard to sculpture – I’d like to think that I wouldn’t limit myself.
I feel if I did teaching or taught art in a college, to be involved in art the whole time, would be quite draining. It would be very hard to go into your studio at night and work on your own work. It works for some people but not for me. So I prefer to be out doing a bit of stonework, making as much money in a short period of time, so then I can take time out to go back to painting.
Painting for me at the moment is just so full on. There’s so much I want to say and do in painting, which very rarely leaves any room for anything else. Before you finish one show you’re thinking about your next show, and you swear for the next show you’ll be more organised, but you just have to run with it. Things are going well with the painting now, so I’m hoping I won’t have to go back to the stonework for a while.
Q: When you started out in Art College what was your subject matter?
In college I worked on notions of history and Irish mythology, the bog and things buried in the bog. I grew up in Monasterevin, which is in the Bog of Allen. So landscape and place became important. So my pallet was very full of burnt sienna, ochre’s and naples yellow. I never really included people in those paintings. I might have included something that could have been interpreted as a person in the distance, or there might even be a hint of wings or something, to link in with the mythology and crows.
I never paint places in my landscapes. They are all in my head and I work them out onto the canvas.
Q: So take us through your life after Art College to now?
I went to Galway for 8 or 9 years, got married and had my 3 children there. I tried to give the art career a go. I did posters and window designs for shops. It was quite hard.
From 1994 to 1998 I was a member of Artspace Studios in Galway, a collective of Artists that included Ger Sweeney, Marja Van Kampen, Ruth McHugh and Kathleen Furey. During that time we moved from temporary studios in Dominic Street, beside the Arts Centre, by raising finance to get a long-term lease site in industrial estate premises, with the help of Michael D Higgins, who was the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht at the time. So we got a permanent home for Artspace Studios, which also included about 4 to 6 studios in the Black Box Theatre in Galway. So we went from having 6 temporary spaces to having 14-15 long-term studios that we could use for artists, or for when we travelled shows.
We went as part of L’Imaginaire Irlandais to Lyon for a major show and part of what came out of that was a show that included five artists from Artspace Studios, five from Germany (Ludwigshafen) and five from France (Laurient). There was a workshop and exhibition in Laurient of the 15 artists, and another the next year in Germany for 10 days, and then the next year it all came to Ireland to the Galway Arts Centre for a big exhibition.
Also in 1994 I got a solo show as the Emerging Artist in the Galway Arts Festival. I did that show about Irish Mythology, and one particular character Tuan, who describes the history of Ireland – Tuan was a man left over from a mythological race and he was the last one to survive. And when Tuan died he became an eagle. And when he died as an eagle he became a stag. Then when he died as a stag he became a salmon. And he saw the mythological history of Ireland unfolding in those eyes, with the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha De Dannan etc. I sold most of the pieces in that show, so I was delighted.
I went to Donegal in 1999 and did a stonemason course and it was in the middle of that that my personal life went a bit haywire and my marriage split up. I finished the stonemason course in 2000 and I had taken a break from painting between 1998 and 2000, I still kept my hand in with some charcoals and a few drawings, but not really painting.
After that I came back and did the show Corvidophilia , which is all about the love of blackbirds and crows. I just used to see them all over the place, on the landscape. I started to read about them, finding out interesting facts about them, how smart and clever they are, how family oriented they are. And also I suppose there was a bit of the dark side to them - I saw them as positive, but some people saw the black crows as heavy and dark and a bit gothic. Corvidophilia was in the Arts Centre in Galway upstairs, and Ruth McHugh had a show at the same time downstairs.
Following on from that, I brought Corvidophilia to the Hallward Gallery in Merrion Square in Dublin. Since then I’ve been with the Hallward, who have shown two solo shows of mine and are getting ready for the third.
In 2001, after the Corvidophilia show, I wanted to get back into the painting full time and go at it hell for leather and see if I could make a real go at it and do what I wanted.
So it’s been a real balancing act, between the children, the stonework and the painting for the last couple of years, so now I’m trying to get rid of the stonework and make the painting pay! I now share my time between Monasterevin in Kildare and Ardee in Louth.
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
I’ve always admired other painters – not necessarily with regard to the subject matter, but with the method of the painting – the real blood and guts of painting, getting stuck in there, messing about with the paint, discovering the paint and seeing what you can do with it. So I love artists that revel in the joy of painting – you can tell who they are.
Irish wise, I do love Ger Sweeney’s work. I’d be an admirer of Paddy Graham, Sean Scully, Hughie O’Donoghue, Francis Tansey and I love Debi O’Hehir’s sculptures. In England, I like Christopher LeBrun, Therese Oulton and Frank Auerbach.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?
If I’m having a bad day I normally don’t work on any pieces that are close to being resolved. You’re playing with fire and could completely mess up the image and loose everything. So you might start on a new canvas, or make up some stretchers, or clean up the studio. Or get out of the studio and so something else – do the shopping or something. If it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work etc?
Well I have a great relationship with the Hallward, people are used to seeing my work there.
I do promote myself through my website too. My website came about from just sitting in a pub in Monasterevin. I got talking to a fellow beside me who was in the industry and had just moved down from Dublin. I was saying I was thinking of getting a website, and he was thinking of doing websites himself. So he did my website for nothing and used it as promo for himself. So we’ve been friends since.
I try to put a painting or two aside for myself every year. I do sell well, so I’d have very little work left if I didn’t put some pieces aside.
Q: Do you have any advice you could give to an artist just starting out?
You need to take advantage of whatever situations come along. If certain people have expressed interest in your work and say that it’s good, then contact them and see if they can help you out. That’s what I’d say to younger artists. Especially if it’s another artist – I’ve had tremendous help from other artists, who’ve put my name forward, like Francis Tansey and Ger Sweeney. Good artists who respect each other champion each other and offer mutual support.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your current exhibition in Draíocht? How did the exhibition come about and can you describe the work a little?
Initially I was going to do a show of paintings, but when Carissa (Draíocht’s Visual Arts Officer) saw some of my charcoals in my studio that were heading over to England to a gallery there, she suggested I do a show of charcoals instead. So last year I started thinking about what I was going to do. I wanted to keep things quite stark – black and white - making for stronger images.
The concept was brewing for a long time. The inspiration came from my ongoing relationship with the imagery of the crow; I like using the crow, because it is the symbol for family from ancient Egypt. Crows and ravens are very family orientated and mate for life. A family of crows will live together, and if the fledglings mature and don’t find a partner, they stay and help the parents raise the next brood. It’s an iconic bird really and it works well in an Irish context as well as internationally.
I also try to have an emotional connection with the charcoals and combine my interest in crows with my own personal experiences at the same time. For example, I might put three birds together on a line and that’s my way of personalising the work. Each bird represents one of my children.
I would like to think that I put titles on the paintings that give a slight key to where I’m coming at. But I’ve never really sat down and written a paragraph about where the paintings have their origin.
In this exhibition in Draíocht, the charcoals of seedheads for instance reminded me of seedheads initially, but it started more with the circle and the black hole. You kind of get sucked down into it. I like the idea behind that, because when you look at it first you see yourself reflected in it because it’s so black. But its not de-lineated, so you never know when you’ll slip in or out of it, so I have it breaking up, dispersing, so it works as just purely landscape as well as on another more subconscious level.
Skyband is a painting from 2003 and when I started to think about the charcoals I thought that Skyband would work quite well because of the amount of dark and light in it. On a purely aesthetic level I knew it would work, but also on a theoretical level, with the crows (family) and the dramatic play that takes place within the piece.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I don’t know exactly where I’ll be in 10 years but I would like to think that things will have settled down a bit more. My children will be raised and in college hopefully and I’ll be in my comfortable quarter with a little more freedom.
I want to be exhibiting more internationally. I have ambitions that I would like to fulfil as an artist. I’ll still only be in my mid to late forties at that stage, still young enough.
Q: Do you have other interests and hobbies outside of painting and drawing?
I do have, but I don’t have time to do them at the moment. I think life takes over in your 30s – you’re always in such a rush!
I like going to the races the odd time. If I had a few more pounds I’d buy ‘a leg of a horse’ for the interest. I definitely love the sea and want to live by the sea. I’d love to take up scuba diving, because I love the feeling of weightlessness and the freedom that you get when snorkelling and being under water. I’d also like to take up drag hunting, riding horses through the countryside following a predestined scent – it’s a great way to socialise too ending up in the pub after a day out riding. That’s if I ever get time for it.
Q: So what’s coming up for you after Draíocht?
There’s a solo show of large-scale new paintings in Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda in October. After that I’ve a solo show of more new work in November opening in the Hallward Gallery, Dublin. And there’s a couple of Galleries in London I’ve to sort out a few things for next year.
Seán Cotter’s exhibition Drawings and Other Work will be on view in Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery from 1 September to 15 October 2005
For further information see:
For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht / Tel: 01-809 8021
Visual Arts Administrator, Draíocht / Tel: 01-809826