In the studio with Fintan Whelan

Working in a former church organ factory near the Old City of Gottingen, Germany, Irish artist Fintan Whelan creates explosive organic shapes. He talks to us about experimenting with spatulas, his love of abstract forms, and the eclectic mix of music he listens to whilst he creates his large-scale paintings.

Fintan Whelan at work in his studio

Q: When people ask you what you ‘do‘, how do you answer?  

A: I like to say ‘I am an artist‘ because it leads to more in-depth questions about styles, techniques, likes and dislikes and so on.

Q: How would you describe your painting technique?

A: My work has expanded from abstracts on canvas using oils, varnishes and pigments to a variety of experimental surfaces. My technique involves the creative interplay of colour and space, achieved by pouring, tilting and scraping materials, layer upon layer.

Q: How do you start your day?

A: Usually, I have a look at yesterday’s work. The decision is always whether or not the work is complete and if I am ready to consider something new.

Q: Where do you work and how important is the space in which you work?

A: I work in a small, former factory that produced church organs and is now being used by a sail-maker. For an artist, space is critical, not only for natural light but also for physical dimensions – it needs to be used as a work area, for occasional displays, storage of work, as well as an almost countless array of tools, pigments and other materials.

Q: Talking of tools, which is your favourite to work with?

A: The spatula in all shapes and sizes for the endless variety of forms and juxtapositions it allows me to experiment with.

Q: Where do you escape to?

A: Escape for me means a good walk along the nearby river or in the surrounding countryside; also some concentrated time with my favourite writers – John Banville, Patrick McCabe, Samuel Beckett; and a calming listen to any number of wonderful musicians.

Q: So, what’s on your work playlist?

A: My tastes are quite eclectic – from traditional Irish music to blues to classical to jazz; I like to have it feed my mood and keep me company.

I have actually used the music of Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithful, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan as a theme for a show, ‘Beautiful Losers’, Hanover, 2013, matching 40 songs to 40 of my works.

Q: Which artist do you most admire?

A: Antoni Tàpies for his never-ending experiments with new techniques and materials foreign to academic artistic expression. And Alberto Giacometti for his elimination process, which gave rise to his walking reduced figures.

Q: What emotions do you think your art evokes?

A: As an artist I can only present what has stimulated my own curiosity and creativity. Viewers have reported being moved, if not challenged, by what they ‘see’ in the juxtaposed forms and overlapping pigments.

I cannot analyse it myself but find the energy behind viewers’ reactions quite moving.

Q: Which is your favourite piece from your collection of work?

A: Northern Light is one that I kept simple, it flows well, shows the possibilities within a significantly reduced palette of pigments, and for me represents a bit of a turning point in my style.

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