Wednesday, April 8, 2015


alkyd, spray, oil stick, and stir stick on canvas, 12" x 16", 2015

What are you working on in your studio right now?

Right now as I type this, I have a hair dryer blowing hot air on a painting that's face-up on the floor.  I poured some alkyd house paint that skinned over quickly which makes it difficult for the wet paint underneath to dry, so I'm just trying to help that process along.  It also has some old T-shirts of mine attached to the surface which are embedded in the poured paint. I basically have 2 series of paintings going now: one group that maintains the integrity of the picture plane and is painted with paint rollers, spray paint, and oil stick, and another group of paintings that are painted similarly but also incorporate collage materials that come out of my day job: drop cloths, stir sticks, paint skeins, tapes, rags, roller sleeves, etc.
alkyd, spray, oil stick, canvas strips on canvas, 24" x 30", 2015

Can you describe your working routine?

I don't really have a routine.  I'm not a 9 to 5 painter, per se.  I work very hard on my day jobs (house/decorative/scenic painting) but I would never want being in my studio to feel like a job and I don't want my paintings to have a feeling of labor, even if they take a long time.  I know a lot of painters that work this way and they manage to churn out a lot of product and are successful with it.  That's not what I'm interested in.   What I am interested in is doing the very best, most challenging work I can do that is interesting to me, regardless of what the market may think.  This is what's always guided me.  This 'not caring' about what the market thinks may have hurt my career but it's definitely helped my painting and my own development. 

Sometimes the best thing you can do in your studio is just be with your work – it's not always important be doing something.  Just BE with it and let it speak to you.  But when I am working I think it's important to bring a quality of emotion to the work – I love that Matisse talks about going to ride a horse if you're not ready to be in the studio.  Get energized!  Generally I work fast and things happen quickly.  But there are also times when the path is not clear, so I slow down a bit with lots of time between moves.   So it varies.  Hence, no real routine.  



Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

I'm very lucky to have a nice, big studio which I've had since 1985.  In addition to the sense of continuity the studio has provided, this is the studio where I learned how to make a big painting.  The large size also allows me to work on a bunch of things at once.  Also, I live and work in the same loft, so going to the studio is not an event or an action that requires a decision, as such.  I can wander in any time of the day or night with a cup of coffee or a beer in hand and just look.  The nice thing about living and working in the same space is it allows a more relaxed relationship with one's work - you can see things more unselfconsciously and hopefully, more clearly.  It's all about breaking down the illusions we all tell ourselves about our work.  I love my studio!



Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
Basically, I'm always working out of personal need and want my work to reflect my life.  This has been true of my abstract work as well as the representational work.  Previously with the Painter Man series, I worked in a narrative way because I needed to tell a story.  Once I told that story, the need to make explicitly narrative work went away.  Gradually I returned full circle to my first love of abstract painting.  The newer work draws on my long histories with both abstraction and commercial painting.   A painting can begin anywhere and end anywhere.  For example, a painting could begin or end with the application of the round paint skein that forms in the can of the alkyd house paint that I use.  I can do a large painting in a day and I just recently finished one that took 2 years to complete, so it's always different and it's that lack of a system that fascinates me.  My process asks a lot – both of me and the viewer.    

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

In the past couple of years, I've done a number of paintings where I've intentionally wrinkled the canvas surface during the "stretching" process.  Figuring out how to negotiate these surfaces has been very tricky and it took me a long time to resolve these canvases.  But I did resolve them and that's very satisfying.  I love that kind of challenge and risk.  It's what I'm painting for.  It's the inquiry, the investigation that intrigues me.


For Pete's Sake (Gridiron),
 alkyd and spray on canvas, 66" x 80", 2014

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

Yes AND yes, I don't see these as mutually exclusive.  I've always believed that we all need parameters, both so we know what we're doing but also so the viewer knows what variables are in play.  That said, rules are made to be broken and it's important to push ones boundaries all the time.  But if you are just doing anything at all, all the time, you'll surely end up with nothing.  That's not freedom.  When I reviewed Dona Nelson's show, I realized just how much rigor goes into the making of her work - she's not just having a good time making things up.  If you look closely at her work, you'll see slight changes from piece to piece, in other words, parameters!  But that's not what one thinks of when one thinks of her work.  Most of us think of that wonderful freedom she has.  Well, it's a hard-earned freedom accomplished within the parameters of her own personal working history. 
For me, in the 80's I activated the surface of my paintings by attaching small canvases to the surface of bigger paintings and also cut into the surface of the painting and attached canvases to the backside of the canvas creating a niche that accepts paint.  I also attached raw canvas, wood, paint tube tops, tin cans, styrofoam balls, etc.  I've posted some of these pieces on Facebook recently and it's been gratifying to hear people say that the work has a lot of currency now.  The surface attachments are never an end in themselves, but are just another element to consider in the making of a painting.   

 alkyd, spray, oil stick and pencil on canvas, 12" x 16", 2015

What does the future hold for this work?
I'm pretty excited about this new work and think I'll be mining this territory for a very long time.  That said, I can't predict the future of this work and that's what I find interesting.  Painting as adventure!
Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, I'd like to invite you, Valerie, to come to my studio.  My website hasn't been updated in a while and besides, I don't think the computer screen is a very good medium by which to view painting – so much is lost.  Thanks for the interview!  See ya soon!

alkyd and spray paint on canvas,  50" x 54", 2014

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Poetess on a Curved Road
oil on panel, 40 x 50 cm, 2015

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I cleared my studio and got new surfaces in January and since then I'm slowly developing the surfaces with layers of marks.  I have many ideas I want to work on in the future. I have always wanted to paint more nocturnal scenes and over the Winter I spent a lot of time walking the streets of a few small towns in Ireland, taking photographs. So I hope to create a few nocturnal paintings in the near future.

Can you describe your working routine?

I can only paint in daylight. Once dusk arrives I clean my brushes and leave. There is no such thing as a waste of time in the studio. Every single mark I make is relevant even if it is painted over, and helps to energise the painting later on. 

Every time I make a painting there is an intense feeling of finality, I give it everything I have like it's the last painting I'll ever make or it's the last exhibition I'll ever have. So I become depleted several times throughout the year and need to stop painting. I use this time to gather source material for further work and compose paintings in my mind. When the creative energy is high I am in 'outpouring mode' and I paint a lot. After an intense period of painting and I am exhausted, I am in 'intake mode'. Between the two modes I am constantly working. Like being asleep and being awake, they are both equally important.

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

I have a small, quiet studio space with a bright window just off O'Connell Street in Dublin, seconds away from everything. It takes me a long time to get used to a space, the space has to be blessed with work created there. Then it becomes a sacred space, as private as your own bedroom. I love the moment when I close the door of my studio away from the noise of the city and sink into the silent world of creativity. I love simply being there, it's where I truly feel myself. I always feel a slight ache of longing whenever I have to leave my studio and I take one long last glance into the room before I lock the door.


Work in progress. Painting a landscape over a portrait

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
Since I was a child I like to sit or stand in nature, after a while things start to happen, like a story unraveling before your eyes. I go into a meditative state. I try to capture the atmosphere of a place where I once stood, so the viewer is now standing in my place. 
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
Last year I began to push myself into making larger works and stop making very small works. It is my natural inclination to make small, personal works. I love the intimacy of being able to hold the painting in my hands. I have found it very difficult to translate these intimate marks to a much larger surface. I have also enjoyed making very small works as a warm up to larger works. The surfaces I am currently working on are much larger than what I am comfortable working on.

Work in progress

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
It depends on what I am trying to achieve with each painting. Certain ideas demand more experimentation. I like to sand surfaces back, add texture such as beeswax and sand, or pour paint onto the surface while working on the floor.
I love painting over my paintings, all that history is there in the surface. 
work in progress
What does the future hold for this work?
I have been invited to have a solo exhibition in England and in Denmark but I haven't committed to anything yet and feel I prefer to keep this year free. I can only make work just for the sake of it. I believe the quality and strength of work will invite the right venue for it.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
More information can be found on my website
Cardinal, oil on panel, 25 x 35 cm, 2014

Monday, February 16, 2015



Sienna around, 2014, 31x49cm, acrylic on plywood

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I have been working for some time on a large painting on paper, getting my head around the scale of it. This is my third attempt and the most difficult one so far because I really stripped away any acquired method and preconception to allow something fresh to emerge (hard and slow work). Besides that I continue to work on a couple of smaller paintings on wood, using much the same approach and materials I have developed over the last few years.

Untitled, 2015, 28x32cm, acrylic and paper on plywood with plywood lintel
Can you describe your working routine?

I don't have one unfortunately! I have a full-time job four days a week so I aim for 30 to 40 hours painting time over about 6 sessions per month. Not a lot. Slow learning curve.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
My studio is quite small and while I do have some natural light it is rather ”atmospheric" and I need to switch the ceiling halogen lights on to be able to see sufficiently. I have two desks and several trestles and I switch rather haphazardly between them and a couple of shelves to paint, put my tools and materials, cups of coffee etc. on. It's quite an easy space to heat which is a first as studios go - no more blue fingers in winter!

The first of larger painting of three, in progress –
the finished work looks quite different, see below

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc..

A close friend asked me not long ago "what do you want from your work"? Key question, right? This was my answer and it still holds true right now, being recent, though as we all know these assessments change as we keep evolving:

In the studio I want the painting to develop freely and become something unanticipated. I want it to be more than me so I have to follow rather than lead. This only works when I am feeling strong and self-confident - then I am more daring and cope better with the necessary ambiguity and planlessness of the process and I am able to make the more difficult choices and be persistent. The painting is best when it has an anxious energy and uncertainty and when its complexity isn't down to the amount of its components but how they behave (their shape, materiality and colour) towards another and within the outer confines. They need to look concise and simple and at the same time indefinable and shifty... I think I am describing the state of being alive, that anxiety of questioning everything constantly and being suspicious of simplistic concept, ideas and certainties. I seem to be trying to emulate that with my work, although it's not something I have ever consciously aimed for - I have just realised by looking at my method and approach and the outcomes I judge to be successful, that ultimately it is this "life-anxiety" what I seem to be after in my paintings. There is also something to do with suffering and grace but I haven't yet been able to get my head around that... 

The first larger painting of three,
finished and not bad but in my view not wholly successful
Untitled 2014, 145x165cm, conté and acrylic on paper
The second larger painting when it was close to completion -
the black paper at the bottom is still only tacked on as a trial
Untitled 2014, 1.45x1.65cm, conté and acrylic on paper
Beginning the third larger work on paper at the end of 2014 –
it’s very different now and still far from finished
Untitled 2015 (unfinished), approx. 150x170cm acrylic on oiled paper

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

The word "resolve" is quite multifaceted - it has a few different meanings which could be interesting to apply to the creative process. I assume that in this question it is meant to imply the achievement of a solution. And I am not aiming for a solution in my paintings so this struggle is not mine.
smaller paintings and drawings
(in front: paint sketch III 2014, A4, acrylic on paper)


Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

I love paper and wood for their complexity, texture and flexibility. I never enjoyed painting on canvas especially not if it is stretched over a frame - I hate the springiness of it. I have long worked with pressed pigments, linseed oil, varnishes and I use acrylics as my main medium. I have tried my hands at oils and turned out a rather lovely, luminous little painting but I didn't fall in love with the technique which at the time I found a bit too precious and restricting. I always liked the immediacy and plainness of acrylic as well as their easy adaptability so that's why I stuck with them. Though this may change of course - things shouldn't get to comfortable so if that threatens I may need to switch to a different medium.

a detail of  dove grey curve
(dove grey curve 2014, 33x36cm, acrylic and varnish on plywood)

What does the future hold for this work?

I hope I don't know. I shall be very happy as long as I'm able to keep painting and continue to meet the unexpected in my work.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

There have been great artists who were able to put their experience, thoughts and feeling into words eloquently and often beautifully. Kandinsky was one and I happened to talk to another artist about his book today which is very good. A quote then, and a sort of appeal:
“… lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to “walk about” into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?”

untitled, 2014, 30x38cm, acrylic on plywood