Ruairi Fallon Mc Guigan won the Emerging Artist Prize in Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019. His winning oil painting, Caravan I, is a large scale scene of a domestic interior, pieced together from various memories, sketches and photographs that seem to vanish and reappear across the canvas. The work is a reflection of the transient spaces in which many people live their lives, including the artist himself. We were caught up with Ruairi to talk about scale, palette and collecting the memories of strangers.
Clare: Can you tell us a bit about your education/background?
Ruairi: I have always had a keen interest in art and growing up in Belfast I was fascinated with the murals around the city. The large scale figures, design elements and the emotive subject matter. A blatant overlap of the artistic and the political was an interesting thing to engage with so young. For a long time, I hadn’t reflected on these memories, but starting to work to a larger scale in recent years and also completing a few mural projects in London brought it all flooding back.
My mum, Julie Fallon, is a mosaic artist working in both restoration and contemporary mosaic, so I was always around a studio environment as a child and had a lot of access to materials to experiment with. When I was eighteen, I moved to Camberwell to do the foundation course and then stayed there to complete my BA in illustration. I graduated in 2015 with 1st class honours and have remained in South London as a struggling artist ever since.
Clare: How would you describe your practice?
Ruairi: I primarily work in oil, reduction woodcuts and installation. Currently, my works are engaged with the London housing crisis, rising rent prices and alternative living. The work often takes an autobiographical viewpoint on broader socio-political subjects, referencing my own living situation since graduating in 2015. I have always sought out affordable alternatives to renting with the intention of allowing myself time to develop my artistic practice. I’m currently living in a caravan in London Bridge, the novelty of this living situation has been influencing my paintings a lot. These experiences have created a heightened awareness around the luxury of seemingly everyday facilities, like kitchens and showers, that have to be built from scratch.
The act of building these functional spaces, and the architectural and domestic freedoms that come with this, are often reflected in my 2D works. I combine memories, architectural designs and five years of photographic references. I try to construct and distort in order to convey insight into this experience. The objects and plants I paint are in various states of solidity, hopefully hinting towards the transience of this existence. The idea that a high price is derivative of quality is an interesting concept that these works aim to question, exuding a colourful optimism in the celebration of taboos around not working while living in central and claiming back my time to make art. The living spaces are sculptural endeavour in themselves; the paintings often becoming a record of spaces, experiences and ideas for spaces that existed on a temporary basis before inevitably being deconstructed and moved on to be reformed in another location.
Clare: Can you tell us about a bit about the scale of your work and how these large paintings inform your ideas?
Ruairi: I work in a wide variety of scales but my recent series of paintings have become formulaic, taking on the standard dimension of timber yard sheet material. I started making paintings about the various alternative living situations I have created over the last few years. It made sense for the painted works to not only document these memories but to also adhere to the physicality of the spaces they are recording. This lead to using the 2440 x 1220 cm weezer boards as my canvas as well as my bed my walls and various other structural elements around the caravans.
The scale doesn’t necessarily inform the idea but it definitely affects my approach to my paintings. With the large paintings I don’t feel rushed because I know they will take a long time anyway. I work on several at one time and build elements of detail up at different rates.
Clare: How do you set up your palette and what is your approach to colour in your work?
Ruairi: First I will have applied multiple layers of primer mixed with flecks of oil paint which split and create a texture like terrazzo flooring; or a variation on the above. I then proceed by mixing batch sets of colours for larger areas of the paintings. Often using corals, pinks dusky blues and areas of pale cream in these layers. I then work with the excess of the previous colours to mix my next colours and continue this process throughout. I find this gives a uniformity across my palette while I can consciously contrast against if I want. My approach to mixing my painting palate is often informed by the relief printing process where you lay down large areas of flat colour to work on top of.
Clare: I have wondered if the photographs in your work are painted on are they reference images that you leave on the painting? Can you tell us more about these?
Ruairi: They are the original photographs; I have been collecting and taking my own 35 mm photographs for the last seven or so years, creating a catalogue of memories often documenting my every day as well as interiors and derelict places abroad and around the UK. I also collect or take copies of family members historical photographs documenting their lives or memories which I often accompanied by conversations around them. I’m excited by found photographs from markets or even derelict houses on my travels.
I find the idea of owning the physical representation of someone else’s memories fascinating. This provides me with a broad range of source imagery in the studio that I work through, curating sets and taping ideas for compositions up onto my boards. I rarely leave the actual references that are used on the paintings, preferring to the leave the ones I haven’t used as part of the painting. The idea that didn’t find a place in the final painting, but adds a different dimension to it, or provides the viewer with a broader context of the work. I have been playing about with producing monoprints from the photographs to paste in place of the originals but this is at the experimental stage at the moment.
Clare: Do you maintain a practice of traditional sketching for your reference imagery? If so, how often and what kind of materials do you use?
Ruairi: I have quite an erratic relationship to traditional sketching. I draw from life while travelling but rarely reference them while working on my paintings, it’s more commonly a way of imprinting interesting structures or figures into my memory. The act of drawing really helps me with recall. I’m constantly drawing in my sketchbook from memory which is where I figure out ideas or compositions. A lot of the object and plants in the paintings are physically in the studio and I will often draw and paint them from life, directly into the finished work. I collect objects in the same way I collect photographs for this purpose.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Ruairi: Although neither are directly used in my painting, it would probably be my sketchbooks and my woodcutting chisels. With regards to the large paintings it would have to be my ruler collection which is invaluable when mapping out the architectural spaces and figuring out perspective.
Clare: Can you tell us more about your shared studio? What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Ruairi: I now have the studio to myself which is great, I can now work on several paintings at once, as well as having space for my printmaking station. This has its downside though as I’m working on so many things at once, I never feel like I’m really progressing with anything. A really good day in the studio usually comes when no one else is around, with a good audiobook in the background. Sadly this is usually in the evening which makes mixing colours a lot harder.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or Artists?
Ruairi: I find this question really hard because the internet allows me access of such a wide range of artists. But, from looking at my bookshelf and recalling inspiring exhibitions over the last few years, I would put forward Käthe Kollwitz, Mike Nelson, David Hockney, Peter Doig and Dorothea Lang. My answer would probably be different on any given day.
Clare: In the studio – music, audiobook, podcast, Radio 4 or silence?
Ruairi: A complete mix, periodically drifting between them all. A lot of audiobooks as the consistency of a full book for hours helps me maintain a flow and concentration. The audiobooks I usually listen to are related to themes in my work and help inform ideas while I’m painting. With music, usually full albums or artist discographies for the same reason, otherwise I get distracted constantly picking the next track. Radio 4 is touch or go for me, it’s good while tidying the studio but over a full day it’s too repetitive and over a week the politics get monotonous and a bit depressing. I like to listen to radio Ulster as it reminds me of home.
Clare: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Ruairi: With regards to the paintings I’m currently working on 5 new 8 x 4-foot panels for quite an ambitious exhibition with a Director and writer from Northern Ireland. The specifics are in its infancy as we are currently trying to source funding but it will hopefully be around Easter 2020. You can keep up to date with this project and everything else via my Instagram @ruairifallon or my website, ruairiFallon.co.uk. In the diary are a few small exhibitions of woodcuts and a collaborative sculpture project. The sculpture project is by our collective F.A.F and will be part of this year's Art Licks weekend running from the 17th – 20th of October at Redcross way, London Bridge, (51.5045, -0.0930). The new woodcuts can be seen at the National original print exhibition at Bankside Gallery between 18th – 29th of September or at Woolwich contemporary print fair, 7th – 10th November. I’m also a member of Greenwich Print Makers where you can see my prints all year round.