Friday, October 5, 2012


2011, 8 x 5 feet, oil on board
 (collection, Jerry Jones, Dallas)
 photo by Martin Seck

What are you working on in your studio right now?

My last show was in June / July 2012 and that was a selection of 14 paintings from the past two years, done since my previous show at Gasser Grunert Gallery in New York. Although I do not work on specific projects and see my painting as ongoing through my life, I do kind of feel that large solo shows are like punctuation marks. Seeing the work together in a gallery space gives me an opportunity to assess it and after that I usually find something changes in my next work. Having said that, I am beginning to work on new paintings since July and trying to move the work along to get rid of some elements that I felt had become a habit and try to go further with some other things - it is of course very difficult to be constantly searching for something new but if not, it would be boring.

Can you describe your working routine?

I live in my studio so I am seldom away from the work, either looking at it or actively working on it. These days I spend a lot of time looking, at certain stages of a painting I may sit and look at it for a few days before continuing to work on it again. I have a fear that time is too short in life to get anywhere with painting, so I always feel a pressure to be constantly working. I draw a lot as it helps me to focus my concentration and this can be helpful when I am painting.

2012, 4 x 3 inches, pencil on paper
 Figureworks Gallery, New York
2012, 5 x 4 inches, pencil on paper,
 Figureworks Gallery, New York.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

I live and work in an old Tobacco Warehouse, it is a little bit dark and with a skylight under which I work. The light in here may be a bit like a Rembrandt painting and although I could brighten things up with better and more modern lighting, as you can imagine, I don't want to. I start by painting my boards black and together with the light in my studio, I find this helps me to bring the light out in my work. I think a studio in which an artist can feel at home is important and I have been in this one for 15 years and now I feel comfortable here. I know it well and I have a lot of my history here, I think these things are helpful, I would not like to move to a white box.

In the studio, September 2012
photo by Bui Cong Khanh

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


I don't really start off with a picture in my mind for the work or a plan as such. I start by putting down colors and let them find their own way to something and I begin to respond to that as things build up on the surface. From then on I always let the painting evolve and together we find our own way along. I always try to make my next painting better than the previous one and different, each new painting is its' own thing, a new journey and exploration. So it is never a clear path or a sure thing of a successful outcome, I see it as an experimentation and a learning process and this element of living on the edge with the outcome of the work I find to be the most exciting way for me to paint. It is also a very highly pressured way of working as everything is done in the moment and many good paintings have been ruined in those few seconds and hopefully some have been all the better for it in the end.

These days I am using a lot of paint, not because I set out with an ambition to have that look of thick paint but because I am constantly changing the painting, in every session I paint the entire surface so the painting looks quite different from one session to the next and the paint thickness builds up because of that. I want to work in this way because I want everything to work together and have a fresh look and be done in that place in time. Therefore the finished painting, is the top layer of paint done in the final session. Those sessions are very physical and intense, they usually last about an hour at the end of which I am both mentally and physically exhausted and I may have about 3 sessions in a day.

I would like to be shocked or surprised by my work, but it is almost impossible to be surprised by something you made yourself, so this is why I am constantly changing things, creating and destroying, discounting the familiar and hoping for the painting to become organic and evolve rather than be designed.

2012, 8 x 5 feet, oil on board
(private collection, Germany)
photo by Martin Seck

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

I don't see painting in segments, it is all one thing, the painting is seen as an overall object in the world and it is not a case of having some good parts and some bad parts, as a painting it either works or it doesn't. If something is not right, you need to destroy everything and start again. The thing I am having most trouble resolving is the same thing as always, making something vital. I am trying to unearth something that is new, genuine and bring it into the world, to reveal something essential in life that transcends beyond a painting. Van Gogh did this for example, so it is not an impossible task but I have not found it to be particularly easy. So I keep on trying, day after day and although I realize I am most unlikely to achieve my goal, I would rather try and fail to achieve such a thing than settle for less.

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

I experiment with all kinds of materials, all kinds of paint and any kind of stuff I think may be useful. I have used air brushes in this work and painted with my hands or stuck on things I find around the place. However, I am these days using on those 8 x 5 feet paintings, only oil paint. I find I can push it further than for example acrylic and I am comfortable with how it behaves. I make a lot of work other than what is usually seen in exhibitions and in that I am using all kinds of stuff.
I started the following painting early in 2010, I had an idea for it when working in Burma in January and February of that year. I keep adding to it and at this point the individual pieces are layered 3 or 4 deep.

2010 - 2012 still ongoing,
currently installed to be 25 x 12 feet,
mixed media on canvas.
photo by Martin Seck
What does the future hold for this work?
I have no set ideas for my work but I hope to be able to make it better.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I grew up in N. Ireland and moved to live in USA in 1997, I have worked a lot in Asia, especially Vietnam but also China, Japan, Korea, Burma and other Asian countries. Although my roots in art go back to a Northern European sensibility and USA, I am almost as much influenced by Asian art and culture.

Svay Ken, Cambodia

I have an almost daily correspondence with Mike Knowles, a painter in Wales. He used to be my teacher at Liverpool Art School and a few years ago we got hooked up again through email. We talk only about painting and I frequently email to him photos of my paintings at the end of each day. This correspondence is important to me and is another element in my work.

Mike Knowles, Wales