Eloise Ghioni: When looking at your work, I have the feeling of being immediately thrown into a dilated space where time and space coexist at a slower pace. Everything is indefinite yet clearly perceptible. How would you describe this place? Would it be dreamlike, imaginary, a space for the soul or even something completely different?
Damien Flood: I think my work has has always avoided a precise time in history, be that the history of art or a more historical history. Geographically the work touches on elements of known places but avoids being about them. The viewer is put in a place of limbo, which I think gives room for contemplation. I want paintings to ask questions of the viewer, there are hopefully just enough elements to create a desire to understand what’s going on, but also not enough information to fully realize a definite answer. When I’m creating paintings I’m interested in questions rather than answers. I’ll keep pushing a work until it either hits an interesting mood or starts to ask the right questions. I think the right mood in a work can ask interesting internal questions. To try and give a more direct answer to your question, I aim for my paintings to be places for people to ask questions about the world we inhabit.
With regards to the show ‘Infinite Plane’ at Grey Noise I had undertaken a research trip to Dubai and one of the main themes that arose was time, primarily the compression of time –how they have built a city in 10 years. Also there’s a real juxtaposition of past and future with the older parts of the city and surrounding cultural areas butting up against this shining beacon for the future. But there is an odd sense of harmony between the two that surprised me. So the work reflects elements of these themes in an abstract way. It’s hard to say the work is directly about the places, more so the work weaves different notions and feelings about the place together into abstract riddles.
EG: The array of signs in your work is perhaps one of the key elements of your paintings. The layers are defined by the gestural brushwork, large and soft at first, until they become irregular and even rough – eventually creating a dense surface. This leads to a definition of the scene that seems like it is told – almost as if an imaginary stage develops right in front of one’s eyes. How do you think up the stories that you paint?
DF: I’ve had a few people refer to my paintings as stories or narratives, which I quite like. I am an avid reader and like to play with the slippery nature of the English language in the titles of my paintings. My working process is very intuitive, I will research for a couple of months and then it will be a process of painting, reacting to each layer as it’s put down. There are no preparatory sketches or images used when I’m in the studio.
With regards to the show the research was different than what I usually do. This time I was actually in the places I was researching, being in the country and soaking up the mood and landscape. So when I went into the studio to make the paintings it was like my own cerebral archeology, digging back through my memories and thoughts to find out what interested me and to see where connections were made.
In many ways this work in particular can be seen as notations or artefacts, a kind of stream of consciousness twisting its way around experiences and ideas. I work on many pieces at once so the narrative arises through the act of painting and works responding to each other as different layers are put down.
EG: In your work, I personally find certain affinities with Japanese aesthetics. I’m referring specifically to the balance between elements such as gesture, composition and the conception of the work. Even if in Europe there is a long tradition of abstract art, your work really gets me thinking about the orient. Do you think this line of thought has some validity?
DF: Again this is not the first time connections like these have been made. This one I think is harder for me to explain, but I do agree with you. There is always a balance at play in my work and in some works a delicateness that indirectly connects to Japanese aesthetics.
One personal connection I think that might be a reason, is the influx of Japanese culture in Ireland when I was a teenager. A lot of Manga and Studio Ghibli animation was coming over and my brother and myself where huge fans of it. A large overriding theme in a lot of these animations would be balance, of nature, power, spirit, etc. Also I had aunts (who worked briefly in Japan) who would bring back books and magazines from their trips. These would feature some beautiful paintings in them. So I think in some ways there is a roundabout connection or at least awareness of Japanese aesthetics and ways of thinking.
EG: What impressions did you have during your time spent in Dubai and in general in the Arab world?
DF: I was struck by the scale of Dubai and how quickly it was built. There is a very heart warming absurdity to the place. I think a lot of the time when artists go to other countries, especially when they are in such contrast, they are struck by the light. This was very true for me. I think also seeing the desert for the first time is something I’ll never forget. Staring out at the vast expanse was very humbling. With regards the people I found them very open and friendly, in every region I went to. I remember in Sharjah seeing two older gentlemen walking down the street holding hands, it caught me off guard, not something I was expecting. Later I was told that best friends in these areas will often hold hands as a sign of their closeness.
DF: I believe it is impossible to paint without personal experience. It’s why it’s very rare to find a very good young painter. Skill is one thing but life experience is another. I believe good painting can’t exist without good research or life experience. There has to be a solid frame of research. Once this is in place the painting is free to develop and intuition takes over. With regards to what one might be going through at the time, I think it is impossible to keep the personal out of art. For me painting is too closely woven into my life for their not to be a cross over, on a subconscious level at least. This makes for interesting readings that can bend and warp the original research of the work, creating broader, more exciting possibilities within the painting.
EG: If you don’t mind I’d really like it if you’d to tell me more about the Infinite Plane project.
DF: Infinite Plane is the title given to the body of work that I produced for my solo at Grey Noise. The work itself takes a research trip I took to Dubai and the surrounding areas as a starting point. The areas visited included Sharjah, Frujairah and the Coast of Oman. When I arrived in the country I had no concrete agenda, only that I wanted to pick places on the map and see what was there and what impact they might have on me. I think seeing the desert was one of my only ‘to do’s’ on the trip. It was quite an unusual experiences as I was not there on business or on holiday, I was solely there to see and experience. Notions of time and the human endeavor came to mind on the trip. As well as the physical gestures of people –how they moved there arms and hands when they talked. Also the older historical architecture can be seen in some of the work. With this body of work I wanted to try and create paintings that would use starting points, tones, moods, that might be familiar to people of the area. I wanted to connect with the people and create work that hopefully spoke to them in a more personal way than exhibiting previously made work.
EG: Is there anything in particular in this period of your life that piques your curiosity?
Damien Flood was born in 1979. Lives and work in Dublin.
Courtesy Damien Flood, Grey Noise gallery Dubai
Editing text: Andrew Smaldone
Editing: Eloise Ghioni