Artistic License: Michael Canning

PENNY McCORMICK talks to artist MICHAEL CANNING about his work, INSPIRATIONS and his current exhibition at the OLIVER SEARS GALLERY


In his second exhibition at the Oliver Sears gallery “Your Cyclical Natures – Sculpture Painting Drawing”, Michael Canning explores ideas about the creative process, the idea of light as an agent for transformation and the solitary, private nature of artistic work.

Living and working in Limerick, where the landscape has had an impact on his subject matter, central to Canning’s new exhibition are four sculptures made from materials such as cardboard, wire, glue and plastic. Inspired by Arte Povera practices, these so-called Ransom Sculptures are life size recreations of common weeds.

How long was this exhibition in the making?

I started the two larger paintings in the exhibition in 2009 and in 2010. Each was worked on intermittently until they were completed earlier this year. Many of my works on paper can take even longer. I’m concerned with time as an issue in the making of artworks and in how it is experienced in the finished work. It turns out that patience, tedium, boredom and incremental change are all extremely interesting creative experiences. Who knew?

People know my paintings, or at least they often think they do. It’s disconcerting how some people assume that my works are botanical paintings, or that they are about plants. I know very little about plants, weeds, and I care even less. But I’ve learned a lot about what it is to look at the world and to try to understand its complexities by looking hard at them, through them and beyond them.

The exhibition combines paintings and sculpture. Can you tell us more about the Ransom Sculptures?

The recent sculptures of weeds afforded me the opportunity to consider their physicality, their materiality, in different ways. I wanted to make an image of something that pushed up into space, and I wanted to use materials that spoke of fragility and temporality just as the weeds do. The making of an image of something which exists in the world in a new way which incorporates ideas and language in a new material form is essentially an act of abstraction rather than mere representation. Using throwaway paper, cardboard, wire, plastic packaging, glue and soot I am constantly struggling against the risk that these objects might fall apart. I began to imagine a scenario where these fragile sculptures might be held to ransom for the sale price which a gallery applies. The sculptures then become hostages to the vagaries of increasingly complex audience and market relationships. Will the sculptures be destroyed if the market fails to pay the ransom? Will time be the ultimate destroyer of the sculptures? We’ll see…

You also reference Samuel Beckett’s Nacht und Träume

The work of Samuel Beckett has always been a creative touchstone for me – I first discovered his 1965 text Imagination Dead Imagine when I was studying sculpture in Athens in 1993. My painting Nacht und Träume in this exhibition at Oliver Sears Gallery references Beckett’s 1982 play for television which takes its name from and incorporates Franz Schubert’s 1825 Lied D.827 of the same title. In the cast-list for the play Beckett lists five elements that make up the play: evening light, the dreamer (A), his dreamt self (B), a pair of dreamt hands, which supposedly refer to Albrecht Durer’s 1508 etching of a pair of disembodied praying hands, and the last seven bars of Schubert’s song. A strange, haunting set of interactions ensue onscreen, wordlessly, between these various visual presences.

How and where do you work?

I work in my studio at my home in County Limerick every day, or, to be more truthful, certainly every evening, every night. I teach at Limerick School of Art & Design, Limerick Institute of Technology, and my studio time is precious, but when I get into the studio in the morning for a full day’s work nothing especially significant ever seems to happen before 10pm. After 10pm I get some flow. I wish I were a morning person, but I’m not.

Need to Know: “Your Cyclical Natures – Sculpture Painting Drawing” by Michael Canning is at the Oliver Sears Gallery from September 6 – October 18. 29 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.

Penny McCormick

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