Thursday, 28 July 2011


SOTP: One of the objectives of Subjects of the Painter is to see if there are any past or current debates within the critical field with which interviewees have an interest- in other words, where the intersections are between studio practice and critical theory. How important is this idea to your work?

EO’C: My studio practice is steeped in critical theory and has always informed my work. Past issues ranging from the Gestalt, to Clement Greenberg’s theories on the presence of an artwork, to Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt have all informed my work. The manner whereby Brecht provides his viewers with an emotional distance in order to enable consideration on what is being presented in an objective way, provides an important narrative to my work. This translates into my artwork through the size of the objects. The larger the artwork the more we are forced to keep our distance from it; it distances the beholder, not just physically but psychologically.

One not only learns to walk. One walks as an Irish woman/ 2010

SOTP: You graduated last year from the Painting course at Limerick School of Art and Design, and have just participated in a group exhibition ‘Fumes of Formation’ at QSS Gallery in Belfast. You are clearly interested in ideas of ‘expanded practice’ within Painting. What motivating factors have led you in this direction, away from ‘the frame’ as it were?

EO’C: Personally, the idea of building something from nothing has always intrigued me. By this, I mean there is no canvas to start with and every physical aspect of the work has to be invented. I didn’t want to accept the physical parameter of the rectangular canvas as the beginning point for the majority of artwork I wanted to make. However, some aspects of the canvas still intrigued me; for example, how attention is brought to the surface of the canvas by the paint. I attempt to do this when painting an object, to draw attention to its surface and emphasise its three dimensionality.

The scaffolding that holds my consciously dancing hands and feet/ 2010

SOTP: A very interesting show in Seattle a couple of years ago- ‘Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-1978’- highlighted the many different ways that the idea of this ‘frame’ has been challenged by artists. This legacy has been built upon by artists ranging from Jessica Stockholder, Phyllida Barlow, Angela De La Cruz, Victoria Morton and Karla Black. Interestingly as well, the cover of the publication for the above exhibition has Niki De Saint Phalle firing a rifle as part of one of her works. Do you feel there is a particularly ‘female’ sensibility in this approach to ‘breaking out of the frame’, one which might be seen to challenge the history of male dominated frame painting?

EO’C: Undeniably there is a female approach to this topic, and no one can ignore the fact that male artists have dominated the history of painting. However, I cannot help but feel that just because a frame isn’t physically present in the work, that an approach to a type of framing isn’t there. Although not literally framing their artworks or putting them on a plinth, the work of the artists you mention is ‘framed’ by putting it in the institution of the gallery. So although these female artists might be attempting to break away from the history of the frame, I think it’s easier said than done.

Follow: Second right, straight, right, left, straight, right, and last left/ 2011

SOTP: What has inspired you in the making of work, when it comes to looking at films, or reading something, or looking at anything around you? Is there one or more encounter which has excited you outside of the studio and allowed you to make a connection back to your own work?

EO’C: Inspiration comes from a variety of different sources but mainly it comes from walking around cities, and shops in particular. The architecture of buildings, shop interiors and hardware stores can provide inspiration, especially when it comes to rummaging around second-hand shops and salvage yards in particular. You can never tell when something is going to inspire you, as was the case when I visited a Co-op yard where a discarded display stand for mouldings was being throw out. It went on to become the metal structure in my work “No dog too big or small for the Blackpool dog walker.”

(The real and the really made up) Turner mimicking sounds, Shyla Simpson at the dog park and Lauren's impression of a certain Irish man/ 2010

SOTP: Who have been your main artistic influences, contemporary and historical?

EO’C: My main artistic influences are Sarah Sze, Rachel Harrison and Jessica Stockholder. I especially relate to the manner in which their assemblages are carefully composed wholes, with individual elements identifying themselves after careful inspection. This is something that I try to achieve within my work.

The mechanisms of reality/ 2011

SOTP: To end our interview, can you talk about your experiences as a recent Fine Art graduate- what hopes and ambitions you carried with you through art college and what you feel about your next moves into the art world? What are the challenges ahead for new graduates in 2011?

EO’C: The hope I carried throughout college was to become a successful artist but I also knew I wanted to continue with my studies and do a studio- based Masters, which I am aiming to do in the near future. There are undoubtedly many challenges that face 2011 art graduates, and difficulties arise if a graduate tries to make a living solely from their artwork, especially in these economic times. For those who need a job to support their artistic career comes the cost of less time in the studio. At the opposite end of the scale for those who need a job, they are difficult to get. There are many challenges that recent art graduates face, but for all the challenges there are also some amazing opportunities that come in the form of bursaries, residencies and exhibitions. This makes the challenge worthwhile.

No dog too big or small for the Blackpool dog walker/ 2011

Evelyn O’Connor was born in Curraglass, a village in North-East Cork, and graduated from the Fine Art Painting Degree course at Limerick School of Art and Design in 2010.

She recently exhibited in the group show ‘Fumes of Formation’ at Queen Street Studios Gallery in Belfast, and is currently exhibiting in a group show in Cork entitled 'Half and Half'.

She has just completed a bursary which she received from the Contact Studios in Limerick, and has an upcoming solo show in the Back Loft in Dublin this November.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


SOTP: Thank you for taking time out to be the second subject of SOTP. The intention is for the structure of the interviews to keep to a fairly consistent pattern of questioning, so that over the course of the year similarities and differences of practice and thinking can be compared.

So first off…what are the critical debates in contemporary art just now that you can relate to as a painter? Or, are there other more important questions/ debates taking place nationally or globally that you feel more responsive to?

TS: The issues I’m concerned with are global such as pollution and waste recycling, and taking a stance- questioning what is deemed to be good and bad taste.

Once upon a time there was OIL 1(left panel) 1981/ Acrylic and encaustic wax on canvas/ 259 x 259 cm

SOTP: Around 2003 you made a body of work about skateboarders, which appeared to be a radical departure from your long-term commitment to the subject of landscape that is perhaps most commonly associated with you. Could you say something about the detour you took within that body of work?

TS: Every so often I step away from my main subject. I have made series of paintings about an inter-cultural dance project, the Greenham Common women’s protest camp as well as skateboarders. All of these disturb society’s notion of everyday order and good taste.

Which Side of the Fence, Greenham 1984/ Oil and wax on tarpaulin/ 300 x 400cm

SOTP: You have always been a painter fully engaged with fresh approaches to materials and surfaces, continually testing the possibilities of extending the ‘mixed media’ potential of painting practice. This question of the limits to a picture’s construction might be traced back to the 1950s through Burri and Tapies in Europe, and through Johns and Rauschenberg in America. In the 1980s Kiefer and Schnabel appeared to be extending this ‘tradition’, although some would say in an overtly bombastic manner.

What are the limitations you have perceived in ‘flat’ painting mediums, that propelled you to work in the manner you have over the years?

TS: I move beyond flat painting, and its prescribed boundaries. I involve myself with opposites; real/ unreal illusion; tactile surfaces; challenging whatever boundaries are associated with painting.

Touch the Earth Again 1987/ Plastic, oil, wax and found objects on tarpaulin/ 8 panels 550 x 730cm overall

SOTP: Do you feel connected to one particular strand/ movement in Painting? Do you have a sense of belonging to something from Art’s past or present history?

TS: Not really, I have many influences. I distrust categorisation and labels.

International Waters (right hand panel) 1990-91/ Mixed media/ 3 panels overall 290 x 380cm

SOTP: Has there been one stand-out encounter you have had away from the studio- it could be anything, a scene from a movie, a poem or the way a billboard has looked- that has made you think: “That’s what I’m doing in my painting.” ?

TS: The Greenham Common women’s protest camp and how the women’s movement perseveres in challenging discrimination.

Branscombe (after the sinking of the MSC Napoli) 2007/ mixed media on paper/ 229 x 229cm

SOTP: Whose paintings do you love looking at, now or from the past?

TS: I look at many paintings and sculptures: ancient and modern; western, eastern, African art; outsider and amateur art; children’s art. I am interested in and give attention to all art. Obviously some artists have influenced me as much for their daring to move away from the accepted form of the times as to what they produced such as Pollock, Turner, Grunewald, Picasso, Van Gogh and many others.

Lavernock 2 2009/ Encaustic wax on board/ 30.5 x 41cm

SOTP: Finally, your involvement and leadership in Fine Art education, notably at Cardiff Art College (now University of Wales Institute) from 1964 to 2001, gives you huge experience in having navigated the waters around Painting as an ‘academic’ field of study. You have also been External Examiner at The Slade, Chelsea and Reading. What are the possibilities and benefits you perceive for today’s Painting students at Degree level and beyond? Are there still good reasons for young and aspiring painters to want to go to art college?

TS: There is always a benefit for the serious student in going to an art college. As in all higher education students have the opportunity to grow and develop individually whatever the nature of a college or course. Art colleges are as much a seat of thinking as any university. Unfortunately governments are less supportive of art study than other subject study and I think here in the UK there has developed a visual ignorance on one hand, and a misconception that art is for financial investment on the other. The more this can be dispelled, the better will be the opportunities and respect for artists.

Terry Setch RA was born and studied in London, before moving to Wales where he taught at Cardiff Art College (University of Wales Institute). He has continued his practice from Penarth near Cardiff.

Represented by Michael Richardson’s Art Space Gallery in London, a major monograph on the artist was published by Lund Humphries in 2009: ‘Terry Setch’ by Martin Holman.

He was elected as a member of the Royal Academy in London in 2009.

Forthcoming exhibitions (all 2011):
New Display, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London
Terry Setch, Art Central, Barry, South Wales

Monday, 31 January 2011


SOTP: It’s great to have you do the first interview. In light of this SOTP would just like to begin with a bit of context, seeing as you are the first to sit down and respond to these questions. In doing so you’re breaking from your usual studio routine, or fitting it in somewhere else in the day. One of the goals of SOTP’s interviews is to see where the distinctions lie between the painter’s practice (‘the doing’) and the painter’s context (‘the theory.’) Of course the two are never far apart, but we perhaps make work now in an increasingly critical/ theory-driven environment of contemporary art.
Do you think there are any current critical debates within contemporary art that you can relate to as a painter? Is it important, to you, to think about the wider field or are you mostly thinking about questions of Painting itself?

EM: I suppose I could draw an analogy between painting and the music scene today, where no one style or ideology prevails- perhaps this is healthy as it allows for a freedom of engagement with the medium; this may also make it difficult should you wish to comprehend any coherent theory. Living in London I’m aware of things going on in the current climate, but I’m not so preoccupied with it all as I feel too much over-contextualisation can lead to stilted or frozen responses.

SOTP: Your recent exhibition ‘Green Light Wanes’ at the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin was a wonderful show of relatively smaller works, which seemed to be taking on a wider range of narrative references within the imagery you were using. Embedded within all of this was your continued commitment to a ‘sense’ of landscape. Could you say something about the intentions within your approaches to that Kerlin show?

EM: The look of ‘landscape’ appeared in my work about a decade ago, it was a way of placing thoughts in a wider space- literally this illusion of distance in my landscapes allowed me to step back and see what I was doing. All art is kind of organic in that it delivers itself from a previous state. My approach to painting is always experimental, allowing for previous attempts to give way to newer ones- it’s a kind of unfolding openness I try to follow.
I often use the scenic background from my upbringing in the Antrim Glens as a kind of backdrop or template for a notion of landscape. This can be tricky though as I don’t see myself as a ‘landscape artist’ in the traditional sense. I feel more like an artist who sometimes uses landscape to convey or bring out something from within.

SOTP: In recent years there has been quite a lot of commentary on Painting’s ‘new relationship’ with the photograph or digital media. Some painters, like yourself, have always found new and interesting ways of employing the photograph to inform the painting process. In one body of work you made an explicit presentation of museum postcards of paintings which you had over-painted, to hang alongside another painting of your own (I’m thinking here of your postcard of Courbet’s ‘Origin of the World’ and your work of the same title which is in The Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery collection. You use personal photographs for paintings, ‘found’ images and also sometimes photo-collage elements in the paintings themselves. What does all of this say about the relationship between your paintings and photography?

EM: The postcards you mention have been an ongoing preoccupation. I love seeing exhibitions and trying to analyse how a painting has been made, what brush marks are used, what level of control is applied or casual disregard adopted to make the piece. At the same time I’m trying to grasp what underpins the intention of an artist. Often over the years, like many artists, I come away with postcards from particular shows and leave them hanging around my studio. At some point I’ve had enough of the postcard or I just get bored and paint over it, like I was trying to say goodbye to the image and at the same time re-establishing some of myself in the work too.
The piece you refer to on display at the Hugh Lane is a painted postcard from a Courbet show I saw in New York a couple of years ago. I was struck by how easily he seemed to move between landscape and an explicit nude work. I tried to turn the postcard image back into what looks like a darkened landscape. I really like his title too- ‘Origin of the World’- it’s poignant, funny and profound. Titles are another thing I enjoy- very often they reveal a whole new layer to a work.

Installation shot from the Russian Club Gallery, 2009, London

To get back to your question, I think photography is just another form of image making; I use nearly all my own photographs for my work. Somehow with these landscapes it’s important for me to have a connection with the land the landscapes are taken from. I think it’s something to do with the unreliability of memory, whereby I can remind myself: that was ‘here’ or ‘there’ for sure. Subsequently I’ve this vast archive of photographs taken over 30 years or so, from everywhere but mainly from Ireland. For the final painting though, I don’t really want the emphasis to be lodged anywhere specific- I’m just using what seems familiar to my visual experience. Like an armature or a compositional construct I use it as a springboard towards something else.

SOTP: There is a fantastic juxtaposition of sorts that can be viewed just now between two adjoining rooms in The Ulster Museum in Belfast (the hangers of the work probably did not intend it.) Your painting ‘Chronicle of Orange’ can be viewed standing slightly to the right, and through the doorway to the next room can be seen Turner’s ‘Dawn of Christianity (Flight into Egypt)’.
The connections between the two works in terms of atmosphere and colour is quite remarkable, despite being 165 years apart (a sense of this is increased more so if you view the Tate Gallery’s database image of the same painting, except here it’s out of its circular frame and you can see his ‘test marks’ around the edges of the painting- this makes it an incredibly ‘contemporary’ image!)
This is a long way of asking you how you position your work in relation to the tradition of Romantic landscape painting?

EM: Thanks for making that observation with my painting in the Ulster Museum- I hadn’t noticed your connection, and seeing the web link to Turner’s work the first thing that struck me is the centre bit of his painting which looks like a blue explosion. It’s a great work by a great artist.
I do find this term ‘Romantic’ a bit problematic; it has many definitions, sometimes contradictory. Perhaps the very act of painting is in itself ‘romantic’, I don’t know, but I do get this label and the description never feels quite right. The Romantics from the late 18th and early 19th century seemed to be more of a god-fearing lot, living at a time in a much less secular society. Perhaps their need to portray awesomeness was a genuine shudder in the face of a vast, unknowing universe. Today, with the progress of science and globalisation, the perception of our universe seems different.

SOTP: SOTP would also like to ask its interviewed painters a straightforward question about any discovery that may have, in a background sort of way, influenced or connected with the painting process. It might be a passage from a novel, or a scene from a film, or a colour you saw on someone’s scarf. Is there any one ‘encounter’ you’ve had that sometimes slips into your mind when you’re painting or looking at a painting?

EM: Yes, there are lots of connections and triggers that find their way into my work.
The title of my recent show, ‘Green Light Wanes’, comes from Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’- the sentence is much longer: ‘…green light wanes to mauve…’ I’m attracted to writers who can use colour to convey emotion. After reading ‘Ulysses’, I felt a freedom of subject matter and a fluidity of thought. I like the way he allowed the past to flow through the present, I’m interested in this juggling with time. There’s a beauty and crudeness with his language too, which is quite an extraordinary balancing act.
At times I try to posit opposing positions in my work, sometimes deliberately trying to sabotage the work’s potential beauty… then trying to rescue it again. It’s a bit like a crazy polarity of intentions with mind and matter, and at best turning energy into form.

SOTP: One other straightforward question- whose paintings do you really love looking at, now or from the past?

EM: Another work from my recent show at the Kerlin is called ‘C.C. the C’- it’s a transcription from a painting I saw when I was doing a residency in Venice a couple of years ago. I was there for a while, which was great as it gave me time to really look at the art treasures there. In one church, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, there’s a painting by Giorgione on an easel surrounded by Tintoretto’s wall, floor and ceiling depictions of biblical scenes. The whole place is a bit overwhelming with imagery, then there’s this small work of Christ carrying the cross. It just seems to stand out in this claustrophobic environment like a moment of recognition. Oddly too it’s not completely certain who made the work, as it has also been attributed to Titian.

With contemporary artists it’s usually the feel of the whole exhibition I remember, instead of individual works. Maybe this is because artists today are often working in white gallery spaces and the whole space becomes a canvas rather than individual pieces.
I’ve a painting by Prunella Clough called ‘Array’. It’s an abstract work- I love its presence and looking at it, I also like what she’s says about making art: “Anything that the eye or the mind’s eye sees with intensity and excitement will do for a start. A gasometer is as good as a garden, probably better.”

‘Array’, Prunella Clough, oil on canvas, 43x60cm, 1986

SOTP: Finally, you have had experience over the years as a lecturer and external examiner on Fine Art Degree courses. SOTP hopes that as well as being a resource for any painter to consult, this series of interviews will be of particular interest to painting students. In the main, art college institutions are the ones that the majority of practicing painters have come through. Views and speculation have been rife for a while now about the uses and benefits of an art education in today’s world. A recent book ‘Art School- Propositions for the 21st Century’ contains a range of interesting takes on where it’s all heading for art students and art educators today. How does your own experience of being a professional practicing painter square against what is being asked of painting students today? Are there still good things about the models of painting education out there just now?

EM: I wonder about the changes in art education. A question I ask myself: are people fundamentally different from previous times? Has the need to make art altered?
I think it’s important to have some structure, but all the bureaucracy imposed from above isn’t really the most conducive way to foster a good creative environment.
I feel that some of the main things to help educate students should be support, space, funding and inspiring tutors. But ultimately it’s what they gain from their own peer group that can be the most important thing and no structure from above can prescribe these kinds of connections.

Elizabeth Magill was born in Canada, lived and studied in Northern Ireland and London, and lives and works in London now.

Represented by the Wilkinson Gallery in London and the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin, she is also featured in Phaidon’s recent survey book ‘Painting Today’ by Tony Godfrey.

Forthcoming show: Towner Art Gallery & Museum, Eastborne, March 25th to 19th June 2011