Eve O’Callaghan was awarded the TBG+S Recent Graduate Residency in 2019. As her residency came to an end in March 2021, Eve made an exhibition in her TBG+S studio and conducted this interview with Programme Curator, Michael Hill.
Michael Hill: Can you start off by telling us about the two sets of paintings you have made for the exhibition?
Eve O’Callaghan: I’ve made two series of paintings using some of the same images, but with different processes and outcomes. Over the winter and last autumn 2020, I started making traditional gesso using chalk and rabbit-skin glue. I was experimenting with recipes in the studio and ended up dyeing the gesso with pure pigment to make a translucent pastel coloured surface. One series of paintings I’m showing is an outcome of this process where I primed wooden panels in all different colours and drew onto them with pencil. I started working with leaf/plant motifs as a form of vehicle for the materials.
The other series of paintings are larger oil-on-wood pieces, made on four separate panels. I used handmade gesso for these paintings too, which gives a kind of marble-like smoothness when its sanded down layer by layer. I then painted the images in relief with two layers of oil paint, using the same shade of paint for each layer to build an image into the colour. I wanted the image to connect across the four panels as a full piece, but each individual panel is kind of like an abstract or minimal composition of its own.
MH: Going back to the first group of smaller works you describe, with pencil drawing and muted background colours; they have an informal sensibility and it is enjoyable to get a sense of you working something out with the forms. Are these made as studies for the larger works, and if so, how do you make decisions about the increase in scale and the stronger colours?
EOC: I had a notebook with lots of drawings I made over the course of a year or so from looking at images of leaves and plants, mainly quite abstract scribbles. I started copying these drawings onto the small coloured panels around last November. Somewhere in that process I was looking at Ellsworth Kelly’s Plant Drawings, and made a lot of studies and cropped versions of bits of his drawings, looking at varying degrees of abstraction in the plant motifs. The images I used for the larger oil paintings all came from interpretations I did from Kelly’s drawings, but I initially figured out my own compositions by drawing on the small panels. I like the idea of doing a pencil drawing as a sketch and then a more ‘serious’ painted iteration of the same image, but having both pieces be finished paintings in their own right.
When I was making the gesso for the small pieces, I was enjoying mixing more obscure pigments and bright colours with the traditional/art-historical process and coming up with different pinks, lilacs, lime greens and mustardy yellows. The primed wooden surface of the bigger paintings has quite a weighty, aged presence, so I wanted to use those really bright, fruity shades of paint to confuse the time-stamp and make it obvious that they are made now.
MH: I really like how you’re using the word fruity to describe your colours! The way you layer these bold pigments on the larger works is vibrant and concentrated, and splitting them into four sections gives the sense that the imagery is spilling out of each frame. The left and right panels of each of these works are joined together with hinges, and they can be stood upright as well as hung on the wall. You have previously displayed work placed on tables with the paintings opened on their hinges like medieval books or stone tablets in a museum. Can you tell us what interests you in displaying paintings in this way?
EOC: I like the idea that the painting can be moveable or transportable. I started using hinges a few years ago because I wanted to make double-sided paintings, and I had seen the format in altarpieces and icon paintings in Russia and Poland. I think the format and the visible hardware tells a story about the painting having another life in which it gets folded up and brought from place to place. There are several possible interactions with a hinged painting in which it might be taken apart or displayed in different ways, so I’m interested in how many forms one painting can take and still be a ‘finished’ piece of art.
MH: You also made a publication last autumn for Dublin Art Book Fair. There is a link here with your folding paintings, and I am wondering how you found the transition from working on larger wooden panels to this more personal scale?
EOC: I wanted to make a book for a long time because it feels like a very natural step in the way I work. I ended up making two works on paper and folding them into a little portfolio-style case, so the whole thing is a piece of original art in the shape/style of a book. I re-drew all the images eighteen times to have original artworks in every copy, which was a funny process because I was essentially doing the job of a printer.
It was interesting at the time to approach it as an opportunity to have people engage with something I made in person, especially when there was no prospect of doing that publicly because of the pandemic. Making it so that you have to take the pamphlets out of the case and open them up to see the drawings felt like a nice way to introduce the physical and tactile experience of a book into a piece of art.
MH: Finally, could you tell us a bit about your studio practice in TBG+S? What was your routine like, and how did you manage to keep going during lockdown?
EOC: I tend to spend a lot of time in the studio even if I’m not doing that much work, so lockdown was an extreme version of that. It was definitely my main anchor and source of routine and entertainment all autumn and winter. Calling it a ‘studio practice’ feels funny because it’s so hard to feel professional when you’re just going there every day to try and amuse yourself and stay sane.
The process of making these four-panel paintings was a way of forcing myself into a daily routine, because it meant I had to mix one layer of gesso on the hob in the studio every day, then let it dry overnight and come back and sand it. It was quite gruelling but also good because it pushed the project forward incrementally without me having to be stimulated or inspired on a daily basis. After about two weeks the surface would be ready to paint and I could channel all my energy into properly enjoying that. Working with such bright colours was a way of inducing a bit of joy.
MH: Thank you Eve! It was great to get to know you and your work over the past year or so, and we look forward to seeing your practice continue to develop.
Eve O’Callaghan graduated from NCAD Fine Art Painting and Visual Culture BA in 2017. She will soon begin an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in 2021. She has been shortlisted for several awards including the Hennessy Craig Scholarship (2019) and the RDS Visual Art Awards (2017). She won the Adams award at the RHA Annual in 2018. Her work has previously been exhibited at Pallas Projects, Dublin (2019), Draoicht Dublin (2018) and the RHA Gallery (2018, 2019), and will be on view in Second Summer group show at The Dock, Carrick-On-Shannon from 22 May 2021.