ARTIST INTERVIEW: Allyson Keehan in conversation with Nicola Murphy in September 2008 about her residency in Draíocht's Artists Studio
”... but then one day, it all ties together and then I'm on the tiny details and then it just works! It's all very romantic really! And all the time that I'm painting, I'm thinking of the next piece and searching for objects and materials so I can have the next one ready as I finish one.”
Allyson Keehan, September 2008
Introduction & Artists Statement:
Born in Limerick (1978), Allyson's background in painting encompasses a lot of academic training; she studied architecture and also took part in an exchange to Athens School of Fine Art Greece. These strong influences encouraged her interest in classical painting and techniques, which in turn fuelled her academic and mathematical approaches to painting.
Allyson's practice is Still-Life painting. She works primarily in oils, working from a still-life set-up in her studio. Her obsessions in technique and materials lead her through continued investigations and observations of materials, objects and theories.
Allyson places importance on the formal structures of painting, often challenging composition thus further developing her painting language. The refined style of painting reflects the refined subject matter - elegant swathes of drapery and sensuous objects of varying textures and sizes.
The selection and placement of objects is carefully considered so that each painting has a different set of sensory experiences. Drapery takes over the picture landscape as objects are both revealed and enveloped between the folds. Colours and textures are luscious, luxurious, and sensuous - all reflecting the desirability to possess these objects and life-style. The composition of the objects show that they have been moved or used - a wine stain on the fabric or a cup left off its saucer. There is a trace of human presence and a memory of someone’s interaction with the objects.
Each object has a sentiment, and a reason for being in the painting. The paintings are recordings or documents of what’s considered fashionable or memorable of our time. In documenting the subjects in a realistic and detailed manner, Allyson is reiterating their importance and presenting them as cultural and social obsessions of our time; the materialistic and opulent desires of western culture.
Each painting brings another challenge - through composition, colour, textures, and conceptually. A narrative builds between each piece, getting more in-depth and informed as each piece is created and put on view. This approach is worthwhile as the visual language is decipherable and deters interference with the subtleties of the concepts. Each piece stands as an individual, as a mark of a memory, an interruption, a sentiment.
(Allyson Keehan 2008)
Allyson Keehan graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Limerick School of Art and Design in 2002 and a MA from the Byam Shaw College of Art, London in 2004. She has exhibited in London and recently in Newcastlewest Library, Limerick, and Monster Truck Gallery, Francis Street, Dublin 8.
Allyson has been Artist in Residence in Draíocht since July 2008 and will stay until December 2008. Previously she was a member of Monster Truck Studios Dublin (2007-2008), and Contact Studios Limerick, (2005-2007).
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you're from and where you live?
I'm originally from Limerick but live in Dublin. I did my Degree in Fine Art Painting at Limerick School of Art and Design, in 2002 and my Masters in Fine Art at Byam Shaw College of Art London, in 2004. But before all that I studied Architecture for a year in Kent Institute of Art and Design.
Q: When you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up? Were there any clues in your childhood that you would follow an artistic path later?
I think everyone knew that I was going to be an artist from a very early age. In my parents house, there's picture of a cat I did when I was about three; my grandfather said then that I was going to be an artist; nobody really thought of me as anything else from then! I also remember being asked to do loads of stuff in school; I always got to paint the advent calendars and Easter banners and other things like that!
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've been painting full-time for the last four years, before that I would have always had a second job. I've been a Bartender, DJ, and Office Clerk - in a chicken factory! And any other odd job I could get - painting Christmas windows, helping with leaving cert projects ... When I was in school I did panic a bit and decided to do architecture. Even though I loved it and often think about it, I know that painting is what I'm meant to be doing.
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?
When I left my last 'regular' job I gave myself two years to see if I could survive as an artist, so far I haven't looked back! I'm a big fan of the '5 year plan' so while I'm ahead of myself I know I'm not doing too badly.
I'm very dedicated to my work and its very time consuming so it's not possible to do other work as well. Occasionally, I do a little teaching, which is always good as it opens your eyes to whats current and whos coming into the art scene. And also, you always come away with a few good questions which you can ask about your own work, which forces me to think outside of what I'm doing in my studio.
Q: When did you create your first painting and what was your subject matter?
There are a few pieces that stick out. One is a still-life I did when I was 9 or 10 in Studio 55, an art class run by Thierry Rudin, And then there was a colour study I did in 1st year in college, the back of a male mannequin and boxes, from then I was hooked on oils.
Q: Has your style changed over the years and what might have influenced this change if yes?
My style has definitely progressed and developed, and over the years it has definitely got more refined. In the first few years in college I focused on architecture as my subject - so it was very linear but also more experimental, then by 4th year I changed to figurative subjects and predominantly Sports Men and voyeurism. So the style and technique became a bit more refined to reflect the more complex subject matter.
I think the subject influences the style and vice-versa, having the stillness of the still-life set up beside me makes me paint calmly and slowly, however when I was painting a moving figure it's quicker and less controllable, or when I'm painting from a photograph most of the decisions of composition, light, lines, are all made.
Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like photography, sculpting, making music, or dancing for instance?
For my MA I only finished one painting! I really pushed the concept of voyeurism so there was immediacy and urgency to the work, so drawing, photography and video were the best mediums to use. My final piece was a video installation.
Currently, I photograph my paintings in fancily decorated rooms - like the Georgian House in Limerick - this adds another dimension to the painting, hopefully bringing the questions 'where does the piece end', and how the frame, wallpaper and surrounds add to the interpretation of the painting.
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
I think just being around artists in your studio group or exhibition openings or where ever, inspire you. Regularly artists and friends bring objects and material into me in the studio, followed by - ' I saw this and I thought you'd like it...' So all these things inspire what I'll do next and any particular themes or colours that progress the work.
I don't think I have one Artist that inspires me, it's just certain exhibitions or a work that will affect me differently at different times. Such as the Peter Doig exhibition held recently in the Tate. I was thinking a lot about scale at the time and his work really over whelmed me and inspired me at the right time.
Q: What is the thing you most enjoy about your work?
Painting. Everything about it. I love the beginning - drawing and mapping it out loosely in really diluted paint ... then each layer as it dries ... the middle is when I'm getting the tricky bits right and also is the most time consuming, but then one day, it all ties together and then I'm on the tiny details and then it just works! It's all very romantic really!
And all the time that I'm painting, I'm thinking of the next piece and searching for objects and materials so I can have the next one ready as I finish one.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you're having a bad day?
If I'm having a bad day, I leave the studio and go walk around the shops or wherever ... If I'm having a few bad days together then I'll go home for a few days, babysit my nephews and things like that. If I'm not painting well, then I need a complete break from it, otherwise I'd end up ruining the painting by forcing it.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work etc?
The business side is very difficult. But gradually doing proposals and applications are getting easier. As my work progresses I know it better and believe in it more, so that makes it easier to promote it and stand by it.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your residency in Draíocht's Artist Studio? How valuable is this time for you and are you working towards anything in particular?
The residency came at a really good time. It's a massive space which is allowing me to get a lot done. Ideas were banking up in my head so now that I have the space I can get through them and try a few different things and ultimately push the work more than I would have the opportunity to do so in a more confined space. There are huge benefits to doing the residency - not having to think about studio rent is the most obvious one, and also the publicity and exposure.
Q: Have you any exhibitions coming up?
I'm doing a show in Crecora National School in Limerick, 16th September- 11th October 2008. I'm also working on a couple of commissions and new work for a group show early in the New Year.
Q: Do you have any advice you could give to an artist just starting out?
Get into a studio group - it's really hard to work on your own, and the support from the studio is invaluable.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Painting in my Studio!
Q: What are your interests and hobbies outside of painting?
I love running, it keeps my posture good and helps clear my head from the painting fumes! I love going to gigs, definitely my favourite night out, and then the cinema. Also spending time with my friends and family. I like talking so I've a good network of really chatty people around me! And lastly the Phoenix Park and Portmarknock Beach, I love being out and about!
To contact Allyson Keehan directly, please visit www.allysonkeehan.com
For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht