Interview with Shane O’ Driscoll by Sarah Long

Shane O’ Driscoll is a printmaker and visual artist based in Cork Printmakers. He has exhibited his work internationally and throughout Ireland. Currently his street mural on Harley’s Street forms part of Ardú Street Art Initiative, an event he co-organised with artists Peter Martin and Paul Gleeson. Visit @ardustreetart and @shaneodriscoll on Instagram for more information.

Talk us through your process.

There’s a lot of building up and breaking down. I enjoy stressing compositions to create a visual tension, as my design background has taught me to have everything aesthetically pleasing, so I like to push against that order. I enjoy the errors, as they are the parts that create new possibilities. Compositions are loosely drafted before I work on the computer to play with scale and colour and define them a bit more.

I will have a general composition in mind before printing the artwork, but allow for changes in the final process when printing. That moment is the most enjoyable for me, otherwise the printing would be a repetitive process. When creating work, I view it almost like a Rubik’s cube where I rotate forms and colours to solve a visual puzzle.  

Is research for you purely a visual activity or is there writing that influences your approach to your work?

I really enjoy reading about other artists’ processes and thoughts. I have always found the psychology of people interesting. I’m not led by readings a lot but if I am creating a piece for an exhibition brief I will need to have a rationale that links it to the print.

Circles are ever present in your work. What is the attraction to this motif?

There’s a great strength in the circle. I used circles as suns in my first prints which were taken from photos I took in California. I developed a series of architectural based prints which always had the circle as a sun or moon. It was always the final piece printed and visually sealed it for me. About 3 years ago I took a month off from my job to focus solely on my art practice, to find a new direction, as my prints became formulaic. I wasn’t enjoying making art and took that month to experiment and make mistakes, find a new route. There was no planned outcome, it could have all gone in the bin and that was the exciting part. From that time came my abstract work, I dropped the imagery but the circle remained. 

Sleep Comes Tomorrow, Do the Do and Become the tiger are all very inventive titles of your work. Where does the inspiration for your titles come from?

Often from lyrics to the songs I am listening to in the studio at the time of making the print. It acts as a timeline to what I listened to over the years. Music plays a huge part in my creating, I am never working without music in the studio, it lets the mind wander. I find it interesting seeing titles on abstract artwork, as it can really guide the viewer in the artist’s intentions, which some want, but I prefer to play with words and equally abstract the meaning. 

You have talked about the role of the ‘element of chance’ during your print process. I find this really interesting because for me drawing is an excellent way to allow space for intuition and ingenuity during my process. Do you see your mark-making process as an extension of drawing or purely as a print-making technique?

The handmade gestures in the work are certainly a freeform drawing. As a lot of the composition would be created on a computer, the graphite marks can bring a looser and immediate energy and texture to a piece. A lot of time is spent making the composition digitally and the mark-making is a lot quicker and reactive to the shapes in place. I view it as a form of additional erasure, if that makes sense. It negates the clean hard edge shapes but adds to the final artwork.

You have been involved in a lot of different festivals such as the Openear festival in Sherkin island, Design POP the Architecture and Food festival based in Cork city and now Ardu. Do you consider this larger, experimental output more significant than your 2D prints or vice versa, or do you distinguish between either?

I feel printmaking is my core medium, but I enjoy applying my art to larger scale pieces, it’s always important to push your boundaries and see how the art works in different areas. It’s good to step away from the studio for a bit, which can be insular, and to work with people in other fields and locations. My work can compliment architectural design and I enjoy seeing how it interacts with place. The Design POP pavilion design was something I had wanted to do for a while and really enjoyed working in a 3D format but also tying the concept into the landscape where it stood. I don’t really distinguish between them, as I have a style and they are all extensions of this.   

What is the inspiration behind the mural you created for Ardú?

The artwork continues my use of colour and shape to create a sense of balance and interaction with place. Elements within the composition relate to parts of the architecture
in the surrounding buildings.

I like to let my art open to interpretation, leaving each viewer see their own story in the assembly of shapes. This way it resonates stronger with the individual and adopts a new narrative. 

When creating the piece in relation to the theme of “Rise”, I viewed the composition as a sum of its parts, much like a city, which is made up of many things from its people to its culture. All of these fundamental parts will have to work in unison to rise up and work together.

Ardú is a really celebratory festival and a fantastic contribution to the city. What do you think are the positive and negative aspects of the Cork Arts Scene?

The scene is quite broad like in any city. I like to collaborate with others, so have worked with various people throughout Cork. I have found that there is a great sense of community in the Corks Arts Scene, especially in Cork Printmakers, where I am a member. I enjoy working around artists in different stages of their career. I tend to not focus on the negative, there can be a lot of naysaying and people with a sense of entitlement sometimes. The important thing is to keep making work and creating opportunities.  

The printroom is an interesting space as many artists utilise the same facilities. Do you feel that this helps or hinders experimentation?

Definitely helps it. I come from a design background, working in a studio where we discuss ideas and designs, constantly criticising each other and looking for ideas. I love collaborations, as they can ignite new ideas. I find being in the printroom the same, as new ideas can be forged in conversations with other artists or visiting artists.

Talk us through the path you took from leaving college with a degree in Visual Communications and the position you have established yourself within the Irish Arts Scene today.

On leaving college I moved to Dublin, as it was at the time of the recession and most of my class went to Canada. I curated a series of art and design exhibitions with a friend for a bit, as there was a great creative scene at the time and this was a good way to meet other creatives and contacts while learning how to run exhibitions. We ran exhibitions for OFFSET creative festival, Design week, Electric Picnic and one in New York also. It was an inspiring time working with so many people. 

After that I worked as a graphic designer and art director in a creative agency for a number of years, while also making my printwork when possible. I was a member of Blackchurch Print Studio and Graphic Studio which was good to meet other printmakers outside of Cork. I started exhibiting work more often while in Dublin and got gallery representation after a bit. There is a great energy around opening nights which all happen on the same night in the month and everyone goes around the city meeting up in galleries.

3 years ago I decided to focus more on my art and took time off work to develop my practice and to plan what I wanted from a career with more creative freedom. I have been a fulltime artist now for over 2 years and it has its challenges, but ultimately it is what suits me and allows for learning many new roles and creative experimentation. I still do a bit of graphic design work and enjoy the crossover between the two sometimes and challenging people’s perception of what should be art.

Is there a work that you are most proud of and why?

I am quite proud of the large scale piece of mine in Trinity College and my first large mural in Caroline Street, Cork as part of the place-making initiative in the city, as they were milestones in my artistic career. The scale is quite commanding within both spaces and they are both instances I never thought my work would be viewed in.

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