RHA Learning Event

Damien Flood interview with Patrick T. Murphy, RHA Director
8 Jun 2020 - 7 Jun 2021
Time:

So how have the last twelve weeks in lockdown treated you?

It’s been a strange few months. I’m lucky in that I have access to my studio so I’ve been making the most of the extra time there. But the mental drain from the current climate has taken its toll. Although I’m naturally quite solitary, the isolation from friends and family has been challenging and the general sense of unknowing is draining. There seems to be an end in sight which is positive but the full impact on the future of our economy and the impact on our sector is worrying.

You had some teaching hours has that income disappeared? 

At the moment I’m not sure how much this will be affected in the future. I teach at the RHA School and they have quite innovative plans for how the course will continue running which is great. But I can’t see any visiting lecture hours returning anytime soon. Learning in art colleges will be quite different for the foreseeable future and it will be interesting to see how this changes the landscape. Its clear technology has helped fill the void and re-connect people so I’m sure it will all work out.

Has getting by financially been a worry?

Thankfully I’ve been ok financially. I was working a lot before the lockdown and some gallery sales came in so I have enough in reserve to get me through it. But money is always a concern so I’m more worried about later this year and in particular how next year will be affected. The international art market relies heavily on air travel for exhibitions and art fairs, especially for Irish galleries and artists. There has been a lot of speculation on how art fairs will be affected. They are notoriously bad for art but can be a lifeline for smaller galleries coming from countries with limited collectors and can provide much needed exposure for artists. Shipping work abroad is another worry, prices are already high so I’m hoping air travel rebounds quicker than expected.

You have had several exhibitions in LA, how does the collector there differ from a Dublin one.

In my experience collators vary a lot from country to country. In 2017, I had two solo exhibitions open a week apart, one in LA and one in Belgium. The LA opening went well and there was lots of conversation, handshakes, and pleasantries. The LA audience was inquisitive asking what the work was about and what my influences were. The following week the show in Belgium opened and it was deathly silent. The rooms were full. The audience was up close and personal with the work, millimeters away from its surface. Every so often one of them would step back and mutter something to their friend in a language inaudible and foreign to me, then continue scrutinising the work, burrowing into it with penetrating stares. This silent intensity went on for over an hour by which time I had broken out in a cold sweat and was convinced the show had severely bombed.

Later, as I was walking towards the entrance of the gallery to get some air (and possibly formulate my escape) one of the collectors interrogating my work turned to me and started listing off a string of references and painters he could see in the work. He was able to identify all the points of reference I was working from, stemming back to artists like Caravaggio, Camille Carot to De Chirico, and Norbit Swontkowski. He also continued to elaborate on other references he could see in the work that I was unaware of but took with a complemented and dazed look on my face. This broke the silence and the rest of the opening was filled with very interesting conversations and general good energy. It was probably one of the more intense and interesting openings I’ve ever had in terms of reaction and discussion.

The collector in LA from my experience looks at the work in a very current time frame, referencing it to the artists’ contemporaries. I had an art historian talk to me at the LA opening pointing out the fact that you don’t get a lot of artists in LA using traditional painting techniques and the various paint languages I employ. I think this comes down to history and the culture that went before. LA has great fresh energy but is missing that deep history of painting that Europe possesses. This is not a criticism as it does create a very different environment to create and exhibit in. The time I’ve spent working and exhibiting in LA has influenced my work in many ways that couldn’t have happened anywhere else.

In Belgium, there is a long history of painting and collecting, which can feel exciting and intimidating at the same time. I remember the first thing the gallerist I work with in Belgium did when he came to my studio was to take a painting off the wall and examine the stretcher. I asked him why and he replied that the collectors in Belgium will want to know! Collectors in Ireland I think lie somewhere between these two. I have met ones that are hugely knowledgeable and astute buyers and I have met ones that buy purely for the love of the art and how it makes them feel. Personally, the latter has always been my favourite as I don’t think art should be fully known or understood. It should create a feeling in you and question you but not necessarily give answers.

When I was last in your studio, a couple of months before March, you had embarked on a new body of work, how is this progressing? 

It’s progressing really well. The work has been in production for quite a while. After my last solo show at the beginning of 2019, I decided to take the rest of the year off from exhibiting. It was actually two solo shows, one in Green On Red Gallery and one at Diane Rosenstein in LA. I had finished the work for these shows in October 2018 and felt the need for a change. I was tired of making work for shows without getting to experiment.

So for 2019, I decided to take a step back and not exhibit, slow down the painting and just experiment with new mediums. New ideas that couldn’t be made in paint had been bubbling up for a few years and I simply never had the time to pursue them. It’s been liberating to finally spend the time on them and see where they can go.

At the moment the work is in a very rewarding place and different elements are pulling together and suggesting new ideas. The initial ceramic works have taken the form of vases, urns, and figures which tug with dark humour at chords of association with primitive cultures and pagan offerings while echoing the emotional landscape of my paintings. They also explore the tension I exploit in the transition from the real world to the fragmented world of imagination and memory, further pulling on the tension between a figurative and abstract language. They bring with them a new layer to my practice and add dynamic possibilities for exhibitions through contemporary and historical cultural references. The ceramic works incorporate a wide range of techniques from coil winding, glazing, gilding, under firing and raku firing. My intention with them is to enhance the handmade and give the appearance of found artifacts that come from within the world of the paintings while simultaneously referencing everyday objects.

When you exhibit new work, when it leaves the studio and you see it in a gallery setting, does it change? Do you learn more about the work from that environment?

For me, it’s actually when I finally get to see the work fully and in context. I always make work in an exhibition context. Ideas are spread out over many paintings and now figures and vases. These juxtapose and operate in different ways when put into a space. Installing the show can alter certain works altogether and new and unexpected ideas can emerge. I see the exhibition as an overall work that is site-specific to the venue it’s in.  In the studio, you get glimpses of where the work is going, but it’s like using a weak torch in a very dark cave, you can’t see the whole picture. Sometimes for me, it feels like the work isn’t completed until it’s exhibited. When work sells before being exhibited it can be a very odd feeling. With the show at the RHA, it will be the first time that I fully get to see how the ceramic work operates with my paintings. I have exhibited a few pieces at Volta Basel and Vue Art Fair so I’ve seen certain elements at play but it will be exciting to see them in a full show.

Your upcoming exhibition at the RHA has moved from September to January, are these additional months a hindrance or a 
help? 

Very much a help. The show is quite ambitious so I’m not entirely sure how I thought I’d get it done by September. I think it would have been a slightly different show. Giving myself time with the work has become increasingly important to me, letting work sit and breathe. The extra months will let me produce a more rounded and well thought-out show. It’s also allowing me to take a few more chances that wouldn’t happen with the initial timeline. With a tight timeline you tend to have to edit out more ambitious or logistically complicated ideas. Also, making work in this current climate is quite interesting. I can’t say for definite how it’s influencing the work but I look forward to seeing the finished pieces installed in the RHA. I have a feeling it will be like stepping out of a thick fog and realising where we’ve ended up.

Art making is a singular occupation most of the time which makes socialising even more important for artists when they leave the studio, how have you fared?

I’ve faired ok. Possibly done more chatting over the phone and through messages but no replacement for a few pints with friends. Haven’t gotten into the whole zoom room chat thing but might start drawing more faces on inanimate objects.

Many of us are making little discoveries in our neighbourhoods during the restricted travel regulations, have you any to share with us?

Sadly not, but there is still time.

Any recommendations for interesting websites that you may have discovered over the last couple of months?

No, but I discovered the podcasts ‘You’re wrong about’ and ‘Behind the Bastards’ in recent months and they have been educational and entertaining.

Damien Flood is represented by Green On red Gallery, Dublin and Stephane Simoens, Belgium. His solo exhibition will open in the RHA in January 2020.

www.damienflood.ie

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Images, from top:

Damien Flood, Crying Man (Green)
, Unique hand-made coil wound earthenware clay, glaze with 22 carat gold leaf overlay, 13 x 11.5 x 15 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Green On Red Gallery, Dublin.

Damien Flood, Head Room, Oil on linen, 100 x 80 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Green On Red Gallery, Dublin.

Damien Flood, Landfall, Unique hand-made coil wound earthenware clay, Oil paint with 22 carat gold leaf overlay, 15 x 14 x 14 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Green On Red Gallery, Dublin.

Damien Flood, Bow, Oil on linen, 50 x 40 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Green On Red Gallery, Dublin.

Damien Flood, Circulate, Oil on linen, 100 x 80 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Green On Red Gallery, Dublin.

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