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Apr 02, 2023
Eamon Colman grew up in Dublin, Ireland in a family of painters. He left school and starting painting in a spare room in his parents house, he took art classes by night at National College or Art and Design and studying horticulture by day. He has had a professional art career since 1979.
Eamon was only 19 when he had his first solo show. Since then he's had over 40 solo shows in Ireland and internationally.
He was chair of the The Artists' Association of Ireland and president of the the European council of artists. He was elected a member of Aosdana in 2009 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland. He has won many awards and his work is in many major collections.
He is represented by the Solomon Fine Art Gallery, Dublin, Hambly & Hambly in the UK and the Stern Gallery in Vienna. He lives in rural Kilkenny where he has converted an old barn into a studio.
Eamon told me there are three strands to his art practice and one of these is teaching. I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful workshop he teaches in Artform, Dunmore East, Waterford, Ireland.
Eamon views himself primarily as a painter
"I don't believe that I'm a hero. I am a worker who happens to be a painter, and I'm even never quite sure if I'm comfortable with the word artist at all, because that implies something that is slightly divorced from the rest of society, and I don't believe that I'm divorced from the rest of society."
"Painting is my life.. it is the journey of my life."
"I never want to be tethered to an idea."
The importance of tenacity
"I am never happy with the notion of the hero artists, because I don't think artists are heroes. I think they are people who believe passionately in what they do and stick. Part of survival as an artist is tenacity."
'Without tenacity you lose momentum. It is one of the great things that I think of it is that art, by and large, the creative process for me, the end product of a painting is not that as important as the beginning. I'm not a product maker."
The challenge of making a living as a creative person
"I'm lucky, touch wood, I've made my living doing this, but I really want to enhance the living and working conditions for all artists."
"I realised very early on in my career that the big fracture for most people with a creative bent is, how do you make a living while being a creative person."
"I started lobbying for the living and working conditions of artists. Most artists aren't very upfront about their living wage and I made a decision very often that I was going to tell people exactly how I was making a living. And at that time I was making a living by being on the dole and working my studio and lying my teeth off .. I'd go in and pretend I was applying for jobs, which I wasn't doing."
The gallery system
Eamon is represented by the Solomon Fine Art Gallery, Dublin, Hambly & Hambly in the UK and the Stern Gallery in Vienna. "I have stayed and worked within the gallery system, which is quite a brutal system. I mean, you're only as good as your last sale."
"Hang Tough Contemporary is a prime example of that, that are trying to do things differently."
"The reality is we're a small country, we're the size of Manchester and to get a buying public who are willing to spend the money that enables an artist to make a living and the gallery to make a living as well. There's always two sides to the gallery system and that's why the commission is as high as it is for most galleries. It's that they have rent and they have staff to pay... And without that system you wouldn't make a living, there is no doubt about it. It is very hard to make a living outside of the gallery system, even now."
"I think younger artists are starting to look at other aspects of the 'exhibiting system'. They are holding their own exhibitions, they're not so much reliant on what I would have done of writing proposals for public commissions."
His studio practice
"you don't get anywhere..without a studio practice"
"That journey I make from beginning to end is what makes me get up in the morning and go into the studio on a regular basis. And I've always painted just for myself. I don't paint for an audience."
"I would always say the only honest thing I ever do is make a painting, and it is my fruit, basically. That's what it is, painting. So for me, to do that painting is a very private journey."
The importance of privacy in the studio
Eamon's studio practice is very private. He calls his studio his 'engine room' and allows no one in to see work in progress.
"every painting is a mistake. And it is only by being able to look at those mistakes can I move on to the next printing. But they have to be mistaken. Samuel Beckett's saying fail. Fail again, fail better, fail better. That's what my studio practice is. So that's a very private because I might not feel comfortable with a painting that's on my studio wall."
"for me, the paintings are the things"
"the paintings have to be good. If the painting isn't a good painting, there's no amount of bull that you can put behind it to make it a good painting. It's either a good painting or it's not. "
"[My] method of making work came about due to my impatience and my thinking process."
Planning and composition
"I want my paintings to look as spontaneous as they possibly can, but none of them are spontaneous."
"I think I try and control all the time."
"Balance, for me, is the most important thing in a painting. The painting doesn't work through balance, then it's not going to work at all."
"I think what happens is what happens for me is that I always want my paint to be lively, to have transparency."
" I suppose I would be quite introverted, I think. But my paintings are the yang of me. They're quite extroverted."
"I want my paintings to kind of jump off a wall"
The rare magic when paintings 'happen'
"There are paintings that happen that are wonderful, that just happen within."
George Steiner and stepping to the other side of the canvas
"George Steiner wrote a pamphlet on the creative process at the very beginning of his career..he talks about the idea of the artist as an individual whom every now and again gets to step the other side of the canvas...The other side of the canvas is.. confidence, a degree of letting go, stepping away from your human tightness and allowing that to come true...That probably has happened to me twenty times in my whole life."
"Sometimes you can overwork even a yellow, you can put more and more yellow on and suddenly the yellow starts to dull rather than sing. And at that stage, just forget it. Just don't try and solve it something, unless it's at the stage where, you know, that an intervention. But I know instinctively when an intervention is not going to work anymore. I'll never get anything out of it. It just isn't possible."
"I know instinctively when a painting works and when it doesn't."
Editing his work
"Usually once a year, I'll have a big burning session where I burn everything that hasn't worked."
His love for paper
"I make my own paper and I buy in Japanese paper and then treat it with no degree of respect at all, even though it costs a ****** fortune to buy."
"I like the fact that paper allows me to use the edges. So edges to my paintings have become increasingly important, and some of the paintings probably more important than what is actually in the centre, because I will rework the edges minutely over time."
Storing works in progress
"I kept all those sample tiles and they become my flattening process. So I will put paintings underneath them on the floor and they get walked on every day."
Knowing when a painting is finished
"I have a conversation with the painting. The painting has a conversation with me. Then at some stage of conversation, the painting is having a conversation with the other paintings in the room and are not having a conversation with me at all. And that's when I know they're finished. That's when I know as a body of work, it is starting to grow. The sentences of a body of work are coming together in a particular."
On writing and painting titles
"I've always written I've always been a writer."
"I suppose as a result of my love of good songwriters and good lyrics, I surround myself with that rhythm of words. And that rhythm of words fits very well into that whole notion of balance in the painting and editing the two."
"I'm a romantic at heart. And so I've never enjoyed walking into an exhibition and seeing Untitled One, Untitled Two."
Sculpture helps his painting practice
"I suppose in order to understand what I call push and pull in a painting, which is that there must always be push and pull in a painting, I have turned to sculpture as a way of solving those problems."
"I'm planning to take a year off painting altogether next year and just concentrate on sculpture."
On the importance of colour
"A couple of years ago, I took I took a sabbatical from colour and I just painted in black and white. And that was something that I felt was very necessary to understanding colour again because you can fall into the trap of using the same colours over and over and over."
"I have to have an emotional connection with the colour."
On having an art career
"There's a dichotomy there in that I've never thought of myself as having a career. Yet I am a career artist, and in order to be a career artist ... a jobbing artist, I have to look for work. I have to look for where I can either sell the work, get a catalog, or it has to be something that enhances the CV."
Upcoming solo exhibition in the Butler Gallery
Eamon has been working on a new body of work which includes diptychs.
"I'll frame them as one piece, but they've been sewn together. And that kind of indicates the scar that I have from my illness of three years ago this month. I had the operation so the scar has only started to close over recently."
"It came about just purely through a process of trying to solve the problem of having these long sheets of paper, knowing that I needed to support them in a certain way. And then I just one day started going, well, maybe I should try sewing them together. So that's what I started doing. And I also started using muslin as well as a way of putting a support between each of the paintings. And it was only when I finished the first one and I put it up on the wall and I went, that's not unlike my scar. And that was a revelation."
Paintings are political and autobiographical
"All painting is political and... autobiographical."
"There's a painting from the 2010 series which is like a tube with wings out of it. It's the best way to describe it as a painting. And it was only after I got ill that I realised that that was my oesophagus."
His love of abstraction
"I think the strongest art that has been made in the world at the moment is outsider art. I don't think this art that is made at a necessity, as a necessity to communicate something back to yourself, not necessarily to other people. And that's what I think abstraction does."
"I made a decision very early on in my career that I was not going to paint the human figure because I believe we are obsessed with ourselves as animals."
"the language of painting allows those intuitive and instinctive moments to come out, especially in abstract painting."
The importance of his garden
Eamon studied horticulture and if he wasn't a painter, he says he would have been a gardener. "I might work for three hours in the studio and do another three hours in the garden and then come in and finish off whatever it was I was working on and do another two hours in the studio.
"I can still get stuck in my tracks by a dandelion that is just in the right place."
Concern of climate change and the change he's seen in the environment in Kilkenny
"We're very subjected to the weather here, and that's one of the reasons a lot of my paintings at the moment are about the weather and the weathering of landscapes."
"We have noticed a huge change in weather patterns in that 21 years...It's wetter and colder, grayer, a lot less sunny days than we had at the very beginning. So you end up gardening to try and fit in with that weather change."
"I'm talking about a very fragile landscape and I want people to be I think people walk out of their house and they see the beach tree that has stood in their road or in their field for the last hundred years, and they think nothing has changed. And yet the landscape is changing utterly as we speak literally in front of us, and we're having colossal extinction, especially those small insects we can hardly see by the naked eye. They're all dying out....It's dead. It's a dead landscape. It's not real."
"One thing that gardening does for me is that when I'm in garden and I'm on my hands and knees weeding a bed or planting it up or I'm planting trees, all of those things, it gives you time to slow down and really look at the landscape around you."
"You suddenly realise that the diversity of plants that were there when we were kids is no longer there. And we have sprayed to be-Jesus out of every piece of land that we own..We are the parasite on the landscape. We are the parasite of the world. We're slowly but surely killing off space for diversity. Planet with just human habitation and no diversity would be a sterile planet."
"That's what I'm trying to paint. That's my motivation for painting is to try and explain this ..I still want my paintings to be beautiful..because even in the horror that we're seeing around us, there is beauty."
Barry Cooke used to say to me that "when you find something really good happening in a painting, at the very beginning, paint it out, get rid of it..kill your darling [or] you will constantly get drawn to that section of the canvas rather than trying to solve the problems... "
"I used to paint them out. Now what I do is I just tear off a lump of paper and with my glue, glue on that new piece of paper over what I've already worked over"
"I wouldn't be painting today if it wasn't for Sean McSweeney's encouragement, but he never gave me advice on what I was drawing or how I was drawing or what I was painting or subject matter. He would either say, that works or that doesn't work."
"I don't think there's any advice you can give an artist in how to run their career. You can give an advice to an artist in where and what they should be looking at, where and what they should be reading."
"It's a circular, inspirational conversation where the artists that I'm mentoring are also mentoring me to a certain extent."
"Painting is communicating. Teaching is communicating. Being a mentor is communicating."
Instagram as a community
"I put out a call on Instagram does anybody know how to use egg tempera. This guy came back to me from Mexico who has never painted in anything else but egg tempera.. I put my phone on the easel beside me in the studio and for three hours a day on Instagram live, we went through a video of how to do egg tempera."
"You followed me, I'll follow you back. And let's have a conversation if we can."
"Next year, what I'm hoping to do is put a call out to my followers on Instagram saying, send me a postcard size of a piece and I will put it up as an exhibition in my studio during the Alternative Kilkenny Arts Festival."
See more of Eamon's work on
Eamon teaches at www.artform.ie
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