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.


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!