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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.