SOTP: These interviews traditionally open with a question about the relevance of critical theory to the artist’s practice. To what extent do you connect studio work to this field- is it part of the formulation of work, or more a case of reflection after the work is made?
Last year I was invited to show in Red/Rua, an amazing white cube space in
South Dublin. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity to think of these works in a more experimental way and thankfully they were up to letting me paint some of their walls slightly blue for the install. I also completed a much larger project last summer, ‘Unexpected Logic’ in VISUAL, Carlow, as part of Eigse Festival and with this work/ installation (my largest to date) I fully realised the importance of scale and site in the reading and experience of these works. The fragility and ephemerality of the work became more and more important, as did how I wanted it to be experienced/ viewed; in a way stripping (these) painting(s) of its self-evident familiarity, by creating a sense of the curious and the peculiar- which can also be read as painting with an identity crisis but always a visual wonder!
SC: The materials, theory, ideas and making do not always come together at the same time for me. Most of my studio work comes from time spent looking; considering and questioning much of what I see, read or experience in relation to making objects. I have an established painting process and I am very aware of my methods of working with the material(s) I have chosen to explore, mainly (physical) paint; it is then a process of how to rethink the discipline/ material without sacrificing the medium of paint.
I have spent long periods of time for example making paintings and destroying them simply to learn the limitations of the process I employ- no theory or ideas involved there. For a long time it was very important to me to understand how this stuff worked and during this period it was not about making actual art objects so much as questioning my own interpretation, understanding and use of the material of painting, controlling my natural urge to do more and knowing when to read the signs when something is working.
In relation to reflection, I am constantly reworking or considering how to push my practice forward and I find a really good way to do this is by analysing and accessing previous work to see what more can be achieved (if anything) by continuing certain lines of inquiry. Sometimes I achieve this visually and instinctively, but not always; other times it comes from places such as reading through theory or art history. These are areas I really value and continue to feel are very important within my studio working methods, an integral part of how I make and approach painting.
Susan Connolly/ Studio images/ November 2012
SOTP: What have been the recent showings of your work; have these been instrumental in bringing new or alternative departures in your practice?
SC: Last year I was involved in a number of group shows but I don’t think any of the shows I have been involved in of late have brought new departures. I just think people/ curators are more open to the aspirations I have for my practice. For example when completing my MFA in 2002 I was working directly onto studio walls, but this process is not an easy sell if you’re showing in spaces which have a high turnover of exhibitions, as the installation of much of my work can take anything up to a week. The outcomes are completely unknown (because of the nature of the process and through the layering and peeling of the paint which can break) and then there is the clean up afterwards.
Susan Connolly/ ‘Unexpected Logic’/ acrylic and household paint and medium, wood support and canvas/ 300x190cm/ 2011
Last year I was invited to show in Red/Rua, an amazing white cube space in
SOTP: There is a great plurality in contemporary painting today, ranging from various types of ‘realism’ through to renewed interests in geometrical painting, narrative figuration, gestural abstraction and also expanded practices that work outside of the frame. Where do you place yourself in all of this?
SC: I don’t know is the simple answer to this; I am interested in all aspects of painting/ art, and such labels can limit one’s own interpretation or possible engagement with art that is of value and work that can be of influence. I think it is a very exciting time to be thinking about painting, with all the rhetoric of ‘death’ within the medium proving sheer nonsense again and again. Theory is one way of painting assessing itself but there are many others with very different outcomes, pluralist you might say, but all good and adding to the continued development of painting as a discipline and not painting as a project.
SOTP: Within the expanded field, there seems to exist very indistinct boundaries between what might be considered painting, sculpture and installation. Are these boundaries, or borders, important to you?
SC: Yes these boundaries/ borders are very important to me in the sense that I am always questioning myself as to whether the work I am making is actually a painting. Most of my current research is looking at this, exploring the area of when a painting can no longer be called a painting- when is it just something else? This could be when photography, installation, sculpture or video has been influenced by painting.
Susan Connolly/ ‘Homeliography’/ DCR Guest Studio,
, The Hague Holland/ 2009
One of the things that attracts me to paint is its limits and equally its limitlessness. I try to investigate these limits by setting boundaries for myself to work within; for example, I am currently only working with Process Colour Paint (a student once told me there was no need for any other tubes of paint, as with these three colours they could paint like Rembrandt) and I also tend to only use the source materials that are intrinsic to the making of a traditional canvas painting- wood, canvas, paint, staples/ tacks, ground. By doing this I reduce painting to its most essential elements, yet with limitless new possibilities.
Sometimes work that professes itself as painting is simply not painting and I am aware of this every time I make something in the studio; it is still very important to me to hold on to actual painting, but maybe I’ll get over this idea of medium specificity someday.
SOTP: Some recent works (that might be considered more akin to sculpture) you have entitled ‘still lives’. What was the motivation behind this?
SC: Ah, well I have been thinking about the term ‘still life’ and its relevance to historical painting and also the idea of capturing the gesture of an object through the layering of paint on a canvas. I was also wondering what it might be like to make an actual image of a real thing; with most of my work being monochromatic and leaning towards reductive, making a judgement call on what is ‘worthy’ of painting into an image is extremely difficult.
Much of the painting I am attracted to is image-based and sometimes I battle within myself to see the worth of some of my own inquires. Therefore in this body of work I set out to make an image, or an illusion of an image. I was thinking about making randomly constructed objects from figurines (I have always been fascinated by the naffness and sentimentality people place on such mass produced objects) and collected and constructed a number of small sculptural ‘things’; this is when the painting began as I then proceeded to apply paint which I peeled away in layers, painting the object out of itself and giving it a new form through the painting process and the peeling and revealing. This was the first step within this ‘still life’ project. Some of the objects also became sculptural fragments from previous paintings. This is a recurring theme when making my work, all of which is predominantly intuitive and subjective.
Susan Connolly/ ‘Still Life- Fold’/ acrylic paint, medium, ceramic object/ 15x10cm/ 2010-11
When they were shown last year I installed them in a way that you could view them as flat surfaced paintings from a distance as well as three-dimensional spaces, stepping ‘inside’ or ‘around’ the painting. I am currently working on a number of actual paintings of the objects/ paintings; I’m not sure as to how this will work out, but as with much of my practice it comes from previous work or questions I have about how the work may operate if thought differently or constructed in a new way.
SOTP: What was the last visual encounter you had, with anything at all, that had an impact on your studio work?
SC: My visual encounters tend to come from rather unlikely places, for example I recently saw a small blue square painted on a massive hoarding sign which could only be viewed via a motorway roundabout. It intrigued me for weeks until finally I came back with my camera to discover it had been transformed into a Lidl advertising sign. Colour and its effect upon the urban and rural environment is something I’m drawn to and I have made paintings/ interventions which are directly related to this. The last visual encounter of this kind I had, which really has had an effect within my studio work, came from a project I was involved with earlier this year and was actually not really a visual encounter so much as an experience of watching people encountering a visual experience. The project, a collaboration between University College Dublin architecture department, Dublin City Council and the National College of Art and Design, involved developing interventions in and around the
Grafton Street area of in response to the Council’s ongoing regeneration project. The challenge for me became about working through research and ideas in a visual way, while also making a work which would have a direct relationship to my own studio practice. Dublin
As an artist who mostly makes work for galleries, what I learned from this public gesture was the possibility of mass audiences encountering an artwork in the most unexpected way and the effect it can have. It has given me a whole new way to think about audience, the making of a temporary artwork and how to address the many issues which arise in relation to my own practice. Making work of this nature leads to considerations of how it fits within the expanded field of painting practice.
Susan Connolly/ ‘themonumentsdayoff’/ Stephen’s Green,
various dimensions/ 2012 Dublin/
full information about the project can be found on
SOTP: Which painters and paintings, now or from the recent or distant past, have influenced you?
SC: The things I find of influence are extremely varied and not always painting or painters. The Conceptual and Minimalist artists/ writers from the 1960s and 70s influence me. The work of people like Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, Blinky Palmero, Ad Reinhardt and writers such as Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss. Robert Rauschenberg is someone whom I consistently find something new to think about within his vast oeuvre.
Susan Connolly/ ‘Everything and Nothing’/ acrylic and household paint, wood support and canvas/ 240x320cm/ The Cross Gallery, Dublin/ 2011
Other artists I am drawn to as of late are Ellsworth Kelly, James Turrell, Isa Genzken, Richard Tuttle, John Baldessari, Olafur Eliasson, Callum Innes, Merlin James, Karla Black, Rachel Harrison, Katharina Grosse, Mikala Dwyer (after recently seeing an excellent show earlier this year in the Project Arts Centre, Dublin) and Fergus Feehily.
SOTP: You have been involved in higher level art education for a number of years now. What has been your experience of this, both as a student and lecturer? Is it a good time to be at art college?
SC: Education, and the time and space to develop that is offered in Art School, is an amazing opportunity to anyone who is ready to commit themselves, so anytime is a good time to be at art school/ college- thankfully students do not exist or experience in the same way that lecturers do within the institutions/ colleges, so even though there are massive changes happening in relation to funding, fees and structure the one positive is that all of the art schools here in Ireland have some amazing lecturers who are completely committed to the idea of creative education and value the role of the arts/ artist within society.
I do worry though about students’ expectations when they finish art school; it is hard to know as a student the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead in pursuing a long-term career in the arts. Art school can be a bubble in this sense.
Another thing that has changed dramatically since my days in art school is the over- dependency on the Internet for information. It seems everyone can now view any show anywhere in the world and feel that they have experienced the artist’s/ work’s intention. Even though in my undergraduate days there was far less to see, the actual experience of seeing work cannot be understood fully through digital media. As a tool the Internet is great, it has made us all more globally aware, more international and less self-satisfied; but I do feel there is a danger of young students/ artists not really knowing about art history, about the time things take to resolve/ make and worse still about the physical experience of viewing artworks.
Susan Connolly was born in Dublin, studied at
of Art and Design (BA, 1994-1998) and the Limerick School at University of Ulster (MFA, 2000-2002). She is currently based in Kildare. Belfast
Lecturing duties have included LSAD Painting Department (2002-2003) and IADT Visual Art Practice (2006-2009), and she is currently employed by Waterford Institute of Technology in the
(since 2006 ). She is also currently studying on ACW (Art in the Contemporary World) at NCAD, Fine Art Department . Dublin
Recent exhibitions include ‘Airport for Shadows’ at The Cross Gallery,
, ‘Constellations’ at Visual, Carlow and ‘Connections’ at Red/Rua, Dublin . Dublin
Upcoming exhibitions include a 3-person show in Solstice Art Centre, Navan curated by Carissa Farrell, in late 2013.