ARTIST INTERVIEW: Ross McDonnell
”Every painting leads to a new painting. I never think exactly the same way that I thought before. The basic gesture and palate remains almost the same, but the rest evolves and always permutates differently. Change, for me, is influenced by the last work, the last body of work, and what is thought to be needed to complete a current body of work ....”
Ross McDonnell, February 2009
This is Ross McDonnell's third solo show in Dublin. 'the new brilliant' is an exhibition of new paintings. The title for this exhibition came from the name of a Chinese restaurant that the artist noticed while working in India earlier this year.
McDonnell has previously exhibited at the Cross Gallery, the Goethe Institute, the Ashford Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy. His work is part of numerous private and public collections, including the OPW and AXA Insurance collection. McDonnell graduated with a Batchelor of Fine Art from the National College of Art and Design in 2002.
Q: Can you take us through your life after Art College up to now?
I graduated with a Batchelor of Fine Art from the National College of Art and Design in 2002. At my degree show I was selected for a Post-Graduate exhibition at the Ashford Gallery by Mark St John Ellis, a curator who is very supportive of young graduates. This led to a solo exhibition two years later in the same space, called ‘Snow Dreams, Pink Dawns and Other Stuff that Happens’.
Shortly after this I had a two person show at the Goethe Institute, titled ‘Warsaw’, with artist Noel Brennan. The show was curated by Gavin Delahunty. During the three week install I made three frescos in the small space. There was an ephemeral context to the frescos that I was interested in ... being site specific, they only lasted the duration of the exhibition.
I then took a Project Studio place at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. The work I produced here led to my second solo exhibition which was at the Cross Gallery in September 2007, titled ‘Papillon’. I designed a catalogue for this exhibition. This was another learning curve. The link in catalogue style to the work is something that I consider very important. Equally important to me was the design of my website, www.rossmcdonnell.ie, which I made over the last year while documenting new work.
And over the last five years I have worked intermittently as an art technician (Rha, IMMA, Kerlin Gallery). It’s a great way to supplement income while also being involved with other artists and their work.
Q: Have you ever had a conventional day job to supplement your income as an artist and if yes does this interfere with your creativity and focus?
After graduation I worked with the Mermaid Cafe as a chef. I worked all sections of the kitchen, starting at the bottom, ending with pastry. With at least a fifty hour week, my days off spent in a studio and obligatory socialising to de-stress after kitchen work, I did not get much sleep and I certainly found it hard to get much quality studio work done.
Q: Has your style changed over the years and what might have influenced this change if yes?
Every painting leads to a new painting. I never think exactly the same way that I thought before. The basic gesture and palate remains almost the same, but the rest evolves and always permutates differently. Change, for me, is influenced by the last work, the last body of work, and what is thought to be needed to complete a current body of work. My ideas also change with experience and age. My work mirrors the changes in my ideas.
Q: Have you tried other art forms like photography, sculpting, making music, or dancing, for instance?
I have tried, and still experiment with lots of crafts. Cooking for instance. I also take lots of photographs that filter into my painting. And I recently made a short film. I have not yet felt the need to exhibit anything other then my paintings though.
Ross McDonnell, 'yellow studio wall', oil, canvas, gesso, mdf. 53 x 48.5cm. 2008
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
Lately I have begun to look into ideas stolen from other people’s fiction.
J. D. Salinger's ‘A perfect day for Bananafish’; Henri Charriere's ‘Papillon’; Somerset Maughan's ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ - the suspension of disbelief deep into narrative. My artistic influences are diverse. I have always found solace in the work of Henri Matisse. In my employment, I often handle or construct work that I like and all this has probably influenced me. Howard Hodgkin, Pierre Huyghe, Peter Doig, James Coleman, Padraig Timoney and Varda Caivano to name a few.
Ross McDonnell, 'the new brilliant', oil, canvas, glue, gesso. 200 x 215cm. 2008
Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?
When I’m having a good day I make a list of things that I have to do that involve no imagination. Then on a bad day at the studio I do these tasks while listening to music or audio-books. Completing the tasks usually leads to a better day.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work etc?
I have been afforded opportunities that have come from earlier exhibitions, one thing leading to another. I maintain applications for many opportunities that I do not always get. I have been blessed with sales at exhibitions, which funds more time to make work. I focus on constantly developing my paintings. The rest should fall into place with less effort then making the actual work.
Ross McDonnell, 'conceal and reveal', oil, canvas, glue, primer. 200 x 215cm. 2008
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your current exhibition in Draíocht ‘the new brilliant’? Did your trip to India have much influence on this exhibition? What brought you there?
I went to India with my girlfriend, Keara, who was stationed there for two months with her work. We were at an industrial estate outside Delhi. I guess the colour of India filtered into the work in this exhibition. One observation helped me find a title for the show. And the piece ‘Conceal and reveal’, which is a figurative painting, came directly from some drawings I was making in reaction to India.
I spent just under a year on this body of work. My current studio is isolated from other artist’s studios, so I have not had much distraction and almost no visitors. I only began to show the work to people after it was all completed. Each painting has been carefully structured; overworking, overpainting and sometimes deleting sections so that the entire arrangement of the picture is balanced and every detail has a compositional function.
Some of the work for this exhibition is very large. In fact at 200 x 215cm they were as big as I could possibly make in the studio space, they just about fit out of the studio door. The ideas in some of these works required a larger scale then my previous works. The expansive force of the compositional elements took precedence over the figurative representations in the images. The balance between abstractions and the image became looser and more instinctual then before. The work is raw and unrestrained.
The title of paintings has always been important to me. Titles serve as an indicator of some of the references within the paintings. With these works, the words of the title have sometimes made their way onto the surface, with letters acting as compositional elements and feeding into the obliterations of the underlying image.
Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery space has many unusual elements to the architecture (for an exhibition space) that require consideration when hanging the work. With this exhibition, I am interested in employing strategies of display. There will be selective pairings and groupings of work. I want the installation of the paintings to be more critical to the viewing of the work.
Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery with Ross McDonnell's current exhibition
Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery with Ross McDonnell's current exhibition
For more information on the artist and his work please visit www.rossmcdonnell.ie
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Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht