ARTIST INTERVIEW: Orla Whelan

March 1, 2008

"I have always wanted to be an artist from as far back as I can remember. I was always drawing and painting as a child. I started watercolour classes on a Saturday morning when I was eight years old, as well as doing art in school.”  Orla Whelan, March 2008.





ARTIST INTERVIEW: Orla Whelan in conversation with Nicola Murphy in March 2008 about her residency in Draíocht's Artists Studio.


Brief Introduction:

Draíocht welcomes Orla Whelan to the studio residency for six months from January to June 2008. Working in oil on canvas Orla creates gentle and elusive images drawn from a range of sources of personal significance. Redundant memorials, forgotten monuments, faces, places or cosmic elements such as the moon, clouds, and stars appear pared down in a barely visible manner. Orla will spend her time at Draíocht expanding the scale of her work in preparation for a number of projects, including a group show at the Lab, Dublin City Council’s new space for contemporary art in the city centre, and a solo show in Draíocht in November 2008.

Born in Dublin 1975, Orla Whelan is an Irish artist who lives and works in Dublin. Recent Exhibitions include There, Not There at Crawford Art Gallery (2008) and Trapezium at the LAB (2008). Previous solo exhibitions include We live to see each other at thisisnotashop (2007), Outside at The Return, Goethe Instituit (2007), Overtime at Archeus Fine Art London (2002) and New Work at Christopher Hull Gallery London (1997). She holds BA Fine Art from NCAD, MA European Fine Art from Winchester School of Art, Barcelona and an MA in Visual Arts Practices from IADT.



Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from and where you live?

I am from Dublin. I grew up here and went to NCAD after I left school, where I did my degree in Fine Art. I have lived in a few other places since; Spain, England and travelled a little to Australia and India. I did an MA in Barcelona a few years ago and I have just completed an MA in Visual Art Practices from IADT in December. I now live in Drimnagh with my husband and daughter who is two and a half.

Q: How long have you been an artist and why choose an arty profession over a more conventional career, like being an accountant, or working in an office for instance?

I have always wanted to be an artist form as far back as I can remember. I was always drawing and painting as a child. I started watercolour classes on a Saturday morning when I was eight years old, as well as doing art in school. My parents were very encouraging and supportive. I have only one sister and she is an artist too.

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?

Over the years I have done different jobs to supplement my income, mostly casual teaching. At the moment I don’t do any other work.

Q: When did you paint your first picture and what was your subject matter?

I used to paint romantic landscapes in watercolour when I was nine or ten. The first one I remember my parents framing was a snow-scene with a farmhouse or barn in the distance.


Q: Has your style changed over the years and what might have influenced this change if yes?

Yes, it changes and evolves all the time. It s usually influenced by what I see, what I am reading or researching and by other artists work that I have seen or films that I have seen as well. Circumstance plays a part too, my work is influenced by where I am based, what my studio is like, what else is going on in my life and around me.

Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like photography, sculpting, making music, or dancing for instance?

No, I have only ever worked in painting. I am very focussed and still I always feel there is so much more within painting that I want to do, or need to try out, as if there isn’t enough time to diversify.


Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?

I have been looking at the work of Mamma Anderson and Laura Owens recently. In terms of Irish artists, Stephen McKenna would be an influence. I am influenced a lot by novels I read, some writers have a really visual way of writing that lingers, like WG Sebald and Michael Oondatje.



Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?


I don’t know really. It’s so disheartening when you work really hard all day and sometimes have nothing to show for it at the end, but it just makes me more determined to figure out what I am trying to do with it. There is always a need to be making the work no matter what. The thought of not doing it fills me with dread, what else would I do?

Q: How do you juggle being a mother and an artist?

It’s not that difficult. Having a child does impact my studio time but it also kind of empowers you, gives you a confidence. It gives you quite a different perspective on time generally, I have become more appreciative of the present, and much more aware of the long term. It alters your perception of life and mortality quite significantly and these thoughts have influenced the ideas and imagery in my work.

Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work etc?

Not very well. As an artist, you do have to spend a lot of time on applications and proposals and I probably don’t do it enough. There is a lot of pressure to be actively seeking opportunities which is tiring but necessary.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about your residency in Draíocht’s Artist Studio?

It’s a great opportunity for me to work on a larger scale as it is quite a large studio. I have been working on a small scale for the last five years, in much smaller studios and have been looking forward to up-scaling again. I am going to use the time and space here to try things out and to explore new materials and processes of working. With my current work, I am particularly interested in the relationship between imagery and meaning, in the psychological power of imagery. My most recent work considers ideas of memory, collectivity and subjectivity. These themes are explored through the use of personal imagery, faces and physical points of connection between two people. The sense of reflection, connection, or implication inherent in this imagery is something that I am currently developing.

Q: Have you any exhibitions coming up?

The next show I have is a group show at the LAB, in Foley St. The show is called Trapezium, with three other artists and it opens in mid June.

Q: Do you have any advice you could give to an artist just starting out?

Enjoy yourself. Follow your instincts for what you are interested in, and look at other artists work all the time. You learn a lot from looking.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Working away, hopefully in a nice big studio like this.

Q: What are your interests and hobbies outside of painting?

Well, I go to exhibitions a lot, I read, watch films and play basket-ball regularly. I enjoy going out with my friends and being with my family.


For further information about Artist Orla Whelan or the Visual Arts programme please contact:
The Visual Arts Officer, Draíocht / Tel: 01-809 8026

For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht
Tel: 01-8098021

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