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
August 5, 2005
"So you have this striking landscape that has so much going on in it, that at one minute is sort of abstract and beautiful depending on the light, then another minute, the tide comes in and it becomes another place, with horses standing in the water.”
(Stephanie Joy, August 2005).
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Stephanie Joy in conversation with Nicola Murphy on Friday 5 August 2005
From Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Stephanie has lived and worked in Dublin for some years. Her interest with the Arts and Photography was heightened by her experiences of living and working in Paris, in the eighties. Her travels to South America in the nineties, affected her decision to work as an artist - in particular the journey through Patagonia and the Beagle Channel. There she realized a long held dream to discover this untamed, silent landscape and created a visual diary. Now back in Ireland, she continues to photograph, creating new bodies of work.
This exhibition of photographs ‘Wondering’ was conceived on the wild, barren landscape of the Burry estuary in Wales and is composed of both landscape and portrait images. Stephanie elaborates - “I had no idea why I wanted to work there. However, as I explored this instinct visually, the work emerged. A web of associations formed, fleeting and hazy, between this landscape and holidays spent in Waterford. I was connecting with a past time beyond conscious memory.” We are reminded that it is with people, and locations, and through story that we make sense of our world.
Studying under Paul Seawright, Stephanie completed a degree in Documentary Photography in the University of Wales, Newport in 2003.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got started as a photographer?
A: I’ve been living in Dublin for some years, and being from the country, I like to go there – and do so regularly. I have travelled and worked abroad i.e. in Europe and particularly France, and more recently in Wales between 2000 and 2004. I’ve also travelled and experienced life in North and South America.
Once I began to travel at all as a teenager, I began to use a camera – it was something I always carried with me. I may have just picked up my mothers camera – she had a box camera. My father also had cameras and both had a good eye.
I still have some of those old images, some very dog eared. I visited art galleries and have always done so - creating images became a natural progression for me.
Q: Can you tell us what inspires you to start a project?
A: There are a number of factors - it may be life itself and people that I meet at a particular time; events in the world and/or the landscape I find myself in - e.g. in the case of ‘Wondering’, it was the landscape and a strong instinct to stay and work on the Burry estuary.
The idea for another body of work, ‘Waiting’ came from the changing structure of rural Ireland. Where is it most evident except in a multicultural sense? Multiculturalism has been evident in Dublin for years but only recently in rural Ireland. My images included people from all over the world, focusing on our commonalities rather than differences. I felt this was necessary, as we endeavour to come to terms with a complete change in the structure of our society.
Q: You received an award of merit for this work, isn’t that so?
A: Yes, the work received a merit at the Metro Eireann/RTE Media and Multicultural Awards, in the individual multicultural section in 2004 (MAMA). These awards are very important and encouraging to receive. I also brought a selection from ‘Wondering’ to Arles Photographic Festival and received a commendation from the Rencontres Arlatan/Galerie D’essai, Dotation Photo Service judges. Even though part of the fringe events, it was rewarding to be contacted.
Q: Do you prefer photographing portraits to landscapes?
A: It depends on the work. Both are enjoyable though portraiture is challenging at times. It requires a particular skill photographically. I am conscious that some people don’t like to be photographed. Therefore I have included a portrait of Lilian’s hands in this body of work. Lilian is 92 years and was a cockle picker with her father in the 1920’s.
Q: Do you think that you have a certain style and if yes, has it changed over the years?
A: I don’t believe I have a particular style. It is eclectic. It evolves through the influence of the subject matter.
Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like drawing, painting or sculpting, making music, or dancing for instance?
A: I’ve worked with sculpture- bronze casting - for a few years at night and it is something I would like to return to. I also love both the sound of voice and the way people use words. I read and always enjoy having a book with me. I always fancied that I’m going to be singing in the chorus of a musical like Okalahoma! Listening to the flute is pure pleasure, it has elegance. So, all art forms are a pleasure.
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
A: I’ve been inspired by the old masters, by the work from the Renaissance. I am captivated by Cubism and times where styles are changing and evolving. Many photographers inspire me - including Sophie Calle, Eugene Atget, Martine Franck. I accompanied Martine in Dublin and to Tory in 2000. Her professionalism and her way of working in our culture was admirable. Rineke Djkestra subject matter has been interesting, also William Egglleston’s. Paul Seawright has been an influence - I studied under him in Newport.
I’ve been very stimulated by education and will always be involved I expect. I am on the Artist’s Panel at IMMA. I am collaborating on some work there later this year and I’m looking forward to that. Engaging with the public and the connections we make in the Gallery and studios can be informative and stimulating. More people engage with the work too.
I love to hear about people who have retired and taken up art, like a friend of my mothers, who took up art in her 70’s, hanging it on her walls and also selling it. And I love the idea of de-mystifying art so that it’s for everybody.
Other visual art inspires me – seeing it without any pre-conceived ideas about what will emerge.
I appreciate listening to other artists. I love to see people’s immersion in their craft and being skilled at it. I would support and encourage people to be involved in various art forms at all stages of life.
I am also inspired by the people that I meet here, when I’m considering a new body of work. And then out in the stillness, in a landscape in a very quiet place, the notion of what I’m doing may become more defined.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the processes you use as a photographer?
A: I use 6’6’ negative film, both colour and black and white. I find it interesting , that people are still printing ‘C’ type Prints, using the old regular print process, in the darkroom. Technology has changed the way people work and print work.
The thirteen prints that make up this Exhibition are colour, 60cms and 76cms square. All but two are ‘C’ type. Two of the larger prints are Lambda Digital Prints on Dibond - 101cms and 122cms square. The two processes work together and I see them as complementary.
Q: Do you ever have bad days and how do you motivate yourself to keep going?
A: Once I’ve begun a project, and inspired to do a body of work, the work itself will demand a particular input of time, energy, research, and planning. All of these elements are hugely important, and I commit to it. Sometimes it can be slow and then it takes off. In general I am intrigued once a project inspires me; I’m always fascinated with doing more.
I wake up at 3 in the morning with an idea sometimes. And yes, there are often other sacrifices that are made in order to do the work. Once the drive and ambition is there to continue though, nothing will really stand in the way of completing it.
It’s a big commitment financially and in terms of time. Time is such a precious commodity – one needs lots of it, to be engaged with any artistic process. High quality work is costly in every sense.
Q: Do you have any advice for artists starting out?
A: This is my first solo show and the learning is ongoing, indeed it’s a lifelong quest . You need to work hard, have commitment and keep at it. I think it’s really important to find supportive people to work and engage with.
Q: So tell us a little bit more about your forthcoming exhibition in Draíocht called ‘Wondering’, and about your time in the Burry estuary in Wales?
A: ‘Wondering’ was conceived on the wild, barren landscape of the Burry estuary in Wales and is composed of both landscape and portrait images.
Living conditions are harsh in this small, close-knit community. The estuary is tidal and my taking part was also governed by the tides and weather. High tide meant I couldn’t walk on roads that were passable beforehand. Not only that, but also the colours appeared more vibrant. Nature was a far greater force than people. Yet the people living on this landscape were totally in tune with nature.
One day, I realised that I needed to live there in order to capture the essence of the work. I followed a strong instinct. Once I did, the work began to emerge and a web of associations formed, fleeting and hazy, between this landscape and holidays I’d spent in Waterford.
At a local level, there is the story of the community itself, and its people, many facing hardship because of restrictions on collecting cockles; a devastating blow to them. This industry is part of their identity. The portrait of Lilian’s hands is testimony; she’s been picking cockles since the 1920’s with her father. They travelled out with the donkey and baskets. In the present, all that was left was the diminishing pile of empty shells.
I am enthusiastic that the work is showing in this space here, in Draíocht. I admire the way in which the gallery connects with, and involves the community. On a regular basis during the next six weeks, I will visit the gallery and collaborate with the community. A number of ideas have emerged – I am happy to be available to the public who wish to engage with the work in a variety of ways.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the stories behind some of your images, perhaps starting with the cockle pickers, as featured on your preview card?
A: I waited months to go out with the cockle pickers, because of the Government ban on collecting. I went out on the sands at 4am for this particular image. The cockle pickers were working really hard so I worked around them. As the water recedes with the ebb tide, the cockles come to the top of the sand, though still partially submerged. They are scooped up, the sand is washed off in the water, and the cockle is left. It’s a way of ensuring supply that has worked for generations, and its how these people have connected with nature and survived. They work relentlessly.
So you have this striking landscape that has so much going on in it, that at one minute is sort of abstract and beautiful depending on the light, then another minute, the tide comes in and it becomes another place, with horses standing in the water.
There are so many stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to meeting the community to start the dialogue. People will make their own connections too, of course.
To find out more about Lilian, the 92 year old cockle picker and the horses that stand in the water, come to see Stephanie Joy’s exhibition ‘Wondering’, in Draíocht’s Ground Floor Gallery from 1 September to 15 October 2005.
Stephanie will be available to talk to members of the public at various times during the exhibition.
For Marketing or Press information please contact: Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht / Tel: 8098021
May 31, 2005
"I would advise other artists just starting out to persevere in applying for different things and not to be disheartened by the rejections which are sure to be many."
(Ciara Foster, May 2005)
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Ciara Foster / 31 May 2005
Ciara Foster took up the studio residency for six months in Draíocht from mid December 2004.
Ciara is a textile artist who specialises in embroidery and now works in a variety of media such as grass and straw sculpture, drawing and painting. In her sculptural work Ciara uses natural and recycled materials made in response to the environment and often abandons them to decompose back to their origins.
Foster graduated with a BA in Design specialising in textiles in 1998 and an MA in design specialising in textiles in 2003. She has exhibited widely including the Knit and Stitch show at the RDS 1996 and 2003, Sculpture and Context 2004 the MCAC open submission Textile Art Exhibition 2004. In June 2004 she spent a one-month residency at the Hall Farm Centre for Arts and Education in Vermont, US.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you're from?
A: I am originally from Clondalkin. I have always enjoyed Art and have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. After I left school I spent a year in Ballyfermot Art College doing a portfolio preparation course in ‘Art, design and Craft’. This introduced me to new crafts such as tapestry, weaving and creative embroidery, the latter of which I had never even heard of before. I became really interested in texture and mixed media and with the idea of using unusual materials to create the surface I wanted.
After this I went to NCAD. The first year in NCAD was pretty much a continuation of what I had already been doing in Ballyfermot. After the first year I chose to specialise in textiles and in third year I narrowed my choice down to embroidered textiles. In the final year I decided to create textile art as opposed to designing textiles for either fashion or the textile industry, which were the other two avenues I could have taken.
After this I took about two years off, working and travelling but keeping visual journals all the time which allowed me to keep making art, if only for myself.
A year after I returned I decided to go back to NCAD where I did a full time MA in design.
Q: How long have you been a Textile Artist and why choose an arty profession over a more conventional career like being an accountant or working in an office for instance?
A: I guess I have been a textile artist since I left college although I took two years off straight after college to work and save money so that I could travel for the year. In the beginning I chose to do art because it was something I was good at and it was what I enjoyed the most. I was naïve in that I used to think that being good at art was all it took to make a career out of it. Some days I wish I had chosen a more conventional career just so that I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I am wasting a lot of energy and time on something I may never make a living from. However I know for a fact that I would never be happy in a more conventional job.
Q: Do you have a conventional job to supplement your income as an artist and if yes does it interfere with your creativity and focus?
A: Yes I do have a conventional job, I work in a bookstore. I have gone part time since I took up the residency at Draíocht. Sometimes I think working is good for me as you need to step back and take a look at your work so maybe being away from it for a few days helps a bit. On the downside I think I would have a lot more energy and my work would be better if I was able to donate more of my time completely to it, and of course I would get a lot more done. In college, we had a lot of different art projects going on at once and I loved this. If I was able to donate all of my time to art I think I would have a few things going on at once in the studio. When you have a conventional job this also forces you to keep conventional hours so no matter how creative you may be feeling you can’t stay up until 2am when you have an early start the next morning!
Q: What other people or artists have influenced or inspired you?
A: The main person who has inspired me would be my tutor from college, Nigel Chesney whose own work and energy is inspirational in itself. After that I am inspired by the people out there who are proving that you can make a successful living as an artist.
Lots of different artists have inspired me, some for only a short amount of time and others forever. I chop and change whom I like. Off the top of my head, of the very well known artists, I like Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Basquiat and Andy Goldsworthy. Some of the lesser known ones would be Candy Jernigan, Sophie Ryder and Deborah Butterfield, but really I think that there are too many to mention.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you are having a bad day?
A: If something is not working out and I’m having a bad day, I take this as a sign that I just have to walk away and leave it for a while. I’ll usually do something totally unrelated, try and put it to the back of my mind so that I can come back to it with a fresh and hopefully more positive outlook.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure? Have you sold any of your work?
A: I wouldn’t say that I have handled the business side of being an artist very well. I think that it is something that takes a lot of your energy and time, so I’m inclined to ignore it a bit. I guess if I hadn’t got a conventional job I could devote more time to it. I have sold work very sporadically to say the least over the past few years. I certainly haven’t made any money.
Q: Have you had any Exhibitions?
A: I have never had a solo exhibition or in fact I have never applied anywhere to have a solo exhibition, but I have been in many group exhibitions.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your time as Artist in Residence in Draíocht's Artists Studio? How valuable is this time for you and are you working towards anything in particular?
A: Having the studio in Draíocht has been great. It is a really good space. It takes a while to get used to the big glass window, but after a while you start to love the very fact that it feels so open and you forget that people can look in and see you. Having the studio was really good for me as it provided me with the huge amount of space I needed. It was really good to be able to leave the studio in a mess and pick up were I left off the next time I came back. With the work that I have made I have been applying for different exhibitions around the country.
Q: What advice would you give other artists just starting out?
A: I would advise other artists just starting out to persevere in applying for different things and not to be disheartened by the rejections which are sure to be many. I would also advise them to only apply for things that they really feel that their work is suited to.
Take a look at Ciara's website: http://www.freewebs.com/ciarafoster
Further information please contact: Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht / Tel: 8098021
April 30, 2005
"One of the things I like about photography is that it gives me an excuse to go exploring – visually and mentally."
(Tim Durham, April 2005).
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Tim Durham in conversation with Nicola Murphy on Wednesday 20 April 2005.
In this age of computer graphics one could easily mistake Tim Durham’s pictures as computer generated and manipulated, and then be surprised to find they are photographs of a humble soap film. The effect is the same as you may see in diesel floating on wet streets, on the multi-coating of spectacle lenses, or on the protective layer of compact discs. Tim usually says, when asked, that these photographs are of bubbles, but strictly speaking, he says, this is untrue. They are rather of light interference on the minutely thin film that forms a bubble once blown.
Despite the peaceful, delicate and fragile appearance of a soap film, its lifetime is characterised by the most agitated commotion in the form of convective swirls driven by the relentless pull of gravity and molecular forces. Ultimately, this seals the fate of the film which vanishes in a violent explosion.
This exhibition will be supplemented with information on the science of soap films and bubbles by Dr. Stefan Hutzler, Physics Department, Trinity College, Dublin.
The most accurate biography of Tim Durham is perhaps to be found in the pictures he makes and those he chooses to show. Born in 1963, Tim makes his home in Killucan, Co. Westmeath. His roots are in nature, abstract and travel photography, and over time his direction has shifted towards exploring the themes of entropy and physical memories of motion. His other passion is conducting photography and visual awareness workshops.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from?
My name is Tim Durham and I was born in London to German and English parents. For the past 10 years I’ve lived in Killucan, Co. Westmeath. In a serious way I got into photography whilst travelling in Africa. My motivation was to accurately record my three years bicycle journey to Cape Town. Whilst visiting the amazing spring flower displays in Namaqualand I met Canadian photographer, Keith Ledbury, who after three months of travelling together in Southern Africa offered me a role as a photographers assistant in Canada. A chance meeting that allowed me to change the course of my life. Then to Ireland where I work, where I make pictures and teach photography and visual design.
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?
I’ve been a professional artist for the past 16 years. I’ve stayed in this field because it suits me well. The work gives me a great deal of pleasure and fulfilment, both the making of photographs and the sharing with others. The learning is endless. One of the things I like about photography is that it gives me an excuse to go exploring – visually and mentally.
Apart from a Kodak Instamatic that I borrowed from Dad to take along fishing with me in my early teens, my first camera was a Minolta SLR, which I purchased with my first pay packet as a guard on British Rail at the age of 19. Along with it I bought 3 rolls of film - a black and white, a colour negative and a slide. I tried the black and white first, liked the results. Then the colour negative, liked the results. Then the Kodachrome, and was bowled over. I’ve used slide film ever since. I enjoy that slides are positives, that they can be projected, which is almost an opposite of capturing the image. Slide film encourages a discipline in exposure that I enjoy. But I also know when I’m looking at this transparent image I know it was there with me on the day I made the shot.
I wouldn’t describe what I do with pictures as a passion. It’s more like a conviction – I need to do it. It’s a way of expressing my own personality, and its way of communicating something that I can’t say well or at all with words.
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?
No I don’t. I do though divide my photography into 2 areas. One is actually creating pictures and the other is teaching. Certainly the teaching was a supplement to the income of being a photographer but a couple of years back, I asked myself the question - If I had to give up either photography or teaching, which would I give up - and I couldn’t answer clearly. It was too difficult a choice.
I’m stimulated by the work that young people produce. Actually I’m continually surprised. Surprised by how much they see, and about how much I’ve missed. They have a fresh eye and they are receptive to ideas. They just need a forum in which to go out and make pictures.
Q: When you first started taking photographs, what was your subject matter then?
The very first pictures were of derelict buildings, canals, rivers, and railways – those sorts of subjects, and cycling - whatever my hobbies were of the time. There were very few pictures of people, and there still are few. The exception was a trip to Morocco in 2000 when I photographed almost nothing but people and how they lived their lives.
Q: The pictures I’ve seen by you so far (Soap Opera series) are really vibrant and beautifully colourful images of Soap films. Is this typical of your work or do you have many different styles of photography?
The Soap Opera images are my most vibrantly coloured work. My direction though is toward muted colours. The Soap Opera images are not typical, but the connection to my other work is that I’m really captivated by the design of pictures, about the juxtaposition of objects in space and about working with the building blocks of design; shape, line colour, etc, and it’s that that connects my pictures more than the subject.
I have a leaning towards photographing natural subjects, but even that I notice changing, becoming more about the place that nature and man meet. I very rarely do a large landscape, and apart from bubbles, I very rarely go into a macro world, so that leaves the middle ground. A favourite design style, well that would definitely be all over compositions, where no single part of a picture dominates. There are examples in the Soap Opera exhibition at Draíocht. They are of soap film that is on the verge of breaking, in the very last stages of its life.
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you?
Initially photographers such as Freeman Patterson, Ernst Haas and Elliot Porter. More recently the drawings of Jim Dine and the paintings of Gerhard Richter. Last year I saw some wonderful exhibitions that inspired me. The Juan Uslé, Sophia Calle and Louise Bourgeois at the Irish Museum of Modern Art as well as the work of Jane Proctor at the Royal Hibernian Academy.
But also my brothers and fellow artists Chris and Martin Durham have influenced me greatly, perhaps more honestly I’d say they give me a regular critical shove to look deeper, a shove that annoys and motivates me simultaneously. They both practice in Germany, Martin in Köln, and Chris in Düsseldorf. Why we are all in the arts I have no idea.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?
I don’t ever worry about ‘why am I doing this’. I’m clear on that. But I do worry financially, about making ends meet, and about surviving to continue the making of pictures.
But to your question. Photographically, for example, if I was out making pictures at some location and yet I wasn’t ‘seeing’ well, I may catch myself, in frustration, saying - This is a crap location, what possessed me to come here. As soon as I hear that, I know it’s nothing to do with the place, it’s all head stuff, attitude stuff, and so my way out of that state of mind is to give myself the task of simply photographing shapes. It’s a way I have of disassociating myself from the subject and only thinking about composition. This is my motivational tool. When I then hear the shutter clicking, I start to relax and then I see more clearly.
A friend of mine, Denis Dennehy, was on a round the world motorbike trip and he said he made his best pictures when he stopped for a cigarette. Because he would sit there on the side of the road, the travelling would wash off him, and in a quiet relaxed moment he would start to see. I knew exactly what he meant.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work?
Probably not very well.
My photography doesn’t feel like a business. The reason isn’t to make a living. The pictures I make for myself. If I can then sell them, all well and good.
I do still want to sell the pictures. I’m not protective of them. I would love them to go! If people want to buy these pictures then I would welcome it. There are always new ones to make.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your forthcoming exhibition in Draíocht ‘Soap Opera’? How did the exhibition come about, describe the work a little, how many pieces are there, are they mounted or framed?
This will be my first exhibition. It opens on the 26 th of May. I’ll be showing 27 works in Draíocht. The prints are Gicleé or Piezograph prints (an exhibition form of inkjet printing) on Hahnemühle Photorag. Two are mounted onto Dibond with no frame and the remainder are under glass in alder wood frames.
Dr. Stefan Hutzler from the Department of Physics in Trinity College Dublin will be opening Soap Opera and also providing the science information that accompanies the exhibition.
I started photographing soap films 10 years ago. I’d seen a short article and photographs about soap films in a Canadian magazine. I thought it was fantastic. I knew when I had a spare moment I’d sit down and try to work out how this was done. And I did! Christmas 10 years ago at a friend’s house in Donegal I started. And the results were fantastic and disastrous. I could see the potential in the photographs but technically there were all sorts of problems.
It took me 5 or 6 years to work out how to photograph these films. I dissolve sugar or glycerine into the soap detergent which makes the film more viscouse and stable, delaying the point of destruction. Sometimes I work in a cold room, sometimes in a warm room, and sometimes I’d even use boiling detergents. There are many variables that effect the convection and movement of the film. Even the different makes of dish detergent. I asked friends in California to send me their local detergent to try – I quite like ‘Joy’ (which I also use to wash my dishes!).
To make these Soap Opera pictures I work in a darkened room with no natural light. It’s only flashlight that exposes the film. The different colour effects are the result of the different thicknesses of the soap film. The soap film is a vertical sheet, hanging in a black steal frame. Gravity plays its part, pulling it down and creating a wedge shape. Thick at the base, narrowing toward the top. Each individual colour relates to a certain thickness of soap film or a multiple of that thickness.
At times, when I look through my camera, I observe that the surface of the soap film is static. Other times though, the shapes and colour would be rushing across the viewfinder. A great antidote to procrastination. This process forces you to make almost instant decisions on composition. And it’s just about pressing the button at the right time. There’s only ever one chance because these soap film patterns are unique.
What makes Soap Opera different to the other types of photography I do is that I’ve created the actual object. In the other areas of my photography, I’m recording subjects that I’ve had no hand in making.
Q: What advice would you give to an artist or photographer just starting out?
Artistically, JUST DO IT! Don’t worry about whether you are right or wrong. Just do whatever you have to do. Be curious. Expose yourself to other artists, not only ones in your own field. Actually broaden your curiosity beyond the arts. Try constantly to push your limits and not get stuck in a rut. Experiment!
Find a mentor that offers honest feedback. Not brutally honest though, you want to be motivated not damaged.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? Do you have plan? Do you think you’ll still be in Ireland?
I’ll probably be in Ireland and probably too in Killucan. I like it there. For years I moved around, always changing. Now my home is a steady thing. Last year was the first year that I didn’t leave the country to photograph – I just decided I wanted to be at home for a while. The urge to travel lessens. I want more to find myself in the place I live.
I hope the way I photograph changes, at least I hope I continue to improve. Maybe I won’t make photographs at all. I’d love to paint if I have the courage to start a new medium. I’ve no idea really! There’s no plan at all.
I enjoy pictures. They are important to me. And I can’t imagine not creating them.
Q: Finally, what other interests or hobbies do you have?
I have an interest in gardening, conversation, watching the world go by and a love for my partner Fiona.
Further information about the science of soap films can be found at:
Tim Durham’s exhibition Soap Opera Series opens in Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery on Wednesday 25 May 2005 and will continue until 2 July 2005.
For Further information please contact: Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht Tel: 8098021