Martin Ireland

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Artist's Statement

WORKING METHODS by Martin Ireland:

When a date is set for an exhibition and the clock is ticking, what is going on in your mind when you see a series of blank canvases?

Before I even start thinking about a new show, I look at the space available for the work and consider what would fill the space in the gallery. hen I work out how long I have to work on each painting. It’s best to have nothing on the walls at first and work out what the new colours could be to link all the images together. The first painting can set the scene for the rest. Coming into a studio on a regular basis will re-set the mood for the next painting. I hate the white rectangle of a fresh canvas. That’s why I colour the ground with a coat of neutral colour with a hint of whatever colours I’m going to work on the new painting.

How do you work out what is going to be in a show?

I ask myself ‘What is the show about and what’s it going to say to the public who come to see my paintings.’

What is it like working in your studio?

There is no point in having studio unless there are images in it and I feed off them to develop new ideas. In some ways it can be a bit clinical, with a large clean glass palette, and brushes lined up, but at other times it can be like a bomb has gone off and everything is ‘composting’ shedding ideas in all directions. A blank tinted canvas is begging to be interfered with fresh marks in oils. I often start out a painting with very thin layers and the turpentine can run down the canvas surface, appearing almost like a watercolour. Coming back to the painting a day or two later with fresh eyes can send a painting on an altogether different trajectory. It maybe from something seen in the street or from a magazine or memorised from my past. 

What is the best time of a show, and the worst time?

The best time for me is when all the work is up on the walls of a gallery and people are really looking at them intently. That’s when there is some connecting going on. The worst moment is going back to the studio and looking at a series of blank white canvases, wondering what will emerge for the next exhibition. That is like day one. An empty studio can be quite intimidating. There’s no point in having pressure to sat new work. The clock is ticking. I start with people I have in mind who are interesting subjects to paint. 

What motivates you as an artist?

When a painting is getting towards a completed start, I start to thing who may like this enough to buys it. It maybe a ruthless commercial approach, but at the end of the day someone’s got to pay the rent and materials. Being able to learn new working methods on a painting and pushing the envelope just a little bit further. Art Schools don’t teach you how to paint anymore. They teach how to be a self promoter and to bum-shove your way around the gallery system, but that isn’t what sells paintings these days. The sensation quality and skill is what is important. Art buyers don’t necessarily look at a  piece of work and say ‘I want that becauseI like the history behind it.’ They may like a particular piece because it communicates to them or links them to a memory or sensation. I like painting and adding bits and pieces later on. 

What are your working methods?

I start to develop idea from photographs and drawings, then work them into, developing and massaging a story into the fabric of the image. I don't know exactly how my paintings are going to end up like as the development takes over the process. 

I use a large glass palette and mix together solvents, paint and linseed oil together. I hate a messy studio. I can cope with clutter, but not mess. At the beginning of a day’s painting, I clean my glass palette and start afresh, using colour matching notes made on previous days. The very act of painting can be sensuous. I learn more about myself about the stuff of paint and the way it can describe flesh with tones and shapes you see in peoples bodies.

I work to music. It sets the mood of  painting. My work got bigger as my confidence working in oils improved. I started out with 12 x 16 inch canvases some years ago. Now I’m working on larger canvases of up to 40 x 50 inches. The paint is also getting thicker and the speed with which I paint is much faster. 

What is your favourite time of day to paint?

I’m not a morning person. Daylight streams into my studio from about 2pm onwards, so my best time is in the afternoon onwards.

Do you ever do self portraits?

No, Im far too self-conscious, but recently I have discovered some old photographs of when I was in my early 20’s and I am beginning to do a series of self portraits based on that time in my life.

What motivates you as an artist?

Ar can be used as a really powerful tool. For some time, I’ve been focussed on painting urban landscapes of London and the ever changing fabric of the buildings that make up the city. This is something that I return to whenever I see interesting changes in the urban fabric of the city I live in. A the moment there are some ‘missing buildings’ in Knightsbridge and Shepherds Market, Mayfair where historical buildings have been scooped out and a space with vistas as been created for the first time since Victorian times. There are some fascinating changes going on in east London around Shoreditch ad Bishopsgate. I record the demolition of older buildings and their replacement with new shiny glass boxes going up in their place.

What anchored you into figuration?

In 1995 I was beaten up in Vauxhall an hospitalised for several days. I thought I was going to loose the sight in one eye. I start dot reflect on the way gay people live and work in London and started a more figurative narrative. My work speaks to people’s emotions and bridges the gap between portraiture and expressive figuration. The 20th century British painter Keith Vaughan has been a big influence in both subject matter and colour. I like the way he stuck to his subject matter regardless of the homophobic cultural restrictions of the time. He basically stuck two fingers up at the art establishment and carried on with his ‘man-scapes’ selling to important people in the art establishment when at any moment, he could have been arrested and imprisoned for owning and manufacturing images of a homosexual nature. 

What defines you as a contemporary artist based in London? 

How I run my life around making pictures determines who I am and what I do. Everything else is a distraction. You have to be resourceful and resilient to live and survive as an artist in London which is not a friendly city to live and work in for creative people.We are being squeezed out by developers and people who see neighbourhoods as investment opportunities, rather than places to live, work and be inspired by. 

What messages are your work trying to say?

From time to time I suffer from depression. Instead of taking pills, I find conciliation in painting which can reveal and bring things to the surface. Painting and drawing uses the right side if the brain. Sometimes I fall into a dark space where I need to focus on exploration rather than making something to sell. Im never happy with what I have done before. I am my own worst critic. AsI work on a painting, I’m really formulating ideas about what to do next that will complement the other works in progress. I drop in desire and passion and a liberal sprinkling of ‘lust or bust’ when painting my male figures. You can only find out if something works by tying it. I’m never really satisfied about my technical abilities. 

If you drop a some into a pond and use that as a starting point, then other images will follow, related to that initial impact.’

That is why I often work in a series and ‘duplicates’ but they are not identical.

What is your relationship with gallerists?

I like the way that some galleries invest in an artist and have some input onto an exhibition. I prefer working in collaboration with gallerists, not as a space to exploit artists on a hire-per foot arrangement.