The Warrior Artist, Episode 3; ‘there were no curators’ Show Notes, Pauline Flynn’s Creative Journey
Irish visual artist and poet Pauline Flynn turned her back on the art world for 10 years to pursue writing. She found the art world a very different place when she returned to painting. This is her creative journey. Pauline’s work can also be seen on Instagram on her website
At the time of writing, Pauline’s work is on display until 23 February 2023 in the group exhibition ‘New Yin Art’ in Crane Visual, Cork city, a group show of female artists working in abstraction that we are both exhibiting in, curated by Dermot Browne.
Pauline grew up in the village of Donard, Co. Wicklow. She studied art at Dun Laoghaire School of Art and Design in Dublin, followed by a BA in fine art sculpture & the History of Art in NCAD National College of Art and design, Dublin, following which she was awarded an exchange to the Art Institute of Chicago .
Influence of Japan
Pauline won several research scholarships to Japan in the late 1980s, 1990s, a place which has been very influential in her art .
Pauline says that Japan “influenced [my art] totally. And not just my artwork, but my life as well” in particular the Japanese use of colour. “It’s really nuanced. They almost never use primary colours. Everything is mixed and blended…their combinations of colour are totally different to ours.”
Photo of Japanese dye pigments in Pauline’s studio . Pauline ships the Japanese brand Matsuda to Ireland.
Pauline studied calligraphy, lived with a family of paper makers (washi) and found that she even moved differently while living there.
The language barrier led her to start painting for the first time. Because she found that painting was something she could do on her own.
Pauline was a successful artist, she exhibited extensively in Ireland and internationally, she won awards and residencies, her work was acquired for important collections.
Older painting, washing on board, from 2000
Yoko Ono in front of Pauline’s painting ‘Earth, Air, Fire, Water’ (washi on board), which was the Art for Amnesty exhibition at IMMA
Pauline stopped painting for 10 years
In 2008 , Pauline stopped painting. She left the art world completely behind.
“I had come to the end of my love of the art world and everything that went with it, and I just thought, I have to do something else.”
“I walked around in circles for about a year before I decided what my next step was.”
“I grieved and grieved about it. It was it was a fierce loss to me because all my life I wanted to be an artist…but it was always a struggle, a struggle, a struggle. And I think by 2008, I just couldn’t struggle anymore. I just thought, There has to be something else. And maybe I was coming to the end of what I was doing and I wanted some other creative input into my life.”
“I just had to jump into the deep end and stop the painting, because as long as I was holding onto that, I wasn’t going to be able to do anything else.”
“I wanted to learn something again…I really wanted to get back into a situation where I was going to be meeting more people and learning something new from myself.”
Pauline studied writing and became a poet
Pauline decided to enter the world of writing. She did an MA in creative writing in UCD University College Dublin.
Pauline describes how her visual skills as a painter help develop her lyrical poetic style.
“I went walking up through the woods and hit the mountains with my visual artist eyes. I kind of clicked on images as I walked. And then I came back home and I put those images into words….I did start writing poetry is that for me, it’s like a new medium. I don’t see it different to my painting at all. It’s just a new medium, and it’s giving me the opportunity to express things in a figurative way that I can’t express in my abstract work…I came to understand how to put an image together in words just the same way as I have to put an image together in paint. .. it’s just another language of my creative self.”
The world of poetry v/s the world of painting
Pauline describes the connection between painting and writing poetry.
“In abstraction, I’m condensing something as far back as I can bring it. And in a poem, it’s asking me to do exactly the same thing. I have to condense what I want to say and find the words to say it as succinctly as I can.”
Pauline found the world of poetry writing was a very different world to the visual art one, a more open, less isolated one.
The challenges of a painter are isolation and a lack of external critique.
“As a painter, I am in my studio on my own, day in, day out. I live in the country. There are not very many artists around, and there’s nobody that close..I’m just painting in my studio. I come in, I go out, I keep going. I fill up my studio with work, and nobody ever sees it until I put it out.”
By contrast, in her poetry groups “you bring a poem to the group and you read it, and they read it, and .. it’s workshopped. I don’t think anyone could really come in and workshop [a] painting.”
Pauline was struck that she received similar critique of her poetry to earlier critique of her abstract paintings.
“He called them imagist poems. And he said what I was doing was I was creating images and I was not philosophising. I was not telling anybody anything. I was not trying to make a statement about anything other than what the thing was itself.”
Pauline found the opportunities of open calls were similar in poetry and painting.
“The poetry world is very like the art world. You send out the open calls, the open calls for poetry.” The lack of feedback is common in both worlds too. “I’ve sent out a lot of poems, never gotten anywhere. I’ve sent out a lot of proposals over the last two years. Very few people have even sent a thank you note for submitting…they don’t even bother to respond that they got your proposal.”
However, Pauline found there were more opportunities to submit poetry than paintings. “You can submit all over the place. Whereas with the art, I’m more or less stuck with Ireland, unless transporting art off to America or the UK or whatever…You get a lot of rejections, but there’s an awful lot more opportunities as well.”
This was a very creative and productive time for Pauline and her poetry was published and she was shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award.
Return to painting and development of her painting style
After a 10 year hiatus, Pauline returned to painting and in 2002, she was selected for the 9th Beijing International Art Exhibition. She has always been interested in abstraction and in recent years her work has become more geometric.
“my old work was always mainly on Japanese handmade paper, on panels. It was highly textured and layered and it was still abstract ..this new work is totally flat, totally geometric.”
Pauline has not given her new paintings individual paintings. She views them as one series, which she calls ‘Riband’ paintings. The inspiration for the shapes came from the ribbons of military medals in the Limerick Museum, where artist and curator Maurice Quillinan had invited her to seek inspiration for an exhibition.
“I was painting all these small canvases and using these shapes, that they became modular. So they started all working together.”
Changes in the art world
Pauline said that the biggest changes in art world during her 10 years is
social media and Instagram. “I didn’t even have a website.. I’m on a steep learning curve about how to negotiate all the social media.”
Pauline says that there were no curators 10 years ago. Instead, galleries fulfilled that role.
Pauline explains the way she approaches galleries.
“I ring them up and say, can I submit to you? Can I send you a proposal? …I write about what my work is about and I will send images…I don’t feel under pressure like I did when I was a younger artist. I just feel a bit more sure of myself. So I’m not feeling so stressed by of course I want the work to get out there, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, and I’m going to keep painting anyway.
” I’m a master at handling rejection…it’s been there from the very beginning, and so it doesn’t upset me anymore. It maybe annoys me…. I don’t feel like my work is no good or anything. I mean, I might have felt that earlier, but I don’t really feel that now. ”
Best advice Pauline received:
“It’s been said to me, both in painting and in writing, just keep doing what you’re doing yourself. Don’t worry about what anybody else is doing….There are trends, and when your work is not going to fit into it.
Pauline’s advice for emerging artists:
“You have to make your art whatever way you can”
Believe in your work
“you’ve got to stay true to yourself and do what you’re doing…You just have to stick with it. Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance.”
It’s ok to have a day job
“…I think as a young artist, you have to be able to pay your rent and feed yourself. So you if you have to get another job, you have to get another job. ”
On building a studio:
“build it as big as you possibly can”
Photo of Pauline’s studio table and a great wall cupboard that originally came from a chemist shop, full of supplies and various paraphernalia.
Patience, luck and self belief
“it’s just slow. It takes you your lifetime to learn how to do it, and you have to be lucky as well.. If a gallery will take you on, I’ve been with taken on by galleries, and then the galleries have folded or whatever. With recessions, everything is going to change all the time. And you think when you get taken on by a gallery, oh, this is it brilliant. It doesn’t necessarily stay like that. So I think you have to hang in there and try and not get despondent, because you will get a lot of these rejections.”
Work at your art and become your own critic
“You have to work at your work. You can’t be just putting any old thing out there….With poetry, I go to workshops and I edit, edit, edit, edit. And with painting, you can’t just put out everything you make. You have to make sure it’s good enough as well.”
Do the boring work
“I was making applications from the beginning and if you’re not willing to put in that kind of groundwork and that hard, boring work, you’re not going to get anywhere. Nobody’s going to come into your studio off the street and say, oh, my God, I’ll take you. You’re going to have to work. Not only do you have to work at your painting, but you have to work at getting yourself out there.”
On ‘art speak’
“Don’t use any of that art speak. You use your own language. That art speak is I’m not interested in it at all. It means nothing.”
Learn art history
“It’s impossible to recommend books. Each artist should seek out what they need for themselves. I used to lecture in the History of Art and I always told the students they had to know the history of the world they wanted to enter. Many students hated having to do art history and write essays but its essential. Nothing is really new in art except new medium. But you have to know where you’re coming from as an artist….As a poet I am encouraged by my peers to read, read, read other poets. Same applies to artists, read, look, read, look, read, look. Be inspired but don’t copy.”
Artists she’d like to meet (or watch painting)
“I would love to be in a field with Monet when he’s painting haystacks in a different light…He doesn’t know I’m there. I’m just watching him…I would (also) love to be in a studio with Michaelangelo, seeing how he releases those human figures from a block of marble”
The Withdrawing Room
by Pauline Flynn
Inside the castle,
I wander airless apartments
and enter a room different from the rest
– the women’s withdrawing room.
On hand-painted Chinese wallpaper
a fawn walks along a path,
a parrot rests in a peony tree.
I lose myself in the garden,
sit on the blue glazed seat
by the lotus pond, eat a persimmon
picked from the tree overhead,
listen to the song of the yellow-tailed bird
on the Osmanthus, follow the butterfly
hovering over the rock.
I stand here in my winter coat,
the room bare of furniture,
the wallpaper veiled in a patina of age,
at home in this female domain,
in undisturbed delight,
from the world outside.