Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ian Wieczorek interview with John Brady

Wieczorek Ian “O Westport Through the Artist’s Eye” John Brady interview. Arts West No. 33 February 1997 page 3.

O Westport through the artist’s eye
An interview with John Brady

John Brady was born in 1968 in Westport, Co.Mayo, an area that has provided the inspiration for much of his work. Now returned to the town, Brady’s new paintings have signaled a fresh approach to the theme, and this month sees an exhibition of recent work at the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar. In the runup to the show, Ian Wieczorek spoke to John Brady in his studio in Westport about his work.

ARTS WEST; How did you become an artist?

JOHN BRADY; I have always painted, but there wasn’t an awful lot of art in secondary school until another Westport artist Breda Burns came on the scene. She taught me in my fifth and sixth years, and she was the first person to say ‘Yes, you can actually go to college and study art’. Just somebody to actually say that you could take this on as a valid job option was great, a real eye-opener for me. When I was doing my leaving cert, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I had actually geared more towards a science career. I think I threw the cat among the pigeons when I said ‘No, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking into test tubes, I want something more’. So I applied to and got into the RTC in Galway and never looked back.

I did two years in Galway and the Diploma, then took a year out, took time to see if it was what I really wanted to do with my life. Then I saw an exhibition by the painter William Crozier which really blew me away, it made a very strong impact. The way he used colours - it is quite a simple painting technique but it’s brilliant. Until then I had been painting trees and stuff like that, but I had a very bitty approach to the painting, very fragmented colours – strong colours, but because they were all broken up, they were never able to develop a punch. Seeing Crozier sticking large areas of colour together and allowing them to have that punch, I started to use that in my paintings.

ARTS WEST;So it was mainly landscape that you were working with at that stage?

JOHN BRADY;Yes. I was very much concerned with creating an aesthetic image.

ARTS WEST;When was it that the houses started appearing in your work? What made you change your subject matter?

JOHN BRADY;When I finished in Galway I went of traveling, and I filled a number of sketch pads with my drawings of India. When I finished my travels I came back to Westport and got a job at the Post Office. I didn’t paint for about a year – it wasn’t that I had given up, I just didn’t have the chance to do any painting. I was just working every day. At the time I was living out of town and when the job ended I moved into town. Walking round Westport every day every day I became very much aware of the changes that were happening – buildings getting knocked down, routes appearing between old buildings, general changes. I felt very strongly about the town – I still do, having been brought up here. I wanted to transfer the couours I had been using onto recognizable places from the town , using the buildings, the gaps between them, the walls, and create an emotional impact within the town. Previously my work had been landscape and although I knew the locations which the paintings referred to but nobody else did – the paintings were not that specific. But when I started actually dealing with specific areas in town people could relate to them, but by changing the colours I was able to tweak up the emotional impact of the paintings and also create something to be looked at afresh.

ARTS WEST;Something like the approach Paul Durcan uses in his poem ‘O Westport in the Light of Asia Minor’

JOHN BRADY;Exactly, although that is closer to where I am with my painting now. At that time I just wanted to take Westport and give it an emotional punch, t make people at the town as if it was another country. We are used to seeing representations of the West of Ireland viewed in a particular way. Westport is turning into something more ‘Irish’ than it actually is, evolving into some kind of stereotype. What Iam doing at the moment is taking buildings from Spain, Morocco, India, Greece, Nepal, all these different cultural impressions, and putting Westport in the context, taking Westport from this perceived notion of the post-colonial stereotype that we have of the west of Ireland and changing the context. Breaking it up, getting a sence of change, of evolution. This process of authentic, living change has been going on from the very beginning, but what is happening now is I effect denying that natural evolution. The notion of time and evolution is part of the structure of what Iam trying to do.

When I began painting Westport I didn’t feel the language I was using allowed me to introduce the emotional impact I intended – I was trying to create a fragmented thing but I didn’t feel I was achieving it- and I felt my visual language had to change in order to deal with what I wanted to say. I went back to college in Cork and went on painting with strong colours, but I was still dealing with a representational image, buildings were still obeying the laws of perspective and gravity. They were beginning to build up a certain pressure, but they were still recognizable, specific places. I wanted to lose the restraint, bring in other elements, references, but I couldn’t do it while I was dealing with the representational language. I had been working on small three- dimensional pieces at that time in an effort to break away from this representational thing, making small maquettes in wire, wax, paper, cloth and other materials. The biggest change as regards my painting happened at that time. I made the break by using the maquettes in my paintings. Through them I was able to remove myself from the representational image. I would take a building and make it in wire, then I would look at the thing in and of itself, and even though it was representational of a building I was able to make that step away – removing myself from the representational to challenge the language.

ARTS WEST;And then you went to study in Barcelona

JOHN BRADY;Yes. That was a very challenging year in many ways, it got me to do a lot of thinking about whys and wherefores, another re-evaluation. I had made the break in Cork, I had discovered for myself a fresh new language, and I had to start making decisions about it and I had to start making decisions about it and what it was communicating. I was reading about Wittgenstein and his notion of the logic that comes from associations. We are all human beings, we share certain reference points, and by putting these things together you can actually communicate quite effectively – not actually communicate quite effectively – not totally rationally and to the point of everything being explained, but in quite a subtle, gentle way – communication by association. When I came to this new understanding it gave me a n awful lot of freedom. I decided to give up painting for four months and start working on sculpture. I had been trying to work on sculpture and on painting at the same time but the maquettes I was making were very dispensable and had no kind of presence, although they were interesting in their own way. They were exercises, investigations into materials and my relationship to materials. But I was spreading myself too thin doing both painting and sculpture, so I stopped painting and started working in an area of wasteland beside the collage. It was very exciting moving away from the studio, very liberating and experimental. The results were very throwaway, I was using timber and other materials that I found. It was a period where I was investigating materials on a larger scale than I had ever done before. Eventually I came to the conclusion that this was all great craic but it wasn’t pushing forward my ideas, so I brought the timber beams back to the college and started making things froms them, and the sculpture really took off. It was still quite playful, but there was a serious side to it too. I started making large pieces. It was physical, three-dimensional, on a different scale, and it was a completely different language for me. It was invigorating, and I found I could say things in a different way. There were all these new possibilities opening up all the time. But after I finished in Barcelona, I went to Winchester and started painting again.

ARTS WEST;Was it a conscious decision on your part to give up sculpture at that point?

JOHN BRADY;Yes. I had got a lot out of the sculpture and now it was time to go back to painting and reinvestigate that, to see what I had learnt from that experience.

ARTS WEST;And did you find a big change in your painting?

JOHN BRADY;Yes and no. At the beginning I felt very lost. I had been away for so long and I wanted to get back to the world of painting, to get back to the world of painting, to get back to actually working with paint.

ARTS WEST;So there is a physical element to the pleasure you get from painting.

JOHN BRADY;Oh yes, for me it’s not just creating the image. The sensuality, just mixing the paint, applying it, the resonance of the colours are all a very strong part of the reason I paint.

ARTS WESTWhen you bring together images, is it a conscious process, or is it mainly intuitive?

JOHN BRADY;You make conscious decisions all the time, but there is still room for intuitive decisions. I have to take control of the painting when I start them. I can’t allow the preliminary drawing to dictate what I’m going to put into the painting, I have to allow for change. Whether that change is intuitive or conscious totally depend on the painting.

ARTS WEST;You talk about communicating ideas using objects and images. Do you paint to communicate, or for yourself, or is it a combination of the two?

JOHN BRADY;There is no such thing as private language. I am aware that I have an audience. Why would you be painting for yourself and then destroying it? You paint for other people. Having said that, I am quite a selfish painter. I don’t gear my work to an audience but I hope an audience will get something out of it. Some people say it’s egotism that drives all artists and nothing more, and in a way egotism is a part of it, but there are other issues involved as well. When you get somebody who understands what you are doing, or is moved or gets something out of what you are working on it is immensely satisfying.

ARTS WEST;How do you see art today?

JOHN BRADY;Art is different nowadays from what it used to be. The world is completely different now. With things like video, television, and everything else, the access to produce an image is completely different. But to my mind basic skills – drawing colour mixing, basic formal ability- are still a very important part of the process.

ARTS WEST;Do you think the audience has become more sophisticated?

JOHN BRADY;It has become more sophisticated, but it has also become gorged on images and has lost a lot of its critical judgement. It’s like being in a candy store. You are looking at images all the time now, and in a way they have lost their mystique.

ARTS WEST;Do you think there is such a thing as ‘Irish’ art nowadays?

JOHN BRADY;I think we’re moving into a world where there are lots of diverse things happening, lots of people doing different things that come under the heading of art. There is no ‘-ism’ as such. There is a lot of openness of expression in the art world generally, a very liberal approach. The same thing is happening in Ireland. There is no specific ‘Irish’ art, we are all individuals doing our own thing. Having said that, I think it’s very important that artist from Ireland should actually get onto mainland Europe. When your in Ireland you can become very complacent about what your dealing with and how you are dealing with it. You can get quite cosy. It’s important to get out and see what’s happening in other countries, other space. It gives you perspective. It’s not to create any feeling of insecurity about what we are doing here, it’s a positive thing, to see that the stuff we are doing here is quite good, quite progressive. But at the same time it is important for us to challenge ourselves, to look at the bigger picture.

ARTS WEST;With the work you have done up to now you have established a particular audience. Are you at all worried about how that audience will react to your new work?

JOHN BRADY;I think its good to challenge yourself, and when you challenge yourself you also challenge your audience. If the people who liked my previous work like this, that’s great. Hopefully there might be a few more that will like the new stuff. Then again maybe they’ll hate it. It’s always a bit scary doing something new, but in the end that’s what it’s all about.