Nick Miller and the thrill of painting with a gun to your head.....

Patrick: after Olympia and Venus”. Nick Miller 2011. Oil on linen. 182 x 214 cm / 72 x 84
All images are courtesy of the artist and Rubicon Gallery Dublin

Nick Miller's work will be installed in the Heritage Council, Kilkenny for the duration of the Festival. It will be a film about the creation of this painting of his old friend Patrick, shown on an easel from his studio, while the resulting painting will be on view on another easel. It has been set to music by Kevin Volans, a South African, now living and working in Ireland.

Nick kindly participated in this on-line interview which I think is a wonderful insight into his influences and processes. His "gun to the head" honesty and intensity comes through in his own words. I am inspired by the prospect of experiencing art which draws on such long traditions and pre-digital knowledge. Be there!

I was very struck by the image that you chose for the Kilkenny Arts Festival brochure, it's of you at work in the studio rather than a finished work, why was that?

Well the image you refer to is actually a still from a film I made concerning the making of that particular painting. Both the film and painting are shown together for the Kilkenny piece. So the viewer can simultaneously see the actual painting and a film looking at it's creation.

Nearly all my work is made in the presence of a subject, whether that is person or landscape, so in a sense there is always a performative aspect, and it succeeds or fails within time limits. In this case, the subject is a friend, Patrick was available for three days, so the painting and film were made over those three days. The element of time and participation of the subject have always been important to my way of working, they provide the limits and context within which to make a work. I decided to make the film to try to reflect that....

What kind of daily process do you follow?

As I said, my daily process is really determined by what or who I am painting- in a way I made this film piece so that the process you ask about, is open to being seen, so that it becomes clearer how the painting is made, warts and all. I used to be much more of a daily painter, now I tend to work in more intense bursts. The intervening periods when not actually painting are a mixture o family life, periods of reverie and the ever growing burden managing one's survival as an artist in a complex world.

I read that you used to work from a truck, why was that?

Going back to what I just said about being present with the subject, I got the truck in the late 1990's to enable me to be 'in' the landscape I was painting while I worked, converting it to use as a mobile studio. For me its always about “being there” and trying to fix the “is-ness”of things in paint. The truck was a very practical solution to be allow me to be there in nature and work on large canvases with the protection of a studio environment. I have broadened that approach over recent years, with an interest in occupying or building temporary studios, such as the piece currently on show in Massachusetts, a 360˚ view from a tree house platform/studio in a New England forest painted over two months of the leaf fall.

Who and what influences you?

My education in art has been driven by a wandering through museums in cities around the world and seeing what I connect with. So while my influences flux and changes within that vast array of image making in the the world from ancient to contemporary. Personally I connect most deeply with the art from pre-photography and pre-digital eras, when the painted image was still miraculous. It still can be that way- it is just more complicated now. There are many miraculous painters, but to get a flavour of what I mean: Van Eyck, Bellini, Titian, Goya, Velasquez....and many more. Of course now, it has become even more interesting to paint now because there is really no function or apparent need for it.

Then maybe an influence for this project was growing up watching Rolf Harris painting on TV singing 'two little boys”!

Aidan Dunne of the Irish Times said that you steer clear of the picturesque, what did he mean?

I guess that I don't make particularly pretty paintings? Or in the context of landscape I was less interested in the view than energetics of the particular land I was painting. In relation to portraits, I think that the language I use takes a while to get used to. The time constraints often mean there are flaws, a cost of completing work with the person present. But for me it is easily offset by a certain precipitous thrill, like painting with a gun to your head.

What is the Kilkenny show about?

Really it is about all I have just talked about above, but specifically I had decided to look at the reclining nude in my work, something I would have avoided where possible when working with the figure, preferring something more confrontational that forced me and the viewer to address presence of the sitter. However I had been Looking at some old greats: Giorgione and Titian's Venuses, where the female subject is presented as fully available for the viewer....Then Manet's fantastic groundbreaking and confrontational Olympia, a similar pose but completely different vibe.

It was an itch I had to scratch, I got lost in those paintings, and needed to make one myself. Originally I intended a female version, but took refuge in working with Patrick, an old friend who I have known and worked with for a long time. We had attempted to film much earlier work together in the 1990s, without great success but I decided to try again.

Essentially I simply reworked the Olympia pose with Patrick as subject...the meaning, if any, is ambiguous, but I was interested in tackling modesty/exposure and our relationship to the naked body in the aftermath of the camera.....but most of all I was interested in making a painting within the three day time constraints of his presence and recording it's evolution on film to try and introduce a sense of time into the finished installation. The addition of the studio sofa which the audience can sit , and two of my studio easels to hold painting and projection canvases...is really just to add to the sensations of 'being there' The short run at Kilkenny meant I won't miss them too much.

And the Music by Kevin Volans?

Part of me wanted the film to run in real time...but god that would have been dull, so I asked Kevin Volans if he had any ideas for some music to give structure to the film... I had decided not to use the original sound and I wanted the film to have an improvisational, silent film type feeling. In the end Kevin came up with a fantastic piece “Trumpet vibe Cello Piano” which gave a 22 minute time frame for us to edit the film. For me it works really well pacing the making of the painting, reflecting time and gives an off beat almost jazz experimental feel to the film.

I'd love to know if you would have any gems of wisdom to pass on to younger struggling artists?
Develop a very very thick skin, but keep your vulnerable heart.

See www.nickmiller.ie    and    www.rubicongallery.ie



The herbs like me and so I like them.

These photos are of some flowering herbs in the garden right now; Thyme, Oregano, Borage and Fennel. These are some of my favourite plants. The garden soil tends to be boggy in spots and in the summer can also be very dry. This suits herbs very well. They seem to like me, grow happily and so I like them!

All herbs are great and I love turning them into interesting salad dressings, pestos and also salsa verde which is great for fish and meat. For the salad dressing add to your favourite olive oil, mustard, honey and some garlic. For the pesto blend with oil, lemon, garlic, pinenuts or pumpkin seeds, For the salsa verde just add lemon, oil, garlic, anchovies and/or capers and give the whole thing a whizz in a blender. Most combinations work and I think parsley is good as a base.

No I don't ever do quantities, I am such a lazy cook, and for that reason I am not normally a food blogger. I just get carried along by the fragrances and the character of the plants. They inspire and I follow!



Summer in the Mount Congreve garden in Waterford


In the spring I wrote about Ambrose Congreve and his amazing garden. He died in the interim at the age of 104. The gardeners say he was still very actively involved and in fact he was attending the Chelsea Flower Show in London when he passed away. These photos are from a recent July walk,  he will always be a presence there.

The earlier post from April 21st is called Perfection.


The Darker Wood, an interview with artist Lucy McKenna

Lucy McKenna is a Kilkenny artist working in multimedia, including painting, drawing, film, photography and installation. The Darker Wood is an installation for Kilkenny Arts Festival which will be in KIlkenny Castle Park and is based on work she undertook on Toronto Island, Canada in 2010. It draws on the history of that island and on fairytales. I can't imaging a better setting for her work than the Castle. These images (courtesy of the artist) are sections of the preparation in her studio. From August 5-August 14

As I am still facinated by all things creative at the moment I met Lucy online for an interview about herself and her hopes. I was attracted by her amazing photographs and her upbeat tone about art. Looking forward to seing what she does in the Castle.

What initially drew you to become a professional artist and are you glad of that decision now?

Well I have been creating art since I was small, so it was a natural progression to become an artist. I think it was just in me. I don't think it was really a conscious decision until I was older and began submitting my work to exhibitions and residencies and I realised I could so this professionally and make my career in it.

How would you describe your work?

I use multi media in my work; drawing, painting, photography, installation and video. So using these mediums I try to investigate something I am interested in, whether it is an idea or a story, and visually explain how I see it or how it makes me feel. Over time I have come to realize that my work seems to always have some element of magic, the supernatural, or spiritual, and attaching these to organic or physical elements somehow. My work is very motivated by native culture, folklore and mythology sometimes mixed with scientific subjects like particle physics or astronomy.

You have done a lot of travel through your work how is that important to you?

I have undertaken three international residencies as part of my practice so far, and these have had an immeasurable effect on my work. Living in a new environment where I am learning about a new language, culture, landscape, way of life, folklore, everything… it gives a huge momentum to my work. It has also been a fantastic way to meet new artists, collaborate with them and learn new techniques. I have made friends for life on each of the residencies I have done, so I can't promote their importance enough. I hope to undertake more residencies in the future.

What kind of process do you use on an everyday basis to stay inspired?

It can be hard to find inspiration all the time, as some days life takes over and you have no time to create art. But I try to stay focused and always have some creative project ongoing which I can chip away at. Some work is quite immediate, like drawing or painting, and other pieces take a longer time. For example a video piece may take months to finish from the time you shoot the film through getting it developed, and editing it, or adding audio. I always make sure I have something to work on.

Congratulations on the Artlinks Bursary? How will it help your work?

Thank you, I am absolutely thrilled to have won the Bursary, Artlinks is a fantastic organization. It has made a huge difference to my practice for the coming year, as I will not have such a large weight of debt from making new work, and it will enable me to make new work sooner. More immediately it will make a huge difference to the piece which I have been working on for the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

What have you got in store for Kilkenny?

For the Festival I will be installing up to 70 pieces of small sculpture in a location in Kilkenny Castle Park. These sculptures are made from sheets of wood and they are based on a piece I developed on my most recent residency in Canada. They incorporate a pattern or branches and hands, inspired by a Brothers Grimm story called 'The Juniper Tree'. The pieces will be hanging from the trees in one particular spot, so keep your eyes peeled for them!

See also Lucy's website  www.lucymckenna.com and follow Lucy here on Twitter

For further information on Artlinks go to www.artlinks.ie


Watch out in the long grass

I mentioned recently that the Common Frog would be making an appearance. Here he is in the company of an Azure Damselfly, a Ringlet Butterfly and a Common Green Grasshopper. Although I am lazy at looking up the references I am always glad when I do and I now have a growing knowledge of what lives around here. I found the Grasshopper by diligently following that sound of his legs rubbing together which is how they make the rattling. I had actually never managed to do that before and I was delighted to see one up so close.

The Ringlets and the Damselflies are very common at the moment but hard to photograph as they move all the time. Walking through the long grass they rise up in front of you from where they have been impossible to see, they camouflage so well. As the summer progresses the grasses are stronger, darker and going to seed. It's just flying by.


A fish man in Beara, a French MD and a guy in a bar.

Been blogging and tweeting from Foxglove Lane now since February. The surprising bit has been the connections made around the world with people going about their daily lives, doing what they do and sharing it. This has been a hopeful sign about the world and how we feel about each other as human beings. Have I just been lucky? I don't know, but random conversations and connections have been positive and stimulating. I love reading about the fish man in Beara, the state of the industry, the height of the seas; the French MD who sends me the thoughts of Malraux or translates the lyric poetry of her country to comment on my garden; the young aspiring writer working in a bar in Waterford during the Tall Ships week end casually describing his exhaustion.

I don't really touch on sport, I avoid too much politics, I generally stay away from main stream marketing. But even still there are wonderful business people I have met who are natural networkers, so much so that even I have found them supportive, helpful, funny and interesting.

Recently blogging about artists has brought me to a point of wondering whether I am more producer or  consumer? Looks like the world is divided here. Those of us who produce, rely on those of us who consume. The creative social media world is made up of both. Which am I? Which are you? Either way maybe I have found a reason not to fear the dark evenings of winter quite so much.


First the fragrance then the fading Roses..........

Paddy was showing me two things. A large common frog and believe it or not a maggot inside the root of a cut dock plant. (Paddy may not be a hundred percent tuned into what I am doing here because he regularly calls me over to see stuff like this when he is digging, saying "Now there's a thing you could be blogging about!!") And it's true of course and I do love beetles, frogs and even maggots sometimes......

Then I am reading about "steering clear of the picturesque in art", and I find I just can't take that in. Well I know what Aidan Dunne means, and artists have to have to avoid cliches and romance I suppose, but mere mortals like myself can be seduced by beauty on a regular basis. And so it was today, first I got the fragrance and then the full rose tree, with the classic chocolate box fading blooms, and I couldn't resist.

The frog will feature later, and he was a fine specimen, but today I am going with these roses, as I know they have never made a public appearance on any chocolate box and to me anyway they are simply beautiful. By the way although I took a hundred and forty nine photos of the maggot, he won't be making a showing, as no matter how I photoshopped him he was grotesque in the extreme, and would certainly frighten the children!


This art is from the heart and soul: A Preview

Ok I am wearing my hear on my sleeve about this one. If you want to be inspired, if you are a creative artist or an aspiring one, don't miss the KCAT exhibitions in Callan during the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

The formal art world is not the only means of artists interacting with an audience or finding a marketplace for art. Because all art isn't about that. Sometimes it is a human impulse, it comes from the heart and soul...it is best experienced through interacting with the work, the artist and the studio where the art is made.....that's the bit I love anyway....and of course it is about reflecting and exploring innate creativity and joining artists in that. It shouldn't ever be a case of separation, insiders and outsiders, the artist and the audience, the good or bad in art.

Art, on a good day, can also be about community, caring, friendship, love, inclusion, freedom. If so then it's always a good day in the KCAT studios in Callan.  I was priveledged to meet personally four wonderful artists who will exhibit as part of the Callan segment of the Kilkenny Arts Festival. What struck me about them? They are hardworking and dedicated, they have vision and passion about their work. They each have their own unique way of making art, they share a studio and a life together and every so often they also share the results with some one like you or me.

It really is an impossible task to share more of the philosophy, the atmosphere or the commitment of this community of creatives, check them out for yourself. It will rub off and you will find yourself re-committing to your own creativity.......now how do they work that magic!

 Georgie McCutcheon is now a very established artist. He was perhaps the catalyst for KCAT. When I met him in his studio he was working in a very gentle way carving building blocks into small segments for an installation piece which will be shown in the exhibition. The studio is remarkably neat as he continually sweeps up the dust that he creates. He kindly chatted to me and then presented me with a carving. He also designed the KCAT logo which can be seen here printed on the back of his overalls. Can't wait to see the culmination of his dedication, he is in the studio from morning until night.

Jack Foskin created a towering sculpture of a man. This man has fed his imagination to the extent that a whole world involving him is being revealed in his recent paintings. Jack is originally from Waterford and is proud to tell me that his artistic talent came from his Dad a glass engraver in the famous Waterford Crystal. The work is dramatic and beautiful, animals, fire, landscapes, inspiration from neanderthal times.

Andrew Pike says he has made an imaginary landscape based on some early childhood memories of New Zealand and some imagery from the locality. The exhibition is going to be more about sculpture and he felt it was important to try to put human figures into the piece whereas he usually prefers animals and birds. Like the other artists he is keen to discuss his many journeys around the world where he has exhibited his work. He would like to see more examples of inclusive art studios like KCAT in other parts of Ireland.

Frances Casey has carved two sets of heads into a bespoke wooden bench. The women are carved onto the back rest and the men are on the seat. He describes to me the various characters, two sisters fighting, a mother, an auntie, and a granny, a scout leader. He talked about family and community tribulations, the battles between men and women, the goodness in people. This is his expression of how he feels about it.

I didn't get to meet Mary Cody whose work will be on show in the L'Arche Cafe in Callan. However I did get a sneak preview of her project Sky, Stones, Sea will be made up of visually stunning paintings with a silky sheen and layers of colour.

Andrew Pike, Jack Foskin, Karl Fitzgerald, Jason Turner, Francis Casey and George McCutcheon will show their work in the Callan Workhouse from 5th August. Mary Cody will be in the L'Arche Cafe Callan.

For more information about KCAT and the integrated studio sessions and courses see www.kcat.ie

Thank you to Jean and Anja for making my visit possible.


Interview with Alison Lowry: Vessels of Memory

Jack fell down (Courtesy of the artist)

Alison Lowry is an artist who is interested in textiles and fabric as a "vessel for memory" and she is facinated by glass. Again her work is very much from the heart, is intimate and draws you close. Alison will be exhibiting with Rachel Dickson in the Kilkenny Arts Festival at the County Council Offices from August 5th.  Thanks Alison for your very open on-line interview which is inspiring to all late comers to art and gives an insight into what we can expect from the show. I for one am so looking forward to it!

Ireland isn't big on visual art, what influenced you in your life towards a career in art? What artists have influenced you?

I always enjoyed drawing as a child, but never felt I would be 'good enough' to become an artist. I returned to University as a mature student and graduated two years ago....and am now doing it!! My most recent artistic influences would include Louise Bourgeois and Silvia Levenson, though I enjoy going to exhibitions of any genre of art. I recently went to the Alexander McQueen retrospective ant the Met and it just blew me away.

Do you have a handy definition of “Art” ? What is it for you? Is there such a thing as good and bad art?

I can only define 'art' in my own terms I suppose, I have no universal defining system. Art, for me its a very personal thing. The 'best' art  (or the art I like the most) is true and from the heart (if that doesn't sound too cheesy!) It affects you in some way, it creates a response, be that a negative or positive one

What do you do everyday, what process do you use for developing your work? What is your studio, workplace like? 

I am a mother of three small boys, so my life is really the daily grind of being a housewife and mum. I work a lot in the evenings and Tuesday is my 'studio' day. I am very economical and organised with my time when I'm there! I have learnt that it takes a long time to develop and refine a body of work. I think the nice thing with the "vessels of memory' project is that we've had a whole year of touring it and the show has changed and matured as it's gone along.

 What keeps you going and motivated, can you make a living in Ireland?

I really feel I have to work to stay sane! I'd like to spend more time doing what I'm doing, but thats just not possible currently. I supplement my income teaching workshops and masterclasses in various glass techniques. If you fancy having a go , just contact me! Can't say I'm making much of a living 'through art' currently . . . but maybe in years to come (I live in hope!)

What for you is the most rewarding part of your life as an artist and what is most challenging? (A photo of you would be great here)

Every so often you make a piece that really stands out, that maybe expresses something you didn't even know you felt...that makes it all worthwhile. Unfortunately there's probably 20 scrap pieces behind it just to get to that one!

What is your Kilkenny show about? Is it part of what you do to have an audience? Do you like to communicate with the audience? 

The Kilkenny show is about how objects, no matter how trivial, can become containers for memory. In my work I play with the perceived meaning of the object and examine the nature of childhood.

For more information and images of Alison's work go to www.alisonlowry.co.uk

All photographs are courtesy of Alison


Interview with Rachel Dickson: Vessels of Memory

Rachel Dickson is Course Director, Art and Design with Integrated Foundation Year University of Ulster. Her work consists of porcelain, paper and clay, constructing garments which also trace personal stories. I was immediately drawn to the images I have seen of her work probably because there is such a strong human dimension to it. I have never met her but she agreed to take part in an online interview and share some of her thoughts with us. Thank you so much Rachel, looking forward to seeing the show on August 5th in Kilkenny.

Ireland isn't big on visual art, what influenced you in your life towards a career in art? What artist's have influenced you?

My mum was an art teacher, and my aunt a printmaker, so I was surrounded by art from the beginning. It may sound strange, but my mum tried to put me off studying art, she said I would never look at things in the same way again. I think she was right. I was very academic at school, and considered studying french and history of art, but woke up in the middle of the night with some sort of epiphany! I had to make art, not just read about it. I would say I am more influenced by films and literature, than other artists. I think the  written word can help create your own visual world.

Do you have a handy definition of “Art” ? What is it for you? Is there such a thing as good and bad art?

I think good art is something that makes you think, that makes you see the world in a way you might not have considered. I think lazy art is bad art.

What do you do everyday, what process do you use for developing your work? What is your studio, workplace like?

I am Course Director for the Foundation course at the University of Ulster, so my everyday involves talking to students about their ideas. It makes you realise how valuable that time at college was, it is perhaps the only space you have to be totally enveloped by your ideas, and be challenged by others.

When I am making work, I use my spare room…nothing elaborate, but it's a quiet space. I have to treat making work as another job! I draw, write and make paper moquettes, but I really enjoy the 'research' part. Sometimes, I record conversations on buses, in cafes. These snatched moments provide a lot of inspiration.

What for you is the most rewarding part of your life as an artist and what is most challenging?

I think the most challenging is not being challenged. When you work alone, you rarely have the chance for other opinions, or critiques, and encouragement! The most rewarding point comes when you are in the middle of making work and you realise that THIS is who you are...

What keeps you going and motivated, can you make a living in Ireland?

I have come to realise that it is extremely difficult to make the work I make and for it to provide an income. As I am also a lecturer, I am lucky that I have the security of a wage, so I can make work that I want, and not compromise.

What is your Kilkenny show about? Is it part of what you do to have an audience? Do you like to communicate with the audience?

The show deals with ideas of memory and circumstance, through the use of unreal
 garments and domestic objects. Drawings and printed text provide uneasy connections between object and word, to develop a narrative of the wearer.....a life lived. It is important to have an audience. Part of the aim of making work is to touch and connect with another. To make them think about those small moments that are easily forgotten. Once the viewer notices text, or a drawing on one piece, hopefully they seek it out in others.

Rachel will be exhibiting with Alison Lowry at the Kilkenny County Council Offices from August 5th. I hope to have an interview with Alison soon and will review the show when it opens. Looking forward to it. (All photos are courtesy of Rachel) For more see www.racheldickson.co.uk