Conor Kelly

Conor Kelly

Olivia Carr interviews Glasgow based artist Conor Kelly. Conor graduated from BA Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Ulster in Belfast in 2002 and completed an MFA at the Glasgow School of Art in 2008. Conor is about to start is latest exhibition at the CCA on the 19th of September, find out more here

What is your background? 

I grew up in Ireland, in Donegal before moving to Belfast to study BA Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Ulster at York Street.

How did you start working in Glasgow?

I worked in a studio in Belfast for a number of years before moving to Paris for two and then coming to Glasgow to study my MFA at the Glasgow School of Art where I graduated in 2008. Since then, I've worked part-time at the school as well as making my own work. Perhaps, like many people who come here to study art, I have made it my home. People make interesting work here and the scene is accessible.

How do you approach your work? 

A large part of my practice involves painting. So much of my time is spent either engaging or avoiding a canvas. I usually begin with an idea, I never view a painting in isolation so I will usually spend quite a bit of time researching before embarking on a body of work. When something starts I usually go to the studio, recently I spent July in an intensive period of work, making paintings and doing the labour. Afterwards is a time for me to relax, reverse, re-work and try to unpack what it is I've done. I try as much as possible to allow for interruption, if I work alone in a studio it is important that this is punctuated by other things, other ideas, I've never wholly trusted my original idea and its usually the neighbouring idea that I adopt, so interruption, contamination and side-stepping has always proved useful.

What would you say are the main themes that you address in your work?

The main theme...hmm...I would have to start somewhere quite basic here. The main theme is my relation to pictures. Before I think about other people, about viewers, I have to think about my relationship to pictures and how they mediate my experience of the world. I interested in the pictures of the past as they often seem to wield quite a bit of power and I'm unsure about how deserved this power is. I've always been interested in footnotes and particularly how people and events have had their images footnoted from our history in place of other things. In previous work I have referenced the Irish rebellion of 1798, Dada artist and poet Baroness Elsa vonFreytag-Loringhoven, Adler Christensen (lover and manservant to Irish revolutionary Sir Roger Casement) and the extinct marsupial the thylacine. I suppose what these characters and events have in common is they share an uncertain image and so to consider them in picture-making is problematic. Even today with our glut of imagery we still have highly developed taboos and unspoken understandings regarding the power of images and the role of pictures.

Tell me about your upcoming exhibition at the CCA in September

The show is called Do U Feel Like We Do? (the title is from a 1973 Peter Frampton hit where he showcased his famous Talk-Box, where he essentially sang like a guitar, or his guitar when played sounded like Frampton) and brings together portraits and abstractions that try to capture something about the reasons we started to make paintings in the first instance. All the portraits contain images of monkeys so they are devoid of any particular historical moment but retain the magic of a face reflecting the gaze of the viewer. Many of the abstractions have been made without considering the contents of the image, for instance I've poured wood-stain into the still-wrapped shop-bought canvas, I have little or no control over the image so if there is a content to it it as a pure moment of pareidolia (the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it doesn't actually exist). Much in the way that we see a face in the moon, it still possible to deny an image the quality of abstraction so I can say, 'Look it looks like a face!' Of course, historically, in Western art, when this happens in your soup its not likely to be any old face but the face of Jesus or the saints. I'm quite interested in this potential. 

The paintings will function in an installation, I have a copy of a recording from 1971 called Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead by Konstantin Raudive (who was a student of Jung). It pretty much does what it says on the tin and will play in the space throughout the exhibition and will add further texture to this notion of forming meaning in abstraction and listening and looking out for something other or enchanted.

To see more of Conor's work visit: artnews.org/conorkelly

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