‘An Artist Explains…’ is a new feature on this website where we ask a Galway based artist to explain a little bit about their practice, inspiration and ideas. Today, in the first of the series, Paul James Kearney discusses his painting ‘On the Grass’ as part of his solo show ‘The Races’ at Farmleigh House in 2014.
On the Grass, 2014, Acrylic and Black Ink on Gesso Board, 600 x 1200 mm | 23.6 x 47.2 in, Private Collection, Vienna, Austria.
Kearney: I completed Art School in May 2014, and immediately afterwards I had a looming solo show in Dublin. I was extremely lucky to have secured a landmark venue like Farmleigh House to showcase my works. The Races consisted of seven large works which were also my final year project in Art School under the tuition of Blaise Drummond. The work was directly linked to my thesis, which was titled Apollonian and Dionysian themes in Contemporary Art, which is a lot simpler in concept and more interesting than it reads initially. The terms Apollo and Dionysus refer to two Greek Gods, both sons of Zeus. Apollo is associated with order, consistency, premeditated actions, logic, and adaptive or learned behaviours that could be considered “civilised”. Dionysus on the other hand is associated with any art form that could not be quantified; music and theatre for example, and innate human impulses as a result of excessive consumption. Dionysus is heavily associated with alcohol, and disorderly conduct.
In previous work I had also referenced ancient deities and mythologies. I have always been interested in how various ancient civilizations accounted for events in life that at the time could not be explained. Artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and William Hogarth deal with the same themes in their work. In Bosch’s painting Garden of Earthly delights, Heaven could be viewed as Apollonian and Hell as Dionysian. In Hogarth’s Beer Street and Gin Lane, Beer Street could be viewed as an Apollonian scenario despite the depiction of alcohol being consumed, the subjects are very much aware of themselves at that point in time. In Gin Lane however, the subjects are not, and it can be viewed as a Dionysian scenario.
For The Races, I looked at contemporary Irish society for inspiration. I applied the same ideas as William Hogarth, depicting a narrative based on Apollonian and Dionysian themes surrounding Irish Racing culture, and the human behavioural changes that occur through alcohol consumption. The setting was perfect as it included the type of transitional state from the race-goers ‘feeling very posh dressed in suits and hats’ Apollonian state, to a ‘fornicating around corners and vomiting on each other’ Dionysian state. Having worked previously twice at hotels in Galway during the Race’s I have seen it all, as a worker you are treated like vermin, you might have married women and men groping you in places, and people trying to initiate combat, I even happened upon a man and woman engaged in carnal indulgence in the car park (and it was still daylight!). The fascinating thing about the Races, not only in Irish culture, but British and Australian Racing too is that many of these race-goers start out as an audience and then ironically become the spectacle themselves. They are transformed through excessive consumption of alcohol, and perhaps cocaine in some cases into salacious and savage people.
I had my hesitations in doing this series as I did not want to offend punters, race goers or anyone involved in the racing industry. After extensive visual, site specific and media research I began to paint. In all the works in The Races series, I painted the backgrounds on Gesso Board, and then ‘drew’ over them with Indian ink, allowing the ink to drip, in a way signifying the loss of complete control that comes from intoxication. I favour Acrylic paint as I feel it compliments Indian Ink better than Oils, and this is what I used in On the Grass (2014). I know a lot of people would disagree with me favouring Acrylic over Oil paint, however I find it more practical, particularly with deadlines looming as it has a faster drying time. I personally find that my work is rendered with more conviction in Acrylic than Oils.
For the series, I worked on multiple boards, both for practical and conceptual reasons, the works were quite large and I wanted them to be easily transportable. On the Grass was a work I nearly destroyed, it gave me a lot of grief and I believe all artists can relate to this feeling. There is a horrible failure of a painting underneath the one that was presented, the only remaining aspect of the original that can be seen is the rendering of the hair on the three figures in the foreground. Instead of painting over everything and starting again I used liquid latex to cover the area I wanted to keep, let it dry, painted over the work, and simply peeled off the latex to reveal the hair.
The title of the work On the Grass came after I had finished the painting, I named all seven pieces in the series, I only ever name works Untitled if they are very abstract.
Words: Paul James Kearney
Paul James Kearney’s work is currently on display at Café Renzo, 32 Eyre Street, Galway until November 30th 2015, and also at Galerie Iliev, Hohe Pforte 9, 50676 Köln, Germany. Contact Rumen Iliev @ +49 221 25899720 or Galerie@iliev.de