Following on from John Moores Painting Prize 2018, Corridor8 writer Callan Waldron-Hall catches up with Manchester-based artist Joseph O’Rourke, whose work GIANTS was among the prize-winning paintings.
Callan Waldron-Hall: Can you walk us through GIANTS? Where did you start with the painting? How did it develop?
Joseph O’Rourke: The painting started from living in a new place, Budapest, and a feeling to do with the scale of myself compared with the scale of everything else. Our significance as individuals, a species, and a planet is a question that occupies us all, and being largely on my own in a big city brought this to the forefront of my thinking. ‘LUMP IN YOUR THROAT’ was the first thing to be marked across the canvas, then it became painted as billboards, and it works as a direct record of the feeling that brought this painting into existence. The painting developed into other things too, as images I’d captured in Budapest worked themselves into the cityscape, but the stomach of the painting is, I think, ultimately a feeling of angst.
CWH: You often include phrases or words in your work. Could you talk about your relationship with language and how you present it?
JO: It’s simply that words occupy my mind more so than imagery, and I wouldn’t transform words into images for the sake of it. I am also an impatient painter, and so using words can be a much more immediate way to record the idea of what I’m working on. The use of words is often a way into the painting, both for myself as I make it, and for the viewer as it becomes something to be ‘read’, or as if the words give the painting the possibility to be audible.
CWH: We’ve worked together in the past on your poetry. Do you approach poetry and painting in similar ways? Do you usually concentrate on a particular word or phrase?
JO: My poems and paintings are becoming more entwined as I develop painted poems/ poetry paintings, where you see both a painting and a poem on the same surface. I think the experience of seeing a painting, and of reading a poem, could become something much more when they are put together. I think paintings and poems are similar in that they are both forms of communication but are as much a resistance to communication; they might suggest something but ultimately refuse to tell it.
CWH: Has your relationship to your art changed since JMPP?
JO: On the whole I wouldn’t say so. You could say my relationship to the ‘business of art’ changed. Depending on the view of ‘success’, lots of ‘successful’ artists are very forward and confident in approaching people to get what they want. JMPP nudged me to be a bit more like that because I felt I had to make the most of the accolade. One of the things that came from being more forward was a job as a teaching assistant on the art foundation course at Manchester School of Art, a course I did five years ago. I’ve also been able to spend more time with my practice since JMPP, because of the monetary prize and selling my painting. It has allowed me to recently drop down my hours working in a cafe from 50 to 20, so I’m very excited to have many more hours in the studio, and the opportunities for things to happen that wouldn’t have otherwise.
CWH: Tell us a bit about your teaching role.
JO: At Manchester School of Art I’ve started as a teaching assistant on the foundation course. I’m greatly looking forward to contributing to and gaining from the creative learning environment of the art school, to get to use their facilities once more, to meet more artists (staff and students). The potential to collaborate is exciting, and I’m really looking forward to getting involved with what’s going on there.
CWH: Not that your art has never been bold in the past, but are you inclined to take greater risks in your art after being a JMPP winner? Are you looking to experiment with new ideas and mediums, and if so, where did they come from?
JO: It is a tricky question because there is an aesthetic to a risk in painting. So it depends on what type of ‘risk’ you mean. A big and bold painting might look risky, but it isn’t a risk to be bold when it has a popular aesthetic quality and if your way of painting is already bold. I started working big after I was comfortable working small, and then when I became more comfortable working big, the risk was then to start working small again. In terms of risk in art, the way to think of it is doing something that you could potentially feel embarrassed by (but I’m saying that after another artist’s advice was that good art practice is one where you make decisions that have the potential to be embarrassing).
CWH: Do you have any upcoming shows/exhibitions? Has your approach to your work changed post-GIANTS, and how?
JO: Coming up soon is the Bankley Open Call and Studios from 12- 14 October, in Manchester. I’m also showing work in an exhibition at LIMBO space in Peckham on 18 October, and at a charity exhibition ‘The A5 Show’ at the Koppel Project in London 19 November – 21 December. GIANTS was the last time I worked on a massive stretched canvas, and my work is quite different now. I usually work un-stretched, partly because of practical ease, in transportation, and the time and hassle of making a big stretcher when I just want to be getting on with painting. I’m quite keen now on un-stretched cotton sheets, making smaller works such as little painting books out of canvas, all because of the way the painting can be moved. I also like posting work to people and I’m setting up a collaborative postal project soon.
CWH: Final classic question – do you have any advice for ‘upcoming’ / less recognised artists?
JO: My advice would be to never let any ideas slip away – always try and record them in some way even if you don’t have the time to do what you really want with them. To art students, my advice would be if you make loads of work, and you keep a book where it becomes habit to draw and write in everyday, then when you leave art school you have a practice that sustains itself.
Joseph O’Rourke will be discussing GIANTS at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, on 16 October 2018. John Moores Painting Prize 2018 was judged by Lubaina Himid, Monster Chetwynd, Jenni Lomax, Bruce Mclean and Liu Xiaodong.
Callan Waldron-Hall is a Liverpool-based writer. He recently completed an MA in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.