Artist Interview Holly Dungan

May 7, 2010

Artist Interview Holly Dungan, 7 April 2010, in conversation with Nicola Murphy:

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

I grew up in New Ross, Co. Wexford and from there, I moved up to Dublin after my Leaving Cert in 2003 to study Fine Art in DIT. I was based in Galway for about a year where I did my Masters in Arts Policy and Practice but for the moment, I’m splitting my time between Wexford and Dublin, about to begin my dissertation and then I will hopefully move on to somewhere new and exciting.

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?

Only two dream occupations stick out in my memory when I was little: to be a famous artist and travel the globe or else, become a professional tennis player! I can barely hit a tennis ball, nor do I own a racket so at this stage; the latter is starting to look the most likely. I suppose in terms of looking for clues, there were loads. I was always involved in lots of school activities and youth organisations that put a huge emphasis on arts and crafts and I was encouraged to enter a lot of art competitions. In fact, a whole portfolio of childhood drawings still exists somewhere and the odd plastic plaque!

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 wouldn’t call myself a full time artist in that I don’t have a studio but it’s what I have been pursuing on a part-time basis since I left college in 2008. I always knew I was going to enter the arts in some way, there was never a question I would go down another route. I feel it is just the way I’m programmed, I simply wouldn’t be happy otherwise. So I may as well make it doing something I love. 

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?

I have every intention to pursue a career in arts administration which will still allow me to be at the forefront in driving the arts as opposed to being a small part; mind you being the visual artist is still an extremely important part. Previous jobs I’ve had have usually allowed me time in the evenings when I did decide to sit down and work. God bless the 9 to 5.

Q: What materials do you like to work with and when did you create your first drawing?

Without a doubt its Caran d’ache crayons especially in Greyish Black, which at this stage, sticks of it just live at the bottom of my handbag and my favourite Uni Pin black pens. I first started drawing as soon as I could grab a pencil, cheesy I know but it’s actually true.

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

I wouldn’t say my style has changed over the years, more so it has developed. I suppose in college, we were set different projects and briefs which meant I couldn’t always do what I wanted but come 4th year, I was determined to work in the style you see today, that of small, ink drawings. In relation to other artists, I’m still finding my feet.

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

When I did Fine Art, I was lucky to be in a course that gave you the opportunity to try your hands at many different art forms so in DIT, I did everything: print, sculpture, painting, digital media and photography. It became clear soon after, these art forms were not for me; I’m not one for hassle, Ha!

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

Elizabeth Magill is a major influence for me, her work is simply stunning, and I could look at it happily for hours. Other artists I admire include the likes of Peter Doig, Lars Nyberg, Louis le Brocqui, and Kara Walker. I could keep going with this list. You can tell I adore contre-jour.

Q: What is the thing you most enjoy about your work?

Once I start, it’s a joy to simply switch off from the real world and loose yourself for a bit. If I’m working on one piece for any long period of time, I may put on some music or a film and totally relax.

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

I generally find if I’m having a bad day drawing, I’ll keep trying to find new ways to look at the piece, for example standing back, turning the work upside down or looking at it through a mirror, until a new idea comes and I’ll start re-working it. If that doesn’t work, I stand back and leave it for another time but then it’s always at the back of my mind.

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

It was a lot easier then I thought especially when I left college and found that many galleries were willing to exhibit my work but this was several years ago and not the current economic climate we’re enduring right now. My grad show gave me fantastic exposure and I exhibited in some great spaces, however several of these spaces don’t exist anymore which is terribly sad. Naturally, it isn’t the best time to be an artist.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about your exhibition ‘Woodstock’, currently in Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery? Did you go on location somewhere to draw the trees? Why do some have colour and some not?

This exhibition is basically the biggest exploration regarding this theme of tress that I have undertaken, before it was always done on a smaller scale, two or three here and there for small exhibits but since the space called for plenty, I decided to really go for it, it was my chance to experiment and see how far I could go with them as images. That’s where the idea of the cluster came from, the diptych and the overall arrangement. I took the majority of images for this show at a place called Woodstock in Co. Kilkenny which is where the title comes from, though not all came from there. It’s truly a fantastic place to go, extraordinary scenes and trees of the exotic nature. It used to be an abandoned paradise so to speak but Kilkenny County Council is doing great work to restore it to its former glory. Regarding why some have colour and some don’t, is simply an issue of variety, all the images are different fundamentally so that goes for the general composition and colour as well, its easy to allow them to become simply uniform shape which is something I’m opposed to. 

Q: Have you any other exhibitions coming up?

No, not at the moment, currently I’m just going to focus on my MA dissertation but you never know!

Q: Where can people find out more about your work? Have you a website?

Ooh, I don’t have a website, I don’t consider myself there yet, I don’t even put my work up on facebook but maybe I should. I’m shy about promoting myself that way.  

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

Simply get your work out there, bring it to the attention of galleries and spaces, it doesn’t matter where they stand in relation to commercial or not-for-profit, just so long as people get to see them and that you’re constantly working towards something.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Returning to Ireland post-recession with an impressive CV managing major international arts centres and festivals and still producing and selling art with my own specially built studio space! Lovely!! I’ll definitely be coming back and looking for this part of the interview in 10 years time!  

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

Music would be a major interest; I play the classical violin, enjoy singing and also make it a priority to get to different music festivals when I get the chance. Film is also a big interest as well as general merriment and all things ridiculous and funny!  


Enjoy a snippet of Holly's Artists Talk given on Saturday 17 April 2010 in Draiocht's First Floor Gallery ...


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