Aidan Crotty won the Still life/Botanical Category Award in the Jackson’s Painting Prize this year with his oil painting, Pine Marten. In this interview, Megan Seiter, last years winner of the same award, asks Aidan about the practical side of his painting, muted colour palettes, and using a visual scaffold to build a painting.
Above image: Aidan Crotty in his studio
Megan: It’s wonderful to make your acquaintance through this Jackson’s Painting Prize interview! I’ve enjoyed learning about your work, and would love to ask you a few questions to gain a better understanding of your art and artistic process.
Aidan: Hi Megan. Likewise, it’s a great opportunity to chat to a fellow painter about painting!
Megan: Can you tell me a little bit about your award winning work Pine Marten? Is there a backstory to the painting?
Aidan: The Pine Marten is native to Ireland and is a protected species. In the Irish language its name is Cat Crann which translates as tree cat. In a way, this accurately describes the mammals’ size and where it chooses to spend most of its time. I encountered this male pine marten dead, in almost perfect condition, on the side of the road close to my home. In my studio, I laid the remains out on a white table which had a grid marked out on it. The grid offers me a structure to measure the form which I can accurately represent on the painting surface. Although it’s an apex predator it almost became extinct. Surviving only in fragmented pockets mainly in the west of Ireland due to their natural habitats being challenged by modern farming methods. It was a rare opportunity to observe this elusive creature close up, as they are primarily nocturnal. The pine marten has been making a comeback in recent times, in doing so has enabled our native red squirrel to re-establish itself. For me the Pine Marten represents the possibilities of ecological resilience.
Megan: On your website, you mention that you’re involved with conveying the physical presence of the everyday through painting. What is it about everyday scenes that inspires you? On that note, what draws you to a specific subject? Is there a connection between all your subject choices and/or your state of mind in a particular moment that inspires you to paint?
Aidan: I try to be practical in my approach to painting. What’s important for me at the moment, is that I consider subjects that are within reach in the surrounding landscape. There is an urgency and directness that I get when I paint from life. I feel it would be disingenuous to consider subjects that have little connection to me or my environment.
Megan: Can you briefly walk me through your process of a painting from concept to finish? Do you work from life, photos, or a combination of both?
Aidan: Currently, I’m using preparatory drawings and oil studies of subject matter in the landscape. Using these images, I explore scale and colour on larger surfaces in my studio. At certain stages of the process, I like to revisit the site with the larger paintings and work directly. Returning again allows me to look at how light and form occupy the space.
Megan: It seems that most of your paintings are made with oils. How does that medium enhance your work?
Aidan: It’s hard to say. It might be to do with how oil cures relatively slowly. My painting process can be unpredictable and often time consuming. I enjoy the potential of continually re-entering a painting over a long period of time.
Megan: Most of your paintings feature a muted colour palette, but they’re anything but dull. Your use of colour within each painting is subtle but strikingly beautiful. Can you speak to that?
Aidan: I try not to over complicate my palette too much. I use good quality oil paint with a high pigment content: Cassel earth, viridian green, ultramarine blue, crimson red, raw umber, yellow lake, and titanium white work for me. My attempts to interpret colour are built up in the body of the painting. I paint and respond to the changes of light as the painting develops. Layering and scraping back can reveal or disrupt colour, through a process of trial and error. I find that it’s the accumulation of all these elements throughout the journey of the painting that’s important for me.
Megan: I see that you worked with students on a workshop exploring engineering, mathematics, and science. Do you have a background or passion for math that influences the compositions in your work?
Aidan: Maths was never my strongpoint. When I was in secondary school, architectural drawing and engineering was part of the curriculum, which I enjoyed immensely, it could be visual and I understood that. We drew by hand and used set squares, protractors and the compass. Then physically building these designs in the school workshop. This has never left me, so when I work in schools and community groups, I try and make the creative process stimulating by introducing visual and physical methods of measuring, scaling and building. Coming across artists such as Euan Uglow and Antonio Lopez Garcia earlier on, when I was beginning to form my approach to working from life, made me realise that I could use measuring tools and similar strategies that utilise a visual scaffold on the painting as it develops.
Megan: Are there any specific artists or mentors who have inspired you?
Aidan: I came across Simon Ling’s large-scale paintings in the Painting Now exhibition at Tate Britain. His work had a strong effect on my approach to painting in terms of directness. Paintings by the Swedish painter Tommy Hilding I find very moving. I enjoy how he describes surface texture with paint and the shift between the natural world and the built environment.
Megan: Is there a piece of advice that you can offer to young aspiring artists?
Aidan: I suppose if I were to offer any advice it would be to allow yourself the time to get to know your materials. Take your time to develop your process. If you are a painter, try painting from life for a different perspective on how we see things.