Thursday, September 13, 2012


Four Rooms
Acrylic and stretcher keys on drop cloth
11 x 14”, 2012

What are you working on in your studio right now?
I just finished four large paintings for the Expo Chicago art fair at the end of September. It’s nice to have them done, because now I am just working on small leisurely paintings, just kind of winding down and not having an immediate deadline. I’m also getting back to working on paper, as well as mining through and organizing old drawings.
Can you describe your working routine?
Get up around nine or ten. Do the email stuff. Head to the gas station and get a coffee. Hit the studio from 12 to 6. Eat something, take some breaks. Listen to music and watch old movies while I paint. Go home around two a.m.. That’s how it’s been lately. When the winter gets harsh, sometimes I’m a bit more sluggish.

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
My studio is in Northwest Connecticut in an old hosiery factory from the late 1800’s. It’s pretty spacious, and is in a secluded hallway at the far end of the fourth floor. I have a lot of privacy, and rarely see anyone else in the building.
The space has allowed me to work much larger, and on many pieces at once. It has everything I need. I spend more time there than I do in my apartment.

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
I do a lot of drawings on napkins at bars and restaurants, and I keep all of them. My larger works are usually derived from these small drawings, and the paintings are kind of a record of the images and ideas. The paintings become these tapestries of collaged drawing imagery.
I’ve also been taking tons of pictures with my phone. Documenting the places I’ve gone this summer has been giving me a lot of ideas for future work.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?
Whether or not I am actually going to use this oil paint I bought two months ago.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
Other than sticking to a relatively traditional painting approach, I’ve always liked sneaking little items into the surface of certain works, especially stretcher keys. Lately, the items have been becoming more and more camouflaged within the surface. I used to have them cutting through the front of the canvas like knives, but they were too difficult to ship. They’ve become a lot flatter.

What does the future hold for this work?
Making them on a larger scale, seeing if I can retain the humble, clunky demeanor of the smaller book-sized works.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks to all the painters out there, past and present, that inspire me and keep me running back to the studio, and thanks for having me Valerie!



Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Landscape of Choices,
oil & acrylic on canvas, 91 x 61 cm, 2012
What are you working on in your studio right now?

I am making a series of black and white paintings and small watercolours, to explore compositional questions that have emerged while working on some of my recent larger canvases.  I like the way that painting opens out new concerns, new questions and meanings, and I enjoy being pushed to explore further. As these 'notes' are smaller than many of my oils, the change of scale allows me to reassess the picture arena very fast, and make changes quickly. They also result in a lot of 'spin-off' drawings, which are very small, and generally play with compositional ideas. These feed back into the canvases. I will use these small works as a starting point.


Can you describe your working routine?

I like to start as early in the morning as possible, to have at least 4 to 5 hours to paint without the distractions that usually come later in the day! I work in series as I like to allow ideas to bounce off one another, from canvas to canvas. This way I don't get blocked by any particular canvas, and also elements from one may suggest ways to resolve another painting.  When I am working, I have about 5 or 6 canvases around me, and various notes and sources of reference scattered across the floor. There's a lot of coffee drinking going on. As I paint, one or two canvases pull me in and I will work intensively on these. They possess me, even when I'm away from the easel.


Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

At the moment, I work in a corner of my flat by a north facing window, with a view onto my patio area. I don't get distracted easily, and the strange thing is that the view out of the window doesn't influence my work. I tend to be quite focused on the questions and dilemmas brought up by my sketches and notes, and inner images. I also like to work with my painting on the floor, and walk around it, especially when working on large canvases.

Studies, watercolour on paper, 29 x 21 cm

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

I trained at 17 with a very good landscape painter. She taught me so much about oil paint and technique but when I went to Art School I suddenly discovered that it could be used in a multitude of ways for self-expression, and to reflect ideas and experiences. I used to work a lot in the landscape, with oils and watercolour, but then my hand and eye wanted new things that had to exclude certain landscape references. My previous way of working had suddenly become restricting.
There are several doors of entry for me. Sometimes I work in black and white or watercolour to catch images which were suggested by earlier painting experiences or elements that are evolving in my mind. A lot of these drawings and watercolour notes are semi-automatic. Other times I may start from a word or phrase or from areas of colour that resonate with meaning. I often like to lay colour on the canvas and see where it leads.
I tend to call my works 'Inscapes,'  'Paintscapes,' or 'Landscapes of Choices,' as these titles reflect my interests.  For me, painting is a like a journey through a landscape of doubts and adjustments. It is multi-layered. Colours become trails of searching, doubts, and adjustment, until an image has a particular resonance for me, which may be an equivalent for landscape or more often an inscape. Sometimes shapes or juxtapositions of colours on the TV or in newspapers will suddenly suggest a starting point. I start by working into wet gesso, and let the paint layer itself, or I work onto a coloured surface. At a certain point the image makes its own demands and starts to offer possibilities for development. I keep in mind that it is an 'Inscape,' though if some other references enter the work, that's ok too.  Sometimes the traces of a horizon line enter the work, sometimes the space becomes its own entity. I like the idea of paint choices, erasures, adjustments forming a kind of paintscape, so instead of alluding to actual places it refers to a journey through paint. I have spent most of my life travelling, and my first memories are from when I was 3 and living in Lagos, Nigeria. I remember well the deep shadows and bright colours, so always at the back of my painting experience some memories filter into the work and direct the use of the materials.
I make most of my judgements away from the act of painting, when I will ask 'does it work?' At the same time, I don't want to base my judgements on formats or past experiences, I want the painting to offer its own terms. I also like to make my own canvases, because I like particular shapes.  Long rectangles allow me to express the sense of a paint journey, and I like squares because they challenge my response to certain compositional dynamics. I like contradictions, off-balance compositions, and the contrast between impulsive calligraphy and stabilising shapes, and large areas of calm. I like changes in scale, to trip myself up! My work undergoes many changes and points of destruction, until it 'feels' right.
Spring Valley,
oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm, 2012

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

I always have trouble resolving the colour transitions and composition, and have to work a lot to find the painting! At the moment, I am being very strict about what I allow in the painting, so there's a struggle for simplification and much over-working.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

I'm not as experimental as some artists as I like the qualities of oil and acrylic and find that they suit my needs. My paintings often emerge from the dialogue between thick and thin paint, acrylic layered with oil paint, frequent scrapings with a large palette knife, and generally I like to push my materials around. I want to try out oil sticks, and am trying out various mediums that can be mixed with oils or acrylics. I find a whole breadth of possibilities within these materials but at a later date I may experiment more.

What does the future hold for this work?

I want to explore calligraphy and drawing with colour much further. I have just been selected for a Mark Rothko residency, at the birthplace of Rothko in Daugavpils, Latvia. I am one of 15 artists from different countries to be selected, and I am looking forward to intensive studio time, discussions, and artistic debate. I believe that this interaction and new environment will challenge my artwork, and help me to explore the possibilities of colour further.  Also, working with other artists always opens up new questions and horizons.
Is there anything else you would like to add?

I'd like to thank you for including me in these interviews, and to say that reading about other artists' working experiences and ideas challenges my own ways of working and has been very positive and helpful. I have really enjoyed answering these questions.


oil & acrylic on canvas, 70 x 50 cm, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012


Shapes of disappointment,
Paris 2010,
Egg oil on wood
What are you working on in your studio right now?

I’m just back from three months of being on the road; my gut response to the studio upon landing was one of bushwhacking, pairing down and getting rid of things that went too far or didn’t go far enough, with a fresh eye searching for the spare and dense.  I want the architecture of my paintings to be even lighter, and have to have more of an overlap with my personal world. I spent the first two weeks deep cleaning the studio, piling things high in the alley, erasing, and shedding, and getting back to the bare white bones of the studio. I re-mudded the walls, and am ready to go.

I’m thinking a lot about visual poetry, story telling, and the shifting gears between painting, visual wit, photography, and found text. I spent the summer working on a collaboration with my daughter Eva O’ Leary in Ireland about the current uncertainty with the economic downturn, and I’m taking the conceptual armature of the summer and translating it back into painting.

Our summer was a car full of cameras, a few clothes, a well marked map, and for three months we attempted to find the ‘back story’ of ‘uncertainty’ present in co-existing realities, economic: emotional, sexual, physical, etc. with photographs, texts culled from the Done Deal (on line broad sheet, the equivalent of craigs list) with its continued possibility of material gain and dating sites, with their grandiose promise of love and stability. This work will take the form of book and painted constructions, but as of now it is still very much a work in progress.
We are currently in the process of editing photographs and deciding on the next step of our collaboration. It was a great studio break, completely surrounded by invention and imagination, fabulous people and epic landscape. I fed my soul and came back ready to re-think the current trajectory in the studio. 

My work uses my life as subject matter, at middle age and mid career, post nuclear family, my continued unpacking and packing, belonging and retraction of homes between countries. I locate my work between the moments of material and emotional certainty, the short shelf life of predictability, both laughing at and questioning the structural prosthesis of conventions established through economic, cultural and gender constraints. Currently I’m interested in the uncertainty present in any economic downturn or change, between youth and middle age, and in the rupture between external and internal life. I look outside and within the tradition of painting for content, and lately been looking at the form inherent in sean-nos singing, (lament) for its economy of form and the content and meaning inherent in it’s frugal self containment, and have used a similar self containments in my approach to painting.


Bushwick Studio, NY
Can you describe your working routine?

First thing in the morning are my best hours in the studio. I get to the studio early and love the quiet that I find there. I divide the day into working bits, morning is when I look, and sit with the work. I trust these early morning intuitive decisions, yet un-jaded by the events of the day. I know if something is working in that first glance, and make the big decisions with a fresh mind.

Afternoon and evening time varies usually a lot more physical moving in or around the painting.  I sometimes make my constructions in the metal shop, which is loud, metal on metal, anvils, noise, public, and takes a different kind of energy. The armature I construct is important, and is the silent backstory, it takes a lot of time, welding, riveting, hammering etc.  It’s also a learning curve which I enjoy, as I’m very much a painter, and flattening out the purpose of shredded filing cabinets, knitting needles, umbrellas, bits of my car, house, and life is a way of putting my life and painting together in an uneasy wobbly relationship. I wear headphones and safety glasses, it’s a uniform, and creates an insular protected world, which is appealing.  It’s a real work out, and I like the compression that is achieved when I make a small scaffold or object out of the splintered familiarity of function. These hammered scaffolds create a matter of fact backstory of support for the suspended exterior more vulnerable thinness of the world of cloth.

I like to learn new things, to go back to the beginning; I teach at Penn State University, so it’s logical to take classes and learn new things, clay, metal, writing, and then figure out how to fold it back into my painting.


PA Studio
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

My studios vary and I ‘break them in’ so they become very safe personal private spaces. I have two, one in NY and one in PA where I teach. I travel a lot and I have developed a way of working when away from the home base. In many ways picking my work apart into small lots was a direct result of my peripatetic life, and it has very much influenced my practice. I have two floors to the studio in PA; it is an old wooden barn with two floors and a lot of natural light. I sleep in both my studios, I like living in a painting. My garden is right outside and I take breaks to weed, or build make shift supports for plants. I do all of the dirty work down stairs, the spills, the spreads, the hacking, and bring drawing or small details upstairs to see them in a pristine setting. My studio in New York is in Bushwick, has an elevated train right outside my window. It’s bright, different from the quiet of PA. There is a hectic world outside my door, and calls for different sparser sort of work. My life is usually on the go, inside out, physically making or unraveling stuff, my working routine is as fragmented as the work I produce.
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
 I am very much an intuitive thinker. I need stuff, materials, goo, beauty, and need my body to be involved in the process. I make things that rely on how they are made, and I want the story of their making to be evident in the final product.
The starting idea has to come from some nub of absurd truth in my life. I whittle in the studio, rooting for meaning in the attempts and failures of every day, with paint, with thread, canvas, and wood and aluminum.  Something will catch my attention as a storyline, and then I search the materials that could expand the meaning. I need laughter and absurdity to be a part of the process, if something makes me laugh when I make it I know I’m on the right track and it might  just be good.  I have books on how to make paint, old archaic recipes, supports etc. and collect how to do books. I want the reassurance of the ordinary to be present in the simplicity of materials and in the collections of unglamorous gestures that I catalogue.
Painting, when good, in its unfolding process, has the capacity to blow my heart right open.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?
My  collaborations, artist books, constructions, painting, collections of vernacular language I find in the world on a daily basis, I want this to be all the one work some day. I take worn out language and re-work them, found texts, images, and change the context so new meaning is reached. I always feel its close, but I’ve yet to put it together. I construct worlds, and the world I want to construct is bigger and more articulate than the ones I have managed so far.


Outwack 2011-12
steel, aluminum, wood, ceramic, gold and platinum lustre, oil on linen
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

Yes, I love materials. For the last project, OUTAWACK, which was a series of small paintings suspended on hammered armature, I made thousands of my own ceramic pins, which I lustered with gold and platinum. I took a class and thrived on the sensitivity that clay offers. I wanted the piece to be large, huge, epic and heroic, through many small moments, piecemealed together somewhere between tent and painting, and it was important for me that I made absolutely every last bit in the show.
That work was long in the making, it came out of my internal and external life, movement between countries, Lyme disease that has been a battle, the absurd changes of middle age, divorce, the failing Irish economy that seemed to back drop my changing life, and my long commitment to the interrogation and expansion of painting.
I experimented a lot, playing with the many notions of supports and surfaces. I knew I wanted thin and wobbly, so I started with a very broad of possibility, and took it from there.
I have used glass, (in collaboration with Sarah Schwartz), made my own mirrors, loving the alchemy of pouring silver nitrate onto glass, used etching where to make my own legal pads, encaustic, made my own paints, chalk grounds, everything is fair game. I try to come to each material with a question mark of what else it can do or how else I can use it, or reclaim it and some how give it new meaning. Right now I’m focusing on welding and hammering, metal, whittling, and thinness. I don’t really know where it will take me, but I trust my instincts.


Places I've lived, 2011-12
egg oil on cardboard, board, linen
 & platinum pins
What does the future hold for this work?

I have an idea of what it will look like, but, I know how I work and I deviate from plans with great enthusiasm. I want this next work to be more like an Opera, embracing spectacle, in my own homespun way. I know I’m ready to make a book that will work with the next piece.  I have a lot to learn, and am readying myself to confront a new question mark. Most of all, want to remain vulnerable, un-rigid, and open to ideas and experience.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Listening to Shane Mc Gowen and the pogues in the 80’s clarified for me the power of language and opened up the possibility of re-inventing poetic tenderness without nostalgia. His stories of being alive sung through the rich cadence of lyrical Irish Folk music with a good splash of punk emboldened me to harness my nagging doubt and extreme optimism as viable tools in the studio. It opened up the possibility to own the pure pleasure of paint as my first language.

Thank you so much Valerie, it was lovely to sit down and share my studio with you.

Grand Indistinguishable Facts 2011-12
paint, linen, aluminum, gold lustred porcelain, steel,
encaustic on wood, encaustic on cardboard


Monday, September 3, 2012


Untitled (Sky)
pigment on paper on board
 122 x 94cm

What are you working on in your studio right now?

Since March this year I've been making new works that are concerned with the memory of a trip to India from the previous year.


Can you describe your working routine?

I have two very different tempos in my studio. While the thinking, preparing & finishing can often take along time & at a slow pace the mark making & physical gestures are predominately fast & often frenetic. However, although a painting is made up of these quick actions, it may have multiple layers that are in turn punctuated by long periods of slow reflection. 

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
I always attempt to maintain some neatness & order but in reality if my studio isn't a wash with pigment, paper scraps, pencils & pastels then I'm not really busy. I find the best works inspire some chaos but coming from an ordered beginning.
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
Pigment & the action of spreading it around beautifully flat, clean plains is a key process at the moment. The moment that an inspired decision takes hold of previously methodical tasks is where a work begins. Before that its memories, photos, dreams, wider reading/looking etc. After its colour and shape inspiring a response.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?
The difficulty of transposing the simplicity of small sketches into large scale works.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
I used to use anything & everything & embrace the endless choice that gave me. Now I enjoy giving myself parameters within which to work. All that energy spent respecting different materials can now be focused on the subtler differences within one material, one subject. Like light, tone & feel.

Untitled (Train)
 pigment on paper on board
153 x 122cm
What does the future hold for this work?
There is a familiarity to work I made when I was younger in the desire to work again with colour, line and layers. But the inspiration was my trip to India & so I plan to go again & develop this body of abstracted landscape painting further.
Untitled (Brown)
pigment on paper on board
153 x 122cm