An exhibition of paintings
by Irish artist Helen O’Donovan
24th October – 19th December
This body of work is concerned with the transient nature of our existence. The combination of everyday objects with various unknown life spans and the potential longevity of oil paintings are used to reflect the relative constancy of the human presence compared to the temporary existence of the individual.
Helen was born in Cork City in 1988. She studied fine Art in the Crawford College of Art and Design where she graduated this year with a BA Honours Degree in Fine Art. Helen is currently working and living in Cork based in Backwater Artist Group.
Interview with Helen O’Donovan
When did you decide to become an artist?
I have always had an interest in art, even as a child but I didn’t decide to become an artist until shortly after I finished secondary school. I had taken a year out to try a career in a different area but soon decided it wasn’t for me. Then I decided to pursue a career in Art. I left that job to take a PLC Course in Art, Craft and Design in Colaiste Stiofan Naofa. From there I applied for and was accepted at the Crawford College of Art and Design.
What inspires you?
For me inspiration can come from anywhere whether it’s from reading books, watching films, talking to other artists etc. A good way for me to get inspired or to think about things when I’m stuck or having difficulty resolving an idea is to bounce ideas off other artists. Going for a walk and letting my mind wander is also a good way to get inspired because you don’t know who or what you’re going to see which might spark an idea.
Have you been influenced by other artists?
I have been influenced by many other artists. I have a long list of favourite artists that I look to to motivate myself. I especially love the work of Michael Borremans, Alyssa Monks and Luc Tuymans. Their work excites me and makes me want to make work. Also in College if I was ever having a slow day or having difficulty motivating myself to work I would walk around the other studios and seeing the work of other students would motivate me to work.
What is your work process?
I use photography a lot in my process as a tool for documentation. Then I work from the photographs and do some sketches and planning in my sketchbook and try and resolve the composition. I also play around with the photographs and sketches eliminating information from the composition or adding information from a different source. When painting I work form the photograph at the beginning but after a while I put the photograph away and just go with it.
What’s your favourite colour?
I have a few favourite colours depending on the situation but when it comes to my current work my favourite colour is white. Previous work had been quite dark so when I began this body of work I felt a need to work with pale colours.
When you create art do you have a particular audience in mind? Is there a future for paintings in contemporary art?
I don’t have a particular audience in mind when I paint. I would hope to be able to create work that could be enjoyed by anyone. I do believe there is a future for paintings in contemporary art. In my final year in college a quarter of the students were painters. There are also a lot of contemporary practising artists working with paint. For example, for the 2012 John Moores painting prize in the UK, there were approximately 4,500 entries from artists based in the UK alone. The amount of new artists working with paint gives me confidence that there is a future for paintings in contemporary art.
What role does education play in the development of an artist?
I think education is extremely important in the development of an artist. We need an education in the history of art so we can achieve a better understanding of how art has developed. We also need to educate ourselves in contemporary art and be aware of what’s going on in the art world.
Is there such a thing as a good artist and a bad artist? If there is how do you define this difference?
I find it difficult to say whether there are good or bad artists. I am aware that not everybody is going to always like the work I create and there’s no way to please everyone so those people might consider me a bad artist and people that do like my work might consider me a good artist. I think it’s subjective.
What is this exhibition Moments about?
This exhibition was inspired by an event in a hospital where I was conducting a mural and signage project. I was painting in four long stay geriatric units and one day one of the rooms was being cleared of personal possessions as the patient occupying it had passed away. In a matter of days that room was occupied by another patient and their personal possessions. This event got me thinking about cycles and how some things remain constant (like the room) and other things (like people or objects) are part of a cycle. I then began thinking about how we are all part of a cycle and our daily routines that are cycles within a cycle. The daily routine of the individual is something I began to focus on and this is why I began painting the objects. The objects I use have various lifespans which are difficult to predict in an attempt to reflect our own lives and the element of chance and unpredictability involved.
Has your practice changed over time?
My practice has definitely changed over time both conceptually and visually and I hope it will continue to develop. Even if the concerns in my work are similar I will develop my work and improve my skills. I had tried working in a variety of media in college before I began to use oil paint and even when I did begin working in oils I tried working on different surfaces and would continue to experiment to try and push the materials as far as I can. As I mentioned in a previous question, I had been using a lot of dark colours in my work but felt a need to do something completely different when I was beginning this body of work.
PDF with the interview can be downloaded here: Interview with Helen ODonovan