Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reshaping Reality: Ten MInutes with Visual Artist Conal Flaherty

I "met" Conal Flaherty through social media, like so many writers and artists today. Though from England, his path and work, while different from my own, has some similar qualities. In his youth he was an art student, a painter, but went on to make a living outside the arts, returning only later in life to his art roots. In the return he began to incorporate contemporary technologies into his creative expression like many other artists have done. Ultimately, Flaherty's explorations have led to visually compelling images such as those you see on this page. Here is his story.

Ennyman: How did you get interested in Art?
Conal Flaherty: Whilst I don’t recall too much from my early years schooling I do remember my very first day at school at the tender age of five. The year was 1958. I wasn’t too sure where I was going when my Mother walked away and left me with some stranger who took me into a large room with other similarly aged children. To say I wasn’t happy was an understatement, tears flowed I guess I thought I was there for good, I was given a pencil and some crayons that kept me quiet for a few years!
I can trace all of my creativity back to that day and a few teachers along the way who told me that my work was ‘good’. The same was never said for Mathematics or the Science subjects, neither did I shine at anything too technical, just let me be creative and I was happy.

E: Early Influences?
CF: Mondrian stands out. I remember seeing a picture of his in a book at school when I was in my teens. I loved the line and the colour, still do for that matter. Academically I was always okay without excelling in any chosen subject. As for Art I was usually in the top five kids in my year.

When I was fourteen my Father died. From there on in my upbringing was the sole domain of my Mother and my Aunt both of whom were supportive of my art work. At the age of seventeen it seemed that the best opportunity for me would be to attend the local Art College, get some qualifications behind me, extend my skills and go on to do a Degree in Art.

The local School of Art in Warrington was where I learned the most, it was here that I started to follow Dadaism and Marcel Duchamp. I particularly liked Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Large Glass.’ The glass had cracked whilst being transported home following its first exhibition. Duchamp kept the cracks in the glass, accepting the chance element as part of the piece, for some reason the ‘chance element’ resonated with me and continues to do so. The opportunity presented itself for me to go and study further at Goldsmiths College in London. I had sent my work to them and they wanted to interview me. For whatever reason I didn’t get through that interview. I don’t really know why, too young, immature perhaps, who knows? For then at least it was a chance and a chance that was lost.

E: One door closes...
CF: What followed was life, marriage, divorce, occasionally picking up a sketching book but always bringing an element of creativity to whatever job I was in. Work was predominantly Training & Development, Motivational Training, and those kinds of things. In 2002 I re-married. I had no children in my first marriage and now through work I met Christine who similarly had no children. And so it was in 2004 that my wife who on finding it difficult to find a picture to give to a friend for a Birthday present turned to me and asked whether I could paint something?
The excuses came free flowing. I didn’t have the paint, or the paper or the easel or the studio or this or that. She’s a bit persistent my wife. I say that with a wry smile. She’s good for me. She pushes me and she didn’t let up.

It’s a longer story but I started looking at what software came with the PC and basically just started playing around with it, finally producing something that looked good in a presentation frame. The gift sparked an immediate response with the recipient who wanted to know where she might buy more of the prints, and so it began.

By 2005 I was much more engaged in the process. Of course the images were abstract and fitted so perfectly into the ‘chance element’ under the influence of my old friend Marcel Duchamp.

E: Digital what?
CF: I take a digital photograph; it could be of anything, a holiday snap even. I then edit it, cutting and stretching the image, sometimes the colours change automatically, other times I change them.

I don’t set out with an end view. There’s nothing pre-determined. In fact, I’m no expert with the various editions of software that I use. It’s more that I allow them to reveal something entirely new. Many of the images I discard completely though some of them have such complexities of line and colour that I prefer to keep them for a time when I may use them again.

The final decision sits with me. I decide when something is finished, when it’s complete, and of course I enquire of my wife for her thoughts. Interestingly enough I completed a commission for a customer recently and I ended up showing him images that I was about to dispose of. He chose one and it now sits proudly on his wall. As they say there’s no accounting for taste!

E: Presentation...
CF: During the early years I printed the images myself before learning that certain inks just don’t last so now images go off to the printers. They can be printed either onto canvas and hung or printed onto archival paper and framed. The choice is with the customer. All the inks used are Archival also which means that the image remains light resistant for up to 75 years. Not that I’ll be around if it’s one or two years out. I’m keen to explore printing onto Perspex and perhaps using a Light Box.

E: Back to the future... What's next?
CF: I’ve done a remarkable thing. I’ve taken the chance and resigned from my job to take up a full time career as an artist. That was six months ago now. So here I am in my studio/office typing away for an article on a fellow artist blog in Minnesota. You read my bio on my own website where I say that I’m going to start painting again, painting what?
You know when I was eighteen I just produced work after work in mixed media, paintings, drawings, pottery, carvings, prints and so on and now I realise I’ve been limiting myself. I’ve got ten canvas’s just waiting for me to start painting. Bizarrely I’ve had a dream about what to paint. There’s going to be an influence of Mondrian this time, that is if I remembered the dream. Some other goofy stuff, but I think we’ll keep that away from the canvas for now and leave it firmly fixed in my head.

You can follow me on Twitter @Conalart and become a fan of my Facebook Fan page here at As soon as the first painting is complete I’ll post to my website, keep in touch.

Thank you Conal. We'll be watching to see what happens next.

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