200 words #15 / Peter Voulkos

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Peter Voulkos, Red River, c. 1960, Glazed stoneware, slip, and epoxy paint, 37 x 14 7/8 x 13 3/4 in. (94 x 37.8 x 34cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc. Photography by © schoppleinstudio.com, courtesy of the Voulkos & Co. Catalogue Project

The fact that Red River was added to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection immediately after it was made in 1960 is a measure of its significance for ceramics and much 3-D work that was to follow. Peter Voulkos, already a celebrated ceramicist in a largely traditional manner, had by the early 1960s assimilated the best of Abstract Expressionism, and the energy of Black Mountain College.

Voulkos drew many lessons in material and form from painting – his own and the paintings of others – lessons which in turn found their most idiosyncratic expression in his ruptured and reformulated ceramics. It was in his roughhouse* clay handling, experimental glazes, and other previously untested techniques, that he innovated. In demonstrations to students (including Mary Heilmann and Ron Nagle) Voulkos handled his clay with confident familiarity, often dropping his creation with rehearsed carelessness, only to pick it up and refashion it as he had intended all along. This theatricality left a mark on his students, and taught them to accept the imperfect and the awkward in their work.

The fractured, and formless presence of works such as Red River, has helped artists since to cultivate the ever more important space between painting and sculpture.

*I have borrowed this wonderfully evocative word from the critic Rose Slivka on Voulkos’s synthesis of “Greek classical culture combined with French modernism and American muscle-toting, mud-slinging, refinement and roughhouse.”

Peter Voulkos – The Breakthrough Years @ Museum of Arts & Design New York

 

Antoni Tàpies: Revulsion and Desire @ Timothy Taylor / 16 February – 18 March 2017

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Capgirat, 2005; Mixed media and collage on wood, 224.9 x 200 x 4 cm
© Comissió Tàpies / VEGAP, Courtesy Timothy Taylor

Photo: Sylvain Deleu / Image Courtesy Timothy Taylor

Watching footage of the Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012) at work, patrolling the limits of his large wooden panels laid flat on the studio floor before making occasional decisive lunges with brush or paint pot, we witness that very twentieth century model of an artist – one commanded by intuitive mark making, and as much led by their medium as leading it. The idea of the artist as an agent of aesthetic forces remains an intoxicating one today, but also one in which it is now harder for an artist to actively indulge. For painters working today, the marks they make and the placement of those marks on a surface are contingent on an acknowledgement that they may already have been enacted elsewhere with the same intent, and as a consequence, may never be viewed as unique. In short, a painter working today will often find themselves pausing to look over their shoulder.

There was no such equivocation in Tàpies’ mind. His style, like that of so many of his contemporaries, took shape in a highly intuitive way through a series of straight choices the artist made around colour, medium, motif, and scale. Tàpies’ self-professed – contempt for everything pretentious, grandiloquent – not only informed his stark approach to subject matter and iconography, but is also supported by the evidence of his roughed-up surfaces of varnish, paint, marble dust, and other bas relief accretions. It is easy to imagine Tàpies thrashing out ideas directly onto the final surface of plywood or canvas with minimal reverence for his medium, and enlisting into his repertoire of marks and motifs, for perpetuity, all the results that pleased him.

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Antoni Tàpies, Matèria sinuosa, 2010, Mixed media on wood, 160 x 160 x 4.4 cm, © Comissió Tàpies / VEGAP, Courtesy Timothy Taylor

Much is made of the uncompromising directness of Tàpies’ motifs, especially the brutal frankness of his treatment of the human figure, often splayed across the naked plywood surface like a pair of wet tights. Of all the explorations of base materialism* which many artists engaged in throughout the twentieth century, Tàpies’ is by no means the most shocking. The power of the painted human form to surprise us has diminished and we are more likely to register as beautiful the way in which Tàpies marries the chunky inelegance of his impasto figures with the equivalent rawness of untreated plywood. Some of the most striking of the artist’s figures sit, squat, or recline against a sparse plywood background with the minimum of extraneous motifs to draw the attention away. Body parts seem to float on the dull surfaces without spatial reference points; the muted pinks and light ochres of the artist’s reduced palette broken here and there by a splash of white or a scrawled black inscription.

Amongst the range of influences on the artist, the graffiti Tàpies saw as he walked through Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter had a lasting effect on his work in both the use of text itself and, perhaps more significantly, on the nature of his painted marks and the way he handled his medium. As with graffiti, the marks in Tàpies’ paintings are simultaneously reduced and excessive gestures. A large syrupy splash of resin and paint becomes analogous to a human thigh with the same economy as that with which a raw flourish of graffiti might articulate a complex message.

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Antoni Tàpies, Cames i diari, 2005, Mixed media and collage on wood, 54 x 64.9 x 7.9 cm, © Comissió Tàpies / VEGAP, Courtesy Timothy Taylor

In a way, it is more rewarding to view Tàpies’ work – particularly the later paintings – without the requirement that we be shocked before the brutality of the surfaces. For the larger part of Tàpies’ career, his disgust at the events of the Spanish Civil War, combined with an anarchic impulse – an attempt even to elicit from us the revulsion of the current exhibition’s title – were significant influences on the artist’s choices of materials and ultimately on the look of the paintings. Yet there is a more slow-burning aspect to this mature work. The restraint with which Tàpies fills these later panels shows great discipline with his medium and economy with his message; more reduction, less excess.

*This is a reference to the idea of base materialism as proposed by Yve-Alain Bois & Rosalind E. Krauss in the 1996 exhibition and book – L’Informe: mode d’emploi (Formless: A User’s Guide). I am not suggesting that Tàpies would have considered himself an active participant in the scenario Bois and Krauss sketch out in their book, but more that much of Tàpies’ work does appear to share characteristics with a strand of activity that they identify in much twentieth century art. 

Follow this link to the current show – Antoni Tàpies at Timothy Taylor Gallery

For an interesting insight into Tàpies’ working methods and his wide range of interests and influences watch-  Antoni Tàpies documentary on YouTube

200 words #14 / Uta Barth

 

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UTA BARTH, In the Light & Shadow of Morandi (17.03) 2017. Face mounted, raised, shaped, Archival Pigment print in artist frame, 48 3/4 x 52 3/4 inches; 123.8 x 134 cm, Edition of 6; 2 APs, Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

The concept of the artist as researcher is at odds with the more popular notion of the artist as creative medium; someone gifted with vision which is unique and unavailable to the average person except through the artist’s revelatory powers of expression. The writer John Berger identified Picasso as the latter type of artist. By denying – the causal connexion between searching and finding* -Berger finds Picasso as much a hostage to his own vision as we are.

Through years of quiet research into visual perception, the photographer Uta Barth has been searching and finding, and since the late 1990s she has been using exclusively as material the fleeting modulations of light and shadow which occur throughout the day in her apartment. Whilst Barth didn’t set out to impose this working limit on herself, by observing effects of light and shadow on the simplest expanse of wall or the fold of a curtain she quickly realised that she had unlimited visual material around her.  Consequently, there was – no point in going out to seek that out.

Infused with what Berger describes as a spirit of research, Barth’s latest series pays homage to the work of another patient observer, Giorgio Morandi.

Uta Barth at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

*John Berger – The Success and Failure of Picasso, 1993, New York, Vintage, p.32.

200 words #13 / John Baldessari

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Miró and Life in General: Relevant, 2016
Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint
243.1 x 125.1 x 3.8 cm
No. 19359

From their apartment on the 30th floor of the Shelton Hotel in New York in 1925, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, looked out at the same view. On one side they witnessed the emerging city, and on the other, the low-rise profile of the East River. They captured these in much the same way. Yet O’Keeffe’s painted images and Stieglitz’s photos stand distinctly apart for us.

John Baldessari sees no good reason why painting and photography should have separate histories. Born in 1931, Baldessari came to maturity as an artist in the 1970s; a period of dramatic reconfigurations involving art theory and practice, and far removed from the limiting machismo of Abstract Expressionism. Baldessari has also worked as a teacher since the late 1950s, including a two decade involvement with CalArts. Of his philosophy of teaching, Baldessari states that he wanted to keep the “…wall as low as possible between instructor and student…”*. This is a strategy that has ensured a two-way exchange of ideas. As an artist, Baldessari keeps us looking at the exchange of meaning between the painted and photographic image and text by virtue of his even-handed treatment of all three.

John Baldessari interviewed by David Salle

Picasso Portraits @ The National Portrait Gallery, October 6, 2016 – February 5, 2017

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Self-Portrait with Palette by Pablo Picasso, 1906; Philadelphia Museum of Art: A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1950 © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016; Photograph and Digital Image © Philadelphia Museum of Art © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York  

At one stage or another during his long career, Picasso fit different models of what an artist could be. Picasso’s versatility as a painter, and ultimately his appetite for dramatic shifts in style, sometimes within the same day, lead observers either to find fault with his work or to deify him. His impulse to change his style – an impulse the artist indulged in to a mischievous degree – and his tendency to rework his own innovations at a later date in the form of irreverent parody, have been a source of frustration for Picasso biographers, with some writers refusing even to acknowledge certain periods in the artist’s career.

Picasso’s range, and his undoubted mastery of every style and medium he worked in, attract the accusation of a lack of serious long-term intent or commitment to any path in particular. At the same time this free-wheeling ease of movement between styles and refusal to be categorised, seem to be his strongest selling points to large art audiences. Even within his own lifetime, Picasso stood in uneasy relation to many of his peers, including artists to whom he was compared, such as Matisse. Whilst Picasso and Matisse shared a similar range of subject matter, Matisse was undoubtedly playing a long game when it came to his exploration of his primary medium – paint. Matisse’s commitment to optics and the investigation of how the painted mark functions was one which led him to tackle his subjects in series and with a forensic obsession for testing, time and again, his own discoveries. For Picasso on the other hand, subject matter takes precedence over the medium of paint, leading the artist off on one route of exploration after another. His virtuosity meant that any one of the artist’s periods could have served as a starting point for a lifetime of incremental development and exploration within that style alone, had he wanted to explore it further. But Picasso’s compulsive restlessness would not allow it. It is only at fleeting moments of calm, when comparing both artists’ treatment of the same subject and having blocked out the background chatter about Picasso’s life and personality, that Picasso and Matisse can truly be appraised side by side. The great Picasso versus Matisse debate is as frustrating as trying to imagine what is happening at the same moment on opposite sides of the planet.

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Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, autumn 1910 by Pablo Picasso, 1910; Art Institute of Chicago © Succession Picasso/DACS London, 2016; 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York  

If Picasso’s virtuosity and his hyperactive style shifting are some of the main points of departure between him and Matisse, then it might be tempting to find an alternative point of reference and comparison in the form of another of Picasso’s peers. Francis Picabia, the privileged and flamboyant artist to whom Picasso gravitated in the 1920s when Picasso was staying in Juan-les-Pins, shares some of the same characteristics of artistic range and sudden dramatic changes in style. Whilst Picasso biographer John Richardson dispatches Picabia as a ‘jack-of-all-styles turned dadaist pioneer’, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the influence Picabia has had on the contemporary art world – contributing in no small way to the creation of a model of the artist as highly self-aware, informed, socially savvy, and having an enormous range of media and forms at their disposal. In as much as the Picasso / Matisse comparison breaks down on the point of each artist’s commitment to medium over subject matter, the same incompatibility arises when we try to find common ground between Picasso and Picabia. Picabia’s irreverence was disruptive in nature. It was not just towards the art that he absorbed but towards his very own creations, and as such is of a very different order to Picasso’s playful interludes. So trying to find a context for Picasso that encompasses all aspects of the artist’s career is an effort which is frustrated by his versatility. Better to try to fit other artists, and even movements to which Picasso was briefly associated such as Surrealism, around Picasso himself.

The exhibition Picasso Portraits – at The National Portrait Gallery in London until the 5th of February – demonstrates the sheer breadth of Picasso’s stylistic mastery of given forms such as classical portraiture. It also affords us an opportunity to see his innovations signposted clearly throughout the artist’s changing treatment of the same subject, the portrait. Looking at the range of styles here highlights the accelerated developments Picasso’s work experienced, with each abandonment of one style yielding within a short space of time to another, almost fully articulated, visual form. The fairest assessment however, must be the one which rests primarily on the evidence of the paintwork. Amidst the noise and distraction of this ambitious show, there are moments of visual clarity, where it is possible to view a series of paintings from the same period which show the artist as researcher, exploring methodically the possibilities of paint. Nowhere in the exhibition is Picasso’s successful balance of medium and subject more evident than in the artist’s reworkings of Velasquez’s Las Meninas. These paintings, produced in 1957, offer a more distilled version of the signature painterly vocabulary which Picasso had developed – almost to the degree of parody – in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They also come just a few years before the artist’s too easily dismissed late period canvases. This quiet corner, towards the end of a packed and visually exhausting survey exhibition, silences all argument over Picasso’s commitment to the medium of paint.

Picasso Portraits is at The National Portrait Gallery, London until February 5, 2017.

 

In The Studio #1 – Paul Hallahan

In The Studio is a new series of occasional interviews with artists talking about their studio processes and the things that motivate, frustrate and inspire them. To launch the In The Studio series, and marking one year of theglazelondon, I spoke to artist Paul Hallahan about his studio routines, juggling a wide range of interests, and the eternal joys and agonies of working with paint.

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Excavation Beyond Use or Repercussion (series), acrylic on canvas, 260cm x 160cm, 2016

Robbie O’Halloran – What media are you using at the moment in your painting?

Paul Hallahan – I have found in the past number of years that I have been really interested in using water as an element in my work, and this obviously has led me to use watercolour paint and then other water based paints and inks. I was interested in using less toxic materials if I could, so water based materials were my first stop.

Paper was what I painted on first, I wanted to see where I could take it and I was fascinated at how fast I could work on paper. Having studied animation before Visual Art,  we would draw and draw and never think of materials or end results as sacred. I needed to get back to this pace as I was finding I had hit a wall with the way I was working. I like hot pressed paper also as it doesn’t draw attention to itself as a material and allows the image to work as just an image.

After a year I moved onto some video work with paint in mind and the use of inks, this eventually led me to using inks on canvas (cotton and linen) and I have been really into this for the past 9 months and I like what I can try with it image wise and how the end result looks in real life. Documentation doesn’t show the textures of the canvas, which I feel is big part of the work.

ROH – Can you describe the process involved in making the large paintings?

PH – This changes with each painting. I had hoped to somewhat get a system in place but I just don’t have the patience for that, and I love to risk the work as I am working on it. With the process changing every time, I leave the studio every night after working on something not knowing how it will dry, if the ink will wick through the canvas a certain way or not. I like this as it means I have to then tackle something new everyday, and the material is leading me in some way and I am always fighting and using it.

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Aimlessly Pretty (series), watercolour on paper, 36cm x 29cm, 2016

ROH – What informs your colour choices and your decisions about what scale the work should be?

PH – Scale is an interesting element to me. I have worked variously on tiny works and large works throughout my career and sometimes without thinking about it, but it is always a factor in my work. I had an idea in my head when I was working a lot in video that I wanted the work to be projected as large as it could be, it was fascinating that a file so small, or in reality non existent, could with some technology be presented so large.

I had no idea what scale I could work on with these new large paintings, but the rug in my studio looked good and I thought, well someone had to work out the scale for that and design it, and more than likely thought about human scale while doing it. So I used that sensibility as my guide and that was the size I used. I like to use what’s around me to inform me. The smaller canvases are mostly the same size, 30cm X 25cm. For some reason I just love this size. It seems perfect.

Colour is a tricky one for me. I always want to be less colourful but I always end up fascinated by it and this leads to the works becoming more and more colourful. Someday I will get to the more subdued colours, but for now I’ll follow this path until I run out of options.

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Aimlessly Pretty (series), watercolour on paper, 36cm x 29cm, 2016

ROH – Do you work in silence?

PH – No I love to turn music up loud. It loosens me up and allows me to just run with things. The style of music I listen to changes all the time; from hip-hop to minimal composition to folk and heavy techno. It all has its place for me. Music is the most important thing for me, I can go weeks without seeing art and I am ok with that, but even one day without music and it sends me a little crazy. Some days I listen to music from the moment I wake to the moment I sleep, and with my day job I can listen all day as I work on a computer.

ROH – How long do you spend on a piece?

PH – This varies so much that there is no rule really. Some works can be years in the making. Maybe I just couldn’t go any further with something and so I put it away and arrive back at it years later to just add something small. Also, a work might have made no sense to me at the time of making it, but years later it does. This happens a lot with the sculptures I make especially, and I have looked back to other works with this in mind recently. A work I never got to show, be it a painting or a video, now becomes material for a new work. I can cut it up, destroy it and see where it goes.

For paintings, the large ones take a number of weeks normally, and I am always painting watercolours, so they take between 2 minutes and 2 hours to produce. Again, there are no rules to this, but I do work fast. It can just take years for them to eventually be shown, or for me to be happy I want to show them.

ROH – Do you work on multiple pieces in the same period?

PH – All the time. I need to do that in order to work. I need to get to a place where my brain is humming in a way, frantic. This allows me to think fast and without fear. I love the act of making, and being in that flurry of making feels good for me. I can typically have 10 works on the go in one evening while planning new ideas in my head.

ROH – Do you have a vision of what you want to achieve when you start a painting?

PH – Not really. I do have an idea of the group I am working on. These are usually connected by scale and an underlying idea of what I am thinking about. I do like bringing works into the world that are more spontaneous, and this way of working can sometimes supersede a more planned concept.

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Aimlessly Pretty (series), watercolour on paper, 36cm x 29cm, 2016

ROH – Is there anything you will not accept in your painting at any stage when you are making one?

PH – I try not to make paintings of people. I just think there’s enough of that in the world and it’s narrative based when human forms are in an image. I don’t want that for my works. The viewer is more important than any story or idea I can portray. To me It’s like looking at trees. Art is the same; It just is.

ROH – Do you have any content in mind when you are making a painting; specific references for example?

PH – I have tried this, but it just doesn’t work for me. It comes back to the narrative thing. I just want to stay away from it. I want to get lost in making the work in the hope that the viewer gets lost in looking at and engaging with it like I do. My opinions and ideas of the world around me affect the work, but to list them would not help the work. The same can be said about artists whose work I like. Some of their influence can be seen in my work but I’m not sure I need to mention them.

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Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soulHD video, 2012 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjtlxzwGN-E

ROH – Is there a relationship between your paintings, drawings and video or other work?

PH – They are all completely connected and inform each other. I also work in sound but have not exhibited this work yet. Because I am interested in so many things I could never see how they linked, but as time went on certain things came up again and again. I have come to terms with the fact that all the work will have a relationship in some way whether that is planned or not.

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Paper thin walls, HD video,  2015 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U78INvxe5ow 

ROH – How does your video work fit into your overall body of work to date, and do you plan to make more video pieces if the future?

PH – Video is something I have always been interested in. Who can’t be, living in the world today? Early on I wanted to work in video, and I studied animation so that I could get into filmmaking. I had the idea that if I learnt how animation worked, then that would give me a greater understanding of how film worked. It would give me an in-depth knowledge of composition and storytelling. Video for me can have so much weight in an exhibition setting. The trouble is that that’s where it ends, and it is unable to live by itself without technology, unlike a still image. This limitation worried me and is why I went back to painting and sculpture.

I’ll always make video, and I am planning some new works at the moment to be made in the coming months. I would like to present those alongside the large paintings sometime.

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The artist’s studio, Temple Bar, Dublin, 2016

ROH – What are your thoughts on comparisons being made between what you produce and what other artists are doing or have done? I am thinking about the possible comparisons between your current paintings and colour field painting.

PH – This can be annoying, depending on my mood or if it is something I haven’t already spotted (I am ok with it if I am aware of the connection). But I do know all work is going to fall somewhere within a range, and that there’s a good chance it will look like someone else’s work. I try to work through this in the hope that it will go somewhere new. I can see the link between the big paintings I am producing at the moment and colour field painting. But I still think that how they are shown is a factor, and that as they are now, in isolation, yes they can look like something from the past. In the flesh they are very loose weave canvas, which makes them nearly see-through, so they are different in person than in reproduction.

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Fanfare – plaster, clay, acrylic paint, 22cm x 15cm, 2016

ROH – Are there artists you think about a lot?

PH – There are artists I like and I do try to see their work when I can. But it’s like music for me; I am always on the hunt for what I don’t know, and that involves looking at artists who are working now, artists from the recent past and further back. It has taken me a number of years to flatten the trajectory of art history in my mind, and to try to think of all artworks as being made in the same mind-set as they are today. I don’t think we’ve come very far. We are the same as we were 1000 years ago. We just like to tell ourselves we have come a long way. This way of thinking  has helped me to look at what are seen as artefacts and to reimagine these objects as works of art as relevant as something which was made just yesterday.

ROH Have you learned any memorable lessons as an artist in recent years?

PH – Art is a long game. There are no short cuts. There have only ever been a handful of artists whose work actually took off while they were young. Spending huge amounts of time on your own in the studio has to be good for you. It has to be somewhere you want to be above anything else; not a struggle but somewhat enjoyable, free or even fun. The payoff first and foremost to making art is just that; making art. This is why you try everything else to allow you do this; applying for funding, working in different jobs, curating.

I am very thankful to be an artist. It can be hard at times but I am happy. I question everything, all day everyday. It’s great.

ROH You worked with Martin Creed for a period. What was this experience like?

PH – Yes, he asked me to work with him on some live stuff. I had brought him to Dublin to play at a space I was curating a few shows for. It worked out great and he asked the year after if I would work for him. It was great to see someone with such a good career just work so hard and have a solid love of art above anything else. It lead me to re-think my working on curated projects and focus on my own art, which I did. I’m really happy that working for him let me see what can be done and how free you can think. I had been curating as a way to be in the artworld as I thought I could do both; be a curator and an artist. This is impossible, and I had to ask myself which was the most important. It was an easy decision, one I am very happy I made.

ROH – You have curated a lot in the past. What is your relationship with this nowadays?

PH – I have stayed away from it, as I need to rid myself of the curator. It’s too hard to be seen as both and I wanted to be an artist not a curator. I get to do enough organising and projects in my day job so that fulfils my logic brain. Art is my freedom. I will curate again, but not in a hurry and if so it has to be something entirely on my terms and for the right reasons.

ROH – Do you try to change your work, either rapidly or gradually, or do you go with the flow?

PH – All of the above. I do chase lines of thought and try to get as much as I can out of an avenue I am working on. It’s like mining. I am looking for seams and I need to have many different approaches to get the most out of a seam.

I change my studio around every two months. I am a person who loves routine. It allows me not to waste time thinking about what to eat, how to get to the studio, how to get home. I try to make all of these things the same everyday and then I won’t waste energy, so I have as much as I can for the studio or for day dreaming. Changing this routine every month slightly has huge effects on my work. But I have eaten the same lunch and dinner for a year now. It works for me.

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Artist Paul Hallahan in his Dublin studio, 2016

www.paulhallahan.com